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2014 Audi A3 TDI

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On: Wed, May 14, 2014 at 12:57PM | By: Jon Summers

2014 Audi A3 TDI

VW’s Audi brand goes from strength to strength in terms of sales numbers, both in the old markets of Europe and North America, but also in what is increasingly the most important car market in the world, China. Is it deserved? Having recently been underwhelmed by the A1—a VW Polo with a brash grille—would the A3 be more impressive? Alas, not, I am afraid, after 1700 hard miles around Northern Italy and the Alps.

From the outside looking in, Germany, with it’s de-restricted ( no speed limit ) autobahns offers the most exciting motoring experience in Western Europe. My experience, however, is that Northern Spain, with its smooth, quiet, new autostrada toll roads perhaps offers more opportunity for really pressing on, as I found while testing an F90 3 series BMW—here, at last, is somewhere one can actually USE a modern sportsbike, in the CBR/Gixxer/Ninja vein.

But only in Italy do they run flat out in crappy little cars, pedal to the metal, mile after mile. On the Turin ring road on a Sunday afternoon, a guy with his wife and parents in the car—a barely 100hp Fiat Punto—actually HONKED at me, distraught I was dawdling along at a mere 165ks! If you like driving fast this place is manna from heaven—everyone understands the car guy mindset. They even keep up this behaviour in torrential rain. Normally, the speed limit is 130ks, but a Carbinieri I inadvertently blew past seemed unworried by my 160/170k gait. Despite many “Politzia Stradale Velocita Limitada” signs, I saw no one pulled over for speeding. I don’t want to give the impression all Italians drive this way; but a good many do, and those mostly, judging by my recent experience, in BMWs, Mercedes, and, most frequently, Audis.

My itinerary saw me visit Geneva and Chambery, and, in fact, I crossed the Alps four times, using both modern toll roads, which go straight through the mountains by way of long tunnels, and the original spectacular switchback roads which go up over the top of the mountains.

This, then, was a stern test for any small hatchback, and the A3 performed faultlessly reliably, and had no squeaks or rattles either at the beginning or end of our time together despite many miles of wide-open throttle running, the abuse of 2nd/3rd gear Alpine pass climbs, and brake-burning descents.

The showroom stuff plays well—the cabin was pleasant, if as uniform black as German bread. There are nice-feeling materials on the steering wheel, shift knob, door pulls. The seats cribbed a BMW signature touch, the squabs extending behind the knees to grip you that bit more convincingly, and usefully so, for while the handling was slightly joyless, the A3 did offer excellent grip levels and no tiresome premature squealing understeer.

The infotainment screen descended into the dash if you didn’t want it; nice, since I don’t speak the German it was giving me. The AutoStop/Start, which triggers when the car is still and out of gear, might have been expected to be annoying, but, in fact, was not so, working completely intuitively. Audi have had these systems perfected for years—I remember one on an early 80s Audi 80 I rode in.

In the A3 there is an underlying worried old woman tone, which is totally at odds with the aggressive grille and thrusting young exec image. The seatbelt chime was easily the most annoying I have ever encountered: accelerating away from toll booths, it would go through three phases of escalating intensity and annoyance and be in “The World Is Going To End” mode before you even had the wretched car wound up to top gear and got the window up. I lost count of the number of times I stalled coming out of reverse and going into 3rd, not 1st. There’s a little screen between tach and speedo, and among other things, it advises you what gear to be in. The goal seems to be to keep the engine between 1000 and 2000rpm, where it has barely any torque, despite the clever and immediate turbo spool-up. Trying to follow the screen’s advice leaves the car lugging and usually feeling at least one gear too high, hyper-miling Mother Hen thereby totally blunting the already pretty limited performance.

But the King Kong of overstated, pointless uber-tech was the handbrake, a switch on the console instead of the normal lever. One should not have to read the handbook to work out how to take the handbrake off; after a few tussles, I just gave up and used the time-honoured method of putting it in 1st gear. What is it with some modern technology, adding pointless complexity and another electrical component which can—and, knowing Audis, will—fail at some point in the next decade and a half or so? It also had various different driving modes. I struggled to tell them apart, finding this a pretty slow car even in the surely ironically named Dynamic driving mode.

I want to like Audis—my Grandfather owned one of the first in Britain, in the late 60s/early 70s, but this car seemed to be about style over substance, more pointless technological sizzle than good-to-drive steak, and thus a little pretentious. Overall there was too little to like and a good deal to dislike about this A3.

In the final analysis, it did the job, but it did not INSPIRE as some cars can in these extreme circumstances: BMWs often do; Alfas can; Mk1/Mk2 Ford Focus does too, and if other middle-priced middle-weight, middle-of-the-road offerings can inspire, then just doing the job is not enough: in the words of my high school report, the A3 gets: C-, Must Try Harder.

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