YOU’RE a junior executive. You’ve done a few deals, made a few quid for your company, been able to afford some Paul Smith ties and trendy shoes. Your new company mobile no longer looks like it cost £10 from Tesco. You’ve arrived.
The next step towards becoming a fully-fledged professional is to trade up the company car from the workmanlike hatch you’ve got at the moment to something more befitting your new-found status.
And the boundaries of what is acceptable junior executive motoring fare are very clearly defined. Speccing up a Skoda, Vauxhall or Ford and then crowing about how much tax you have saved is not cool. Choosing a premium-badged vehicle is. It goes with the tie.
The Audi A3 Sportback fits the profile. It is designed to look smart and corporate while still having a certain amount of practicality, although fairly well hidden beneath its steely, sharp looks.
The old A3 had a five-door version late in it’s life, but it barely registered in the UK, and partially this was down to the fact that it looked frumpy against the slick three-door version. No doubt our proto-junior executive, with no large family or practical commitments, saw no need to trade in all-important looks for functionality.
So Audi’s approach with the Sportback is to offer a car with more space, which differs significantly in appearance from the chunky three-door, but still looks great. Because it has a different approach, designers have been able to form the metal in shapes that suit its longer shape and it works beautifully.
In fact, it is like a shrunken A4 Avant, which is the best-looking estate on the market already. On big wheels, the Sportback is stunning for a five-door hatch.
Why put such importance on aesthetics? Because these first steps on the premium rung are about image and there’s not much else in the Sportback that’s different from the three-door. That’s not a bad thing, though. The interior is pretty good quality, using that of the A3, and there is a lot more space in the back than in the cramped new BMW 1-series.
Its size has freed up more space over the standard A3. The Sportback does not have huge interior dimensions, but it should pass all but the most demanding of Ikea sorties – a key requirement for any prospective young charger.
The 2.0-litre TDI diesel offers no surprises over its installation in other VW Group cars and has meaty acceleration accompanied by a rather uncouth burring noise, typical of pumpe duse engines. But at least it’s Euro IV compliant and has a six-speed gearbox.
The Sportback offers some funky options. Some of the larger 14-spoked wheels look fantastic and the red leather seats in our test car seem to have been plucked straight out of some trendy West London drinking den.
Add in the polished aluminium roof rails at £225 and the aluminium interior detailing, and this is a very cool car that hits its intended market with ruthless efficiency.
Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI Sport
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,877
CO2 emissions (g/km): 153
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 17%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 49.6
CAP Monitor residual value: £8,800/44%
Depreciation 17.25 pence per mile x 60,000: £10,350
Maintenance 2.95 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,770
Fuel 8.16 pence per mile x 60,000: £4,896
Wholelife cost 28.36 pence per mile x 60,000: £17,016
Typical contract hire rate: £368
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
THE A3 Sportback is the most expensive car of the four, although the equally-priced new ES version of the 120d will be out in March and will be a worthy alternative. Although the BMW is badged 118d, it is a 2.0-litre diesel engine, the same as the Sportback. The Golf is the top-of-the-range model and is similarly specced to the Audi and BMW, but a grand less. To compete against these three, the S40 needs to offer a big plus such as leather seats or sat-nav as standard, but doesn’t. It will have its work cut out.
The BMW proves to be the most expensive of the cars for service, maintenance and repair, but that doesn’t include Service Inclusive, which costs £500. That would roughly save a further £500-£700, and bring its costs more into line with the others. Of those, the Volvo, with the price advantage gained by dipping into the vast Ford parts bin, proves the cheapest by £150.
THERE is nothing between these four cars when it comes to fuel economy and all register combined figures around the 50mpg mark, which means costing just under £5,000 in fuel over 60,000 miles. In real-world tests, we’ve found that the S40 2.0D struggles to get anywhere near its combined figure, as do Fords using the same engine. The Golf and A3 get nearer the official statistics, while we’ve not driven the 118d enough to give a definitive answer. But they are all a better bet for fleets than their petrol counterparts.
THE Volvo struggles in the illustrious company of these executive heavyweights and is off the pace when it comes to depreciation. It would lose more than £11,500 over three years/60,000 miles. The others are steadier depreciators with the Golf the best in pence per mile terms thanks to its lower front-end price. All three do well though and have CAP percentage values in the mid to late 40s, a figure any car would do well to match. The Golf would lose £2,000 less than the Volvo, and £900 less than the A3 Sportback.
THE Volkswagen Golf wins the wholelife cost comparison by a distance, thanks to a front-end price that doesn’t step on the toes of its Audi cousin and solid residual values.
It would cost £1,000 less overall than the next best, the Audi. The A3 Sportback is marginally better than the 118d, while the Volvo’s depreciation – heavy compared to the competition – puts it out of contention.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
ALL four cars are Euro IV compliant and in the same 17% benefit-in-kind tax band, so which is cheapest comes down to a straight fight on P11D values. In 2005/06, a 40% taxpayer would fork out £1,262 for the Golf, which is the best, with the S40 not far behind at £1,302, the 118d at £1,324 and the A3 Sportback £1,352. A difference of £90 a year – or £7.50 a month – is not really enough to make one car demonstrably better than any of the others.
FOR a fleet manager, the Golf ticks all the boxes of being cheap, reliable and able to do the job. But for the driver – and especially our figurative junior executive – the Audi and BMW still have that extra-special feel that employees at this level are looking for. It also has slightly more space and is much better looking, so the Audi wins.
WINNER: Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI Sport
At a glance