Over the past year or so, the image of the environmentally-friendly car has started to change.
For a long time you had to choose a hybrid of some sort, or get an LPG conversion in order to flaunt your green credentials.
But as society cranks up the pressure on manufacturers to cut emissions and improve fuel economy, cars that are friends to the birds and whales are becoming more plentiful.
Most of the major volume manufacturers in Europe now have a version of their popular models that they promote as ecologically sound, and many of these manage to produce less than 120g/km of carbon – enough to qualify for the lowest 13% benefit-in-kind tax band for diesels.
One of the latest cars to boast a low-emitting version is the Audi A3.
Packing a 1.9-litre TDI diesel engine with 104bhp and a five-speed manual gearbox, it emits 119g/km of carbon dioxide.
The danger is that in trying to achieve the least emissions possible, engineers sacrifice too much performance and luxury.
Have they made that mistake here? Well, here’s the thing. Our test vehicle from Audi was every inch the motorway cruiser. I was really rather impressed with it – before I realised it had £11,000 of extras in it.
The car is extremely well put together, as one has come to expect from Audi.
The driving position is excellent and the cabin is a fine environment to inhabit.
The 104bhp diesel engine is no firecracker, but does pull well in the first three gears. There’s not much go in fourth or fifth though – try and obtain decent acceleration at around motorway speed and you’ll find yourself shifting down to third and bouncing off the rev limiter in frustration.
It’s also noisier than I hoped, emitting a boomy gurgle rather like a cat purring into Athe narrow end of a road cone.
The traditional undramatic –some might say uninvolving – but solid A3 driving experience is retained, with the whole car having a feeling of sturdiness to it.
There’s plenty of headroom and legroom for passengers in the front and the back, and a decent-sized boot.
While the overall package looks good and is of an excellent standard, the performance and equipment level is pretty poor for a car that costs £17,000 and is getting on for four years old.
If you want anything more exotic than the manual air conditioning included on this special edition A3, you’ll have to pay extra, and there are machines from other respected manufacturers that offer more for less.
Three rivals to consider
<li>Honda Civic 2.2 I-CTDi SE (leather)
<li>Volkswagen Golf 1.9 TDI Sport
The Volkswagen in Sport trim is the cheapest, matches the Audi’s 104bhp and has semi-automatic climate control as standard. The Civic boasts 140bhp and a leather interior as standard. The BMW has steel wheels, but the most power with 143bhp.
Emissions and tax rates
Audi and BMW both creep under the 120g/km CO2 barrier, taking them into the lowest company car tax band. A 22% taxpayer would face a bill of £40 a month for the A3 and £44 for the 118d thanks to its higher purchase price. The Civic would cost £55 and the Golf £58.
Variable service schedules put Volkswagen and BMW out in front, with the Golf costing more than £400 less to service, maintain and repair than the last-placed Audi over three years/60,000 miles. The Honda needs looking at every 12,500 miles and the A3 somewhere between 9,000 and 19,000 miles.
118d: 2.93 (pence per mile)/£1,758 (60,000-mile total)
Almost nothing splits the fuel costs of the BMW and Audi, which have combined mpg figures of 62.8 and 62.7 respectively. The Golf and Civic are also closely matched, but the Volkswagen will travel 56.5 miles for every gallon of diesel, while the Honda manages 55.4mpg.
118d: 7.82 (pence per mile)/£4,692 (60,000-mile total)
The A3 boasts a residual value of 46% over three years/ 60,000 miles, with the Golf, at 39%, close behind in second. The Honda also has an RV of 39% but loses nearly two pence per mile more, while the BMW (40%) loses nearly £1,000 more than that.
A3: 15.33 (pence per mile)/£9,198 (60,000-mile total)
With strong RVs and good fuel economy, the Audi is the cheapest to run over three years/60,000 miles. The Volkswagen is close behind thanks to excellent SMR costs and solid residuals. The Honda and the BMW cost around £1,500 more to run than their rivals.
A3: 26.88 (pence per mile)/£16,128 (60,000-mile total)
This test really comes down to the two vehicles that emit less than 120g/km of CO2 – the Audi and BMW. The two manufacturers have taken rather different routes to achieve this benchmark figure. Audi has detuned its 1.9 TDI engine to 104bhp and altered the gear ratios, while BMW has added complex electronic systems to achieve 199g/km yet still being able to produce 143bhp. As an all-round ownership package the BMW is well ahead, while the Audi enjoys a significant running costs advantage thanks to a very healthy RV prediction from CAP. In the end, a 3ppm advantage is hard to ignore.
Winner: Audi A3 Sportback 1.9 TDIe Special Edition