Audi A3 VS Renault Zoe
- Sedan styling looks superb
- Quattro all-wheel drive on highest grade
- AEB on all grades
- Plain standard interior
- Limited rear legroom
- Low on standard features
- Fun to drive
- Smooth comfort
- Flaky media system
- Latest safety tech MIA
Audi’s A3 is one of the most affordable ways into this prestige German brand. But like some amusement park mirror maze you’ll find with so many A3 variations there are numerous, seemingly identical ways into the model.
Which one do you choose? There’s a sedan, a hatch, and a convertible with four different engines, not to mention front- or all-wheel drive.
That’s why this range review is here – to guide you through the A3 hall of mirrors, and identify the right model for you.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Renault chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn may look like a Bond villain, but rather than threatening to end the world he's intent on saving it.
In October last year he launched Groupe Renault's 'Drive the Future 2022' strategic plan, which included a commitment to "eight pure electric and 12 electrified models as part of the [Renault] range" within five years.
But he didn't mention the head start, because Renault already had several pure electric vehicles in its line-up at that point, including the subject of this review.
In fact, the Renault Zoe has been on sale in France since 2012, and stands as Europe's best-selling electric vehicle.
In late 2017, Renault Australia dipped its toe in the electrified waters (risky...) by bringing the Zoe here within a "business-to-business and business-to-government framework."
And in July this year, due to allegedly popular demand, it was made available to private buyers through "selected dealerships"; currently two in Melbourne, and one each in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane.
Just under $50,000 for a city-sized hatch is hardly cheap, but it's entry-level territory for electric vehicles in this market. And what price can you put on helping to save civilisation as we know it?
Let's find out.
The Audi A3 is now five years into this current generation and it’s beginning to show its age in terms of tech and styling in the cabin, despite updates adding new equipment. It’s expensive compared to most small cars but is spot-on for a prestige vehicle.
The Sedan is, in my view, the best looking small sedan on the planet and offers the biggest boot space in the A3 range. The Sportback, however, is arguably more practical, with better legroom, headroom and cargo carrying ability (with the rear seats down). The Cabriolet has the same perfect proportions as the sedan, but like all good convertibles doesn’t make practicality a priority.
The sweet spot of the range would have to be the Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line with its $50,000 list price making it the most affordable but most 'specced up' A3 in the entire range.
You have $50,000. Do you buy an entry-grade Audi A3 Cabriolet, a 2.0 TFSI Sport Sedan or a Volkswagen Golf R? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Renault Zoe is a fun to drive, ultra-efficient, practical little hatch. But the dollar-shaped elephant in the room is its price. Without the government ZEV subsidies offered in other markets, it's wickedly expensive, and with fresh competition in the shape of a new 'normalised' Nissan Leaf coming soon it'll have to work hard to wean more than a handful of small-car buyers off their fossil-fuel addiction.
Are you ready to make an investment in planet Earth's future? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The A3 comes in three body styles: a five-door hatch, which Audi calls the Sportback; the four-door Sedan, and a two-door convertible which it refers to as the Cabriolet. It may not surprise you to learn they're all different sizes, too.
The Sportback doesn’t look like the shortest of the three but at 4313mm end-to-end it’s 145mm shy of the Sedan and 110mm shorter than the Cabriolet. But those exterior dimensions don’t tell the whole story on interior space. So, which one is more practical? We’ll get to that.
But first, the looks. The Sportback has a wagon-like appearance with its large (for a hatch) rear quarter windows. If you think it looks longer than a regular hatchback, you’re right: a Volkswagen Golf is 50mm shorter even though it shares the same platform as the A3.
However, unlike the Golf, there’s something about the Sportback’s proportions which doesn’t seem balanced.
Then there’s the A3 sedan. Now this is a perfectly proportioned car. Looking like a miniature version of the A8 limo, the A3 is one of the only tiny sedans on the planet that looks fantastic.
