THE Audi A3 has won one of the most prestigious titles in the fleet industry every year since the award’s inception in 2005.
It has been our best premium lower-medium car in 2005, 2006 and 2007, consistently beating off the challenge of BMW’s 1 Series. The latest car to join our long-term fleet perfectly embodies why. The 2.0-litre TDI 140 turbo-diesel engine is the biggest seller in the range, offering a strong combination of performance and fuel economy.
For staff taking their first step on the management ladder, it’s the perfect entry-point to premium badge motoring.
And in five-door Sportback bodystyle it offers increased space inside over the three-door hatchback, with an extra 20 litres of luggage room with the rear seats in place and the same amount again with them folded down.
The gains in loadspace aren’t massive, but then again the Sportback isn’t marketed as a load-lugger. As its name suggests, it’s more of a sporty estate with a design firmly for those with a ‘lifestyle’ in mind.
Although I don’t have a lifestyle myself, I do play golf and fitting my clubs in the boot shows where the Sportback beats the three-door. Neither car will accommodate my bag with all the clubs still in place, but the extra 83mm of length in the Sportback means I only have to take my driver out to load it, as opposed to driver and five-wood in the three-door.
Some may question why I carry them at all when they see me play, but at least they’re a useful boot-measuring tool.
The A3 features the understated styling which has made Audi so popular, but our car is in top-spec S line trim which adds some extra pizzazz to the overall look without appearing OTT.
The five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels sitting on low-profile tyres fill out the wheelarches nicely, while a subtle spoiler on the back and deeper front and side airdams lend a more muscular look.
Inside, S line touches include aluminium-effect trim on the dashboard and centre console, a three-spoke leather steering wheel and sports seats in the front.
The A3 won’t just appeal to company car drivers, though, as the four-ring badge signals desirability in the used market.
This helps the A3 Sportback post a strong residual value proposition. CAP estimates our car will retain 41% of cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, which is on a par with the BMW 120d.
However, our car is fitted with the S tronic dual-clutch semi-automatic gearbox, and its higher list price (£1,425 over the standard six-speed manual) means it can’t match the manual model, which CAP puts at 43%.
The manual version is also more economical, returning a claimed 51.3mpg on the combined cycle, compared with 49.5 for the S tronic, and its emits less CO2, too – 148g/km against 153g/km.
This puts the S tronic in a benefit-in-kind tax band higher, making a 40% taxpayer liable for an extra £202 a year in tax.
So financially the manual model stacks up better, but what about in performance and usability?
Audi promotes S tronic as offering the ease of use of an automatic with the involvement of a manual.
This is certainly true, and the technology inside the gearbox means it changes gear imperceptibly in a fraction of a second.
On one of my typical journeys around the UK, it means I can have more involvement by changing gear manually on back roads, and then push the gearlever into drive for when the inevitable traffic jam happens on the M25.
This certainly makes life easier, and I’d be willing to swallow that extra £200 a year in tax for this added convenience.
As a basic package, the A3 lacks very little in the way of kit, although we’ve added a few thousand pounds’ worth of extras – none of which is essential but all of which make life easier and more pleasant.
The biggest indulgence is the DVD satellite navigation system at £2,175, followed by the Open Sky system, essentially twin sunroofs, at £1,050.
This makes a huge difference as our car has black leather trim and the rest of the cabin is dark coloured, too, so these roofs bring some welcome extra light into the cabin.
We’ve also specced the multi-function steering wheel, heated front seats, aluminium roof rails, a Bose stereo upgrade along with an iPod connector – plug the iPod into a jack-point in the glovebox and it then fully integrates into the in-built stereo system.
Equipment and options
Price: £24,045 (£29,005 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 153
Company car tax bill (2007) 40% tax-payer: £159 per month
Insurance group: 11E
Combined mpg: 49.5
Test mpg: 42.7
CAP Monitor RV: £9,675/41%
Contract hire rate: £468
Expenditure to date: Nil
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles
The manufacturer’s view
“WITH more than two-thirds of sales to fleet customers, the A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI typifies the attractiveness of Audi product to fleet customers, and to user-choosers in particular.
It is the biggest-selling model in the A3 range, especially in S line trim which accounts for nearly a third of sales. Style, performance, high specification levels, excellent build quality and a strong brand image, combined with competitive fuel economy, low driver taxation levels, industry-leading residual values and spacious practicality make the 2.0 TDI Sportback the most attractive and desirable fleet car in its class.”
Iain Carmichael, head of fleet sales, Audi UK