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Audi A3 2.0 TDi Ambition 2004 review


The diesel pump nozzle doesn't quite fit into the spout opening, so you have to pour it in slowly to prevent spillage.

It is the only drawback in what is a fabulous turbo diesel engine.

The new two-litre A3 comes with either a fuel stratified injection (FSI) petrol engine or a turbo direct-injection (TDI) diesel donk.

You will pay an extra $8800 for the diesel and bright mathematicians will be able to work out that with diesel prices sometimes higher than unleaded fuel, it could take quite a while before the better fuel economy in the diesel starts to flow through as savings.

But is that the only reason why people should buy a diesel car like the A3?

Diesel engines are no longer noisy, smelly, slow or dirty. Quite the opposite. And this one is a great example.

A little clatter at idle soon disappears and returns as a "junior" V8 growl when you get up it. There is no smell and very little emission thanks to European pollution laws.

And as for its speed, get this: it has 320Nm of torque, which is about the same as some large family cars and 120Nm more than the A3 petrol equivalent.

Plenty of torque means plenty of launch off the line. It also means that filling the back seat and the boot area won't drain the power, nor will hills.

Married to the six-speed auto box with sports shift and sequential options on the T shift and paddles on the wheel, it is truly inspiring.

In normal Drive mode, it tends to change gears too early for the petrol-engined FSI and will drive around town in sixth gear.

Yet this is fine for the torquey diesel engine which will pull from these low revs with a nice growl.

In the petrol engine, it's a little under-revved and you must wonder what it is doing to itself.

Coming up to a corner, if you bang it across to sequential, you will often find you are in one or even two gears higher than expected.

With no time to glance down and check what gear you are in, you drop it down one or two cogs and still find you are in a gear or two higher than where you want to be.

In Sports shift, it changes gears so intuitively you don't really need to go for the sequential shifter. Besides, you have to go back to Drive to get it across to the sequential, unless you have the optional paddle shifters on the wheel.

The paddle shifters are fine for driving sweepers and highways where your hands don't move around the wheel, but around town and in tight turns you can lose those paddle shifters just when you need them.

In Sports shift, the A3 holds gears well as you accelerate; heading downhill it hangs on to gears so you don't roll on speed and when you need more oomph, it drops down quickly and delivers.

I expected cruise control on a car in this price range. Sporty drivers may say that it's not important, but perhaps it's even more important when the car wants to give you this much power in a small package.

On several occasions I found it accelerated so fast and effortlessly that I was way over the posted speed limit. If not a cruise control, then how about a speed-limiter like Mercedes-Benz employs, or at least an audible speed warning?

Styling is beautiful, with fine touches of brushed aluminium, such as in the rim around the instruments.

The sound system is superb, especially with the Bose speakers option, and also comes with a tape deck in case the solid suspension is too much for the CD player.

But it would be nice in a car of this price to have the audio controls on the steering wheel.

The sound system is obviously set up for left-hand drive as the volume control is all the way over on the left. That's a distraction you don't need when you are driving a sporty car.

It is based on the Golf chassis and some of the knobs, instruments and do-hickeys are shared.

You sit down in it, more so than the Golf. Seat height adjustment also helps here.

Quality abounds and the suspension and driver aids all add up to making this a superior road-holder.

However, the traction control could not have been more brutal, giving a couple of huge transmission thumps when it activated. That's fine when you are giving it a go and you expect a bit of noise, but when it activates in the wet – and after all it's a front-wheel drive – it is awfully disconcerting and surprising.

There is a fair bit of torque steer from the electro-mechanical system which you have to fight when the front steering drive wheels get light or break traction, but after a while you get used to it and actually enjoy the feel. It is speed-related with servo assistance, so it does away with a pump. Understeer is predictable and never a problem and works in just fine with the torque-steer feel, trying to right itself and point the wheels straight.

Pricing Guides

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Range and Specs

1.6 1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $4,290 – 6,270 2004 Audi A3 2004 1.6 Pricing and Specs
1.6 Attraction 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $4,290 – 6,380 2004 Audi A3 2004 1.6 Attraction Pricing and Specs
1.8 1.8L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $4,620 – 6,820 2004 Audi A3 2004 1.8 Pricing and Specs
1.8 Turbo 1.8L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $5,610 – 7,920 2004 Audi A3 2004 1.8 Turbo Pricing and Specs