The Cabriolet is based on the Sedan, and it too looks beautifully proportioned. Soft tops, when they’re up, never do much for a car’s profile. Be it a Bentley or an A3, they always look better down. When the roof is down the A3 appears lower, sleeker, and tougher.
While all A3’s have the same grille and headlight design the rear treatment of the Sedan and Cabriolet is more refined with their blade-like tail-lights and boot lid lip, than the Sportback, even if it does have a roof-top spoiler.
Interiors are identical across each A3 grade, the cabin benefiting from excellent fit and finish and the use of high-quality materials. But if you like bling-tastic cockpits, maybe you should be looking at a Benz A-Class because even the fanciest A3 money can buy, the RS3, comes with a small display screen and a rather low-key interior design.
As for rivals, the new A-Class (which I’ve just reviewed) is a glitzy competitor in hatch form, with a soon-to-arrive sedan going head-to-head with the little Audi as well.
Renault claims no less than 60 patents came out of the Zoe's development, but while BMW's i3 is as hip as Kendrick Lamar on his third encore, and even Toyota's long-serving Prius hybrid still looks ready to roll onto the set of the next Avengers movie, this little hatch isn't shouty at all.
It seamlessly merges into the automotive landscape. A cute, small car with a few flashy blue bits in its head and tail-lights giving the only clue to its distinctly unusual internals.
Underpinned by the same platform as the Clio (with an identical wheelbase) the Zoe is slightly longer (+21mm), fractionally thinner (-2mm) and quite a bit taller (+114mm) than its conventionally powered sibling.
Lead exterior designer Jean Sémériva has literally left his mark on the car, with a full-size thumb print applied in low-relief to the rear door handles. Nice touch.
And monsieur Sémériva has shown admirable restraint in a cool design combining soft curves around the nose, front guards and rear end, with sharp character lines top and tailing the car's flanks.
Vaguely diamond-shaped tail-lights mix a clear lens cover with those nifty blue highlights and brilliant LEDs for an arresting brake and indicator display.
Open the door and a similar blend of tech and tradition creates a clean and simple interior, with strategically placed bright-metal finishes highlighting key elements.
A broad TFT digital instrument screen sits under a minimalist hood, with the 7.0-inch 'R-Link' multimedia screen dominating a central stack lifted by a shiny black face and an illuminated blue keyline around the heating and ventilation controls.
A printed circuit pictogram on the front headrests and left-hand side of the dash is a creative reminder of the Zoe's means of propulsion. And the front seats feature a decorative curved panel, defined by dark piping on each side of the backrest.
Tech highlights include the TomTom Live nav system's ability to describe a circle showing the car's operational radius on current charge, determining whether you can reach a nominated destination. It also taps you into weather updates, traffic danger zones and Renault Assistance.
Plus, the drive-management system can report on energy usage and assess driving behaviour, so lead foots have nowhere to hide.
The Sportback and Sedan have five seats, while the Cabriolet has four. Leg and headroom in the back row for all body styles is limited. The Sportback will give you the most rear legroom, while the sedan has a few millimetres more space for your knees than the Cabriolet.
At 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position in the Sportback with a pinkie finger’s space, while my knees brush the seatback in the Sedan, and the Cabriolet won’t accommodate my long legs back there at all.
Rear headroom in the Sportback isn’t bad with enough room for my big head to clear the ceiling thanks to that tall(-ish) flat roofline while the sedan is a tighter fit but I just make it under. The Cabriolet’s low fabric roof means only small adults or kids will be able to sit up straight back there – unless the top is down and then you have literally unlimited headroom.
Boot space varies obviously depending on the body style. The Sedan has biggest cargo capacity with 425 litres, the Sportback offers up 340 litres, but fold those rear seats down and you have 1180 litres at your disposal, plus a bigger aperture to fit stuff in. The Cabriolet’s folding roof eats into the boot space, but you’re still left with 320 litres even when it’s down.
The folding roof is automatic and can be raised or lowered at up to 50km/h, but it’s slow - I’ve timed it and it takes about 20 seconds to open or shut.
Storage throughout the cabin is limited, too. There are two cupholders up front in all cars, while the Cabriolet is the only A3 to have two cupholders in the back (they’re between the rear seats). If you want cupholders in the rear of the Sedan and Sportback you’ll have to option the $450 fold-down armrest which houses them.
All grades above the 1.0 TFSI come with storage nets in the seatback and front passenger footwell, 12-volt sockets in the rear centre console and boot, plus cargo nets back there, too. There’s a USB jack in the centre console of all A3s.
Like most compact hatches the Zoe offers plenty of space up front and gets a bit squeezy in the back. Although the first surprise is that there's no height adjustment for either front seat.
Happily that wasn't a big issue. At 183cm I was still able to find a good driving position, with storage running to two cupholders (one small, one laughably tiny), plus a pen slot and two oddments trays in the centre console. The second of those trays houses a 12-volt outlet, SD card slot, 'aux-in' jack and USB port.
There are small bottleholders and storage pockets in each front door, a medium-size (7.0-litre) glove box with an open tray above it, and a small tray on the lower part of the dash on the driver's side.
Rear head and legroom is passable for a car of this size, but storage is limited to modest door bins and a single cupholder at the back of the centre console.
However, it's cargo space where the Zoe really raises eyebrows, with 338 litres available (to the parcel shelf) with the single piece rear seatback (as in, it doesn't split-fold) upright.
That's enough to easily swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres), or the CarsGuide pram. In fact, we were able to fit the largest suitcase and the pram at the same time, which is mighty impressive for a city-sized hatch. Push the rear seat flat and space grows to 1225 litres (to the roof), which is heaps.
Carpeting for the boot has been sourced from the cheap 'n' cheerful bin, but there are D-shaped anchor shackles, decent lighting and handy bag hooks back there.
The boot's unlikely volume is partly due to the absence of a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit being your only option. And in case you were wondering, towing is "prohibited" (Renault's word, not mine).
Price and features
The A3 isn’t great value for a small car, generally speaking, because while you are getting a high-quality prestige vehicle, it doesn’t come with a mountain of equipment that you might find on a more affordable little hatch or sedan.
Look at it this way: take $40 into a fish and chip shop and you’ll walk out with your arms full of food, take the same amount into a Michelin-starred restaurant and you’ll be lucky to get an entrée. Same with buying a prestige car – and the A3 really is a starter on the Audi menu.
Coming standard on the entry-grade $36,200 1.0 TFSI Sportback are xenon headlights with LED running lights, cloth upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat nav, reversing camera, multimedia system with voice control, eight-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, CD player, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Only the Sportback comes in this 1.0 TFSI grade. The rest of the body styles start with the 1.4 TFSI ($40,300 for the Sportback; $41,900 for Sedan; $49,400 for Cabriolet) which comes with the 1.0 TFSI’s equipment but swaps the cloth seats for leather upholstery and adds paddles shifters, aluminium-look interior elements and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Stepping up to the 2.0 TFSI Sport ($46,400 for Sportback; $48,000 for Sedan; $55,500 for the Cabriolet) adds leather sports front seats, aluminium door sills, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 17-inch alloys with a different design.
The 2.0 TFSI quattro S line ($50,000 for the Sportback; $51,600 for Sedan and $59,100 for the Cabriolet) brings in lowered sports suspension, 18-inch alloys and LED headlights.
Each grade also attains more safety equipment, which we’ll cover further on.
I’ve also reviewed Mercedes-Benz’s new A200, which is a good model comparison for the A3. At a list price of $48,200 the 1.3-litre four-cylinder A200 is pricier than the 1.4 TFSI, but offers better value than the A3 2.0TFSI with more equipment, including two 10.25-inch display screens.
As for paint colours, only 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White' won't cost you a cent more. Optional colours include 'Cosmos Blue', 'Tango Red' and 'Monsoon Grey'.
Built at Renault's Flins plant, 40km west of Paris, on the same line as the Clio, the Zoe's offered in two grades; Life ($47,490, before on-road costs), and Intens ($49,490 BOC) as tested here.
That's big bucks for a little car. At just under $50,000 you're looking at internal-combustion competitors like the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, and Merc A-Class. And while the Zoe's a long way from spartan, it's an equal distance away from luxurious.
That said, the standard features list includes, climate control (with remote 'pre conditioning' activation), 16-inch 'Black Shadow' alloy rims, cruise control, 3D Arkamys audio (with DAB radio, voice recognition, two 'boomer' speakers, two rear bi-cone speakers, and two tweeters), 'Renault Smartkey' keyless entry and start, auto headlights, and rain-sensing wipers.
Plus, you also get rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, the 7.0-inch 'R-Link' multimedia system (with 'Text to Speech' function), one-touch driver's window (the base Life grade misses this), a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob plus black and grey cloth trim (with snazzy contrast stitching).
The DRLs may be LED but the headlights are halogen (a sure sign of this car's age), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are MIA, and metallic paint, as per 'our' car's 'Zircon Blue' finish is $550 extra. 'Glacier White' is the only no-cost option from six available shades.
Engine & trans
Now on to the engines. Yes, I’m doing this in what may seem a strange order, but trust me, it’s to guide you safely through the A3 range without anybody getting lost. We don’t leave anybody behind here, not on my watch.
The grades indicate the engines in the A3 line-up – the higher the grade, the more powerful the engine. So, the range starts with the 1.0 TFSI which has a 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, and steps up to the 1.4 TFSI which has a 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder with cylinder on demand (COD) letting it run on two cylinders when not under load). Both are front-wheel drive (FWD) cars.
Next rung up is the 2.0 TFSI Sport and that has a 2.0-litre four making 140kW/320Nm with drive going to the front wheels. The top of the range is the 2.0 TFSI quattro S line which has the same engine but is all-wheel drive (AWD).
Those are all turbo-petrol engines – yes, no diesels and no manual gearbox option either. All have a seven-speed dual-clutch automatics shifting the gears.
If you’re after something more hardcore in the same package, there are two halo ‘models’ that sit above the A3 range: the S3 with a 213kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four and the RS3 with its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol making 294kW/480Nm.
The Zoe is powered by Renault's R90 synchronous electric motor, producing 68kW from 3000-5000rpm and 225Nm from step-off. Drive goes to the front wheels through a single reduction gear auto transmission.
Claimed acceleration for the city-specific 0-50km/h run is a handy 4.0sec, with the more grown-up 0-100km/h sprint taking a leisurely 13.2sec. Flat biscuit is 135km/h.
Fuel usage depends on the engine and body style, with weights varying across the range. The most fuel-efficient engine is the 1.0-litre which is only offered on the Sportback, and Audi says over a combination of urban and open roads you should see it use 4.8L/100km.
The 1.4 TFSI Sportback uses 5.0L/100km, while the Sedan uses 4.9L/100km, but the heavier Cabriolet drinks more at 5.1L/100km.
My most recent A3 test car was a 1.4 TFSI Sportback and the trip computer reported 7.6L/100km over a mix of city and country kays - not bad.
The 2.0 TFSI Sport Sportback uses 5.9L/100km, the Sedan needs 5.8L/100km, the Cabriolet a bit more at 6.0L/100km.
The 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line Sportback uses 6.2L/100km, while the Sedan will go through 6.1L/100km and the Cabriolet again is highest with 6.4L/100km.
That raises the question of how much more does the Cabriolet weigh? About 170kg more than the Sedan and Sportback thanks to the extra reinforcement needed to strengthen the body to compensate for the rigidity it loses by not having a fixed metal roof.
None. Next question...
You can have the argument about fuel consumed and source emissions produced in generating the energy required to charge the Zoe's battery, but the fact is this car doesn't consume any fossil fuel and produces zero tailpipe emissions. Helped by the fact it doesn't have a tailpipe.
When launched in 2016, the Zoe's upgraded 41kWh 'Z.E. 40' high-energy lithium-ion battery ranked as the highest energy density automotive unit available.
Developed in collaboration with LG Chem in South Korea, it houses 12 modules (of 16 cells each) for a total of 912 individual cells and weighs in at 305kg.
Renault lists a driving range of 403km for the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), with a real-world number of 300km a more realistic estimate. And that's almost exactly the range we achieved over a mix of city, suburban and freeway running in seven days with the car. Using overnight electricity rates, a full charge should average less than $8.00.
The Zoe's on-board 'Chameleon' charger allows it to be charged using different power levels (single or three-phase) through the same socket, from 3kW up to 22kW. A Type 2 charging cable (6.5m) for wall box and public charging points (in a natty canvas Z.E. bag) is included with the car.
According to Renault, a wall-box charger (not included with the car) is typically $1600 to $2000 for a residential installation and a mid-range 11kW unit will allow you to charge up in around four hours. High-powered 'Fast' and even juicier 'Rapid' charging points would reduce that time appreciably.
The dash indicator displays charge level and remaining range calculated over the last 200km of driving. A reset function can drop that to an average of the last 30km.
We'll touch on it further in the Driving section but regenerative braking, low-rolling resistance tyres, and 'Eco' mode (reducing air-con load and motor output) are big contributors to maximum range.
And while cabin cooling comes courtesy of a conventional a/c unit, heating is far more exotic. The Zoe's 'Heat Pump' system traps calories in the ambient air outside the car, with a pump compressing and heating them, then directing the heated air into the car, with no impact on range. Super clever.
I’ve driven all A3 variants from the 1.0 TFSI to the 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line, plus the S3 and RS3, but most recently I tested the 1.4 TFSI Sportback, which I’ll focus on here.
Our car was fitted with two optional packages – the 'Style Package' which adds LED headlights, 18-inch alloys and sports suspension, and the 'Technik Package' which brings a virtual instrument cluster, an 8.3-inch display and sports steering wheel.
Those larger 18-inch alloys wearing low profile 225/40 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2 tyres look great, but like thin-soled shoes you’ll feel every imperfection on the road giving a harsher texture to the ride, plus they can be noisy on course-chip bitumen.
I’d stick to the standard 16-inch wheels. Sure, they don’t look as racy, but the ride from those, on 55 profile tyres, is a lot more cushioned.
Despite that grittier feel from the tyres the sports suspension is excellent and manages to soften bigger bumps well. Handling is good too, thanks to that suspension keeping the body well controlled.
Good visibility, steering that’s light but offers decent feel, and a comfortable seating position make the A4 pleasant to pilot, but not hugely engaging. If you're after more of a driver’s car, the S3 and RS3 will deliver – trust me.
Acceleration isn’t bad from the 1.4-litre, with 0-100km/h claimed to be 8.2 seconds. That dual-clutch transmission is a quick shifter and smooth even in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but only if you turn off the stop-start engine system (jerky and hard to tolerate).
I’m also not a fan of the way the stop-start system switches the engine off as you coast to a stop at traffic lights and intersections. For me, that borders on a safety issue, particularly when needing to turn on an amber only to find you momentarily lack steering or power.
As mentioned in the engine/transmission section, the 1.4 TFSI Sportback is a FWD car. Put it on a steep hill, as I did on our test incline, and even in dry conditions it’ll lose traction under hard acceleration. Traction control reins the slippage in, but AWD 'quattro' cars won’t struggle for traction in the same circumstances.
Some believe cars have a soul, but the Renault Zoe expresses its feelings with a distinctive accent, the car's 'Z.E. Voice' function giving an audible warning to pedestrians up to 30km/h (when wind and tyre noise take over).
The whirring hum sounds like The Beach Boys warming up the theremin for a rendition of 'Good Vibrations'. Spooky and fun in equal measure.
Like all electric cars the Renault Zoe accelerates quickly from rest, thanks to the motor's ability to deliver maximum torque (225kW) from step off.
At 1480kg (battery 305kg) the Zoe is 177kg lighter than an equivalent Clio, so it's snappy in its natural city habitat, but thrust begins to taper off markedly around the 55-60km/h mark.
The single-speed, reduction gear automatic transmission combines with the motor's sewing-machine smoothness to provide close to perfect drive delivery.
Ride comfort is surprisingly good for such a small hatch, and the battery's location under the floor sets up a centre of gravity 35mm lower than the Clio's, so despite a 59 per cent front/41 per cent rear weight distribution, the car feels well planted in corners.
The standard 16-inch alloy wheels are shod with Michelin Energy E-V low-rolling-resistance tyres (195/55), which won't win you pole on a qualifying lap, but are commendably quiet.
There are three driving modes, with the dash graphics aligning to each – Eco (green), Neutral (blue), and Dynamic (violet).
But ECO mode should be reserved for hardcore environmental warriors only. Press the console-mounted button and power from the motor is reduced and air-con output is limited.
It may increase range by a claimed 10 per cent, but what price your sanity? This setting sucks out the car's will to live, and thankfully a second press of the button or pinning the throttle pedal to the floor sees full-strength service resumed. Phew.
The regenerative deceleration and braking system distributes braking force between the clamping of the brake pads and the engine on over-run to maximise battery charge.
While the BMW i3's regen system will have you head-butting the steering wheel (not really) when you get off the throttle, the Zoe's system is more subtle, and watching the dash graphic – a blue AA-style battery surrounded by rising rings of energy – is reminiscent of 'the machine man' animating in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
Speaking of brakes, the fronts are relatively delicate 258mm vented discs and the 9.0-inch rear drums look like miniature versions of the elaborately fluted units found on 1920s Grand Prix racers. They're beautiful and work well.
Some niggles. The wipers skip and stutter in light rain, the lightweight doors feel clangy when you close them, and the R-Link multimedia system is annoyingly flaky when recognising content (or not) via Bluetooth or USB from a mobile device.
The A3 has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating from its 2013 crash test, which applies to the Sportback, Sedan and Cabriolet.
While the Sedan and Sportback have seven airbags, the Cabriolet has just five, missing out on the head-level curtain bags.
The amount of advanced safety equipment increases as you step up through the grades, but AEB is standard across the range. Lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert becomes standard from the 2.0 TFSI Sport upwards, while the lower grades can attain these with the optional $1500 'Assistance Package'.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX mounts and two top tether anchor points across the back seats in the Sedan, Sportback and Cabriolet.
The Zoe hasn't been assessed by ANCAP but was awarded a maximum five-star ranking by EuroNCAP in 2013, with annual reviews allowing it to maintain that score through to April this year.
Active crash prevention tech includes ABS, EBD, EBA, ESC, traction control, tyre-pressure-loss sensors, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
Interestingly, the Zoe continuously monitors the state of each cell in the battery pack and will switch off current immediately if it senses an overheating-style abnormality.
If an impact is unavoidable the airbag count runs to six - driver and passenger front, front side (head and thorax), and full-length side curtain.
There are three top tethers and two ISOFIX positions for child seats/baby capsules across the back row, and all seats feature Renault's 'Fix4Sure' anti-submarining design.
According to Renault, the R90 motor is "maintenance-free", waterproof and requires no lubrication, with servicing costs "20 per cent lower than an equivalent ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle."
Despite that, servicing is recommended every 12 months/30,000km for an estimated cost of $231 each time.
Warranty is three years/unlimited km with 24-hour roadside assist included for the first year, and three after that if you have your car serviced at an authorised Renault dealer.
The battery is covered by a separate five year/100,000km warranty.