Audi A3 2,0 TDI Ambition (2009) Driving Impression

Audi A3 2009

If there’s a car out there that illustrates the power of premium brand appeal, then perhaps the Audi A3 is it. Here you have what is essentially a Volkswagen Golf, but one with only three doors, fairly sparse standard equipment, and a lofty price tag. And guess what? You want it. You crave it… like thousands of other people.

The appeal is easy to grasp. The four rings logo on the grille says you’re climbing the career ladder very successfully. As a consequence, you’re also more socially desirable. If cars are extensions of our own selves, then the Audi A3 is the equivalent of a professional make-over, a costly visit to the dentist, and a new wardrobe courtesy of a style consultant. We crave it, because we secretly hope its desirability will rub off on us…

More glitz & glam for Audi A3

The latest Audi A3 has benefitted from another round of cosmetic updates. Most of the panels that constitute the face of the car have been changed, and there are new rear lights, too, in addition to new colours and wheel designs. The refreshment has worked well, making the Audi A3 look even more expensive and stylish than before. As ever, Audi offers a wide range of optional extras to allow you to personalise your car, but be careful when ticking these option boxes, as the costs can quickly escalate. Then again, the Ambition model tested here does lack some items that should’ve been standard at this price level – including remote audio controls. Also optional are; cruise control, a sunroof and auto lights and wipers. But what you do get includes leather upholstery and climate control. At the price it’s a package that just about can be labelled as fair.

Changes to the interior are fairly hard to spot until pointed out. Mostly, Audi has attempted to break the monotony of the black cabin by adding some shiny metallic accents. These work well and, importantly, contribute to a feeling of overall solidity, because they feel like the real thing when touched. The rest of the cabin has remained mostly as before, which is no bad thing. The Audi A3 offers superb comfort levels up front with very supportive seats. The driver’s seat is height-adjustable, and the steering wheel offers, in typical Audi fashion, rake and reach adjustment. The driving position is superb. The seat goes down nice and low, which results in a sporty position behind the wheel, when required.

Of course, with only three doors, the Audi A3 looses some points for practicality. Space in the rear is not too claustrophobic (for a three-door), but access obviously requires some body flexing. The boot is surprisingly big, and contains a space-saver spare wheel under its floor.

Torque for the town

This model is powered by the Volkswagen group’s proven 2,0-litre turbodiesel engine that delivers 103 kW at 320 Nm torque. It sounds fairly gruff at idle, but smoothes out considerably when cruising and provides superb fuel economy. Audi claims a figure of 6,8 litres/100 km, but in reality you can beat that figure with some careful driving. With a sub-10-second 0-100 km/h sprint time, it’s also no slouch. It’s free-revving nature makes everyday driving a real pleasure, as does the slick six-speed manual transmission.

Underpinning the Audi A3 is, of course, the same structure that you’ll find in a Golf. There’s multi-link rear suspension and a set-up that has been tuned to find a good balance between ride comfort and entertaining dynamics. For the most part, the Audi A3 succeeds, but the emphasis is most definitely on delivering comfort over sharp dynamics. This is not a criticism. For its intended purpose, ride comfort is far more important. For enthusiastic drivers, however, there is probably one other point of concern, though the overwhelming majority of Audi A3 TDI