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Road test Audi A3 review

While not exactly the definitive profile of the "little Aussie battler" the four-ringed marque has certainly spent a long time as the one having sand kicked in its face in its respective playground.

While still struggling against the Euro-lux big boys – BMW and Mercedes-Benz – Audi is continuing to win some small victories in the turf wars.

The A8 is now widely regarded as the benchmark for large-car luxury, usurping both BMW's 7 Series and the ageing Mercedes S-Class, while Audi's RS performance cars have won praise as athletes you can live with day to day.

But it is at the bottom end of the size scale where the scrapping is likely to be fiercest.

The A3 is the gateway to the world of Audi, a (relatively) affordable introduction to Europe's junior luxury club.

With the latest model, Audi has polished up the interiors, produced a platform to be proud of and found a couple of new engines – but is it enough?

Within a couple of months the A3 will have fresh challengers, led by BMW's 1 Series and to be followed within a year by the all-new Mercedes A-Class.

Time spent in the new A3 range – 1.6-litre petrol, 2.0-litre petrol and 2.0-litre turbo diesel – suggests Audi is up for the challenge.

The first impression of the new range is that they have been given a dose of attitude.

A little wider, a little lower and a little more launch feel – in all but the 1.6 – the changes are subtle but together noticeable.

For its size, the A3 is a substantial car. Weight-saving has not been top of the list in this car and it is the 75kW 1.6 that suffers.

Up and cruising the entry-level engine has all of Audi's niceties in ride quality and handling, but away from the mark and in acceleration it is hoppled by its 1200kg mass.

Step up to the 2.0-litre FSi (fuel stratified injection) and things start to look up.

With some 30 per cent more power and torque than the 1.6, the FSi engine is a far more lively proposition.

The six-speed tiptronic box is well matched to the engine and in full automatic delivers enough mid-range urge that manual shifting only becomes an attraction on that special piece of road.

However, the pick of the litter – and the one least likely to be bought by Australians – is the 2.0-litre turbo diesel.

The trick DSG (direct shift gearbox) offers less to the mix than its hype would suggest, but the engine is a treat.

With 103kW – not bad for a small oil-burner – the power is sufficient for comfortable top-end cruising but it is the way you get there that makes the difference.

Pulling peak 320Nm from 1750rpm through to 2500rpm the Audi TDi has mid-range urge to die for.

Noise isolation is good – partly from sensible engine mounting isolation and partly from lots of sound insulation in the car body – and while you still know it is a diesel on start-up the impression doesn't hang around for long.

A stand-out feature from all the cars was the new electro-mechanical power steering which allows superb feedback and surety of turn-in while retaining a nice weighting and enough off-centre feel to make high-speed cruise a breeze.

As you would expect from Audi – and for any small car which is going to hit the pocket on a sliding scale from $40,000 – the inclusion list is good and of good quality.

ABS and electronic stability control are standard, along with 16-inch alloys in the lower-end models. Duel front, side and curtain bags are the norm as are climate control air, full electric windows and mirrors, reach and tilt steering wheel adjustment, and five lap-sash belts.

Further up the model range you will get 17-inch alloys, sports suspension, fog lamps, trip computer and a sports leather trim.

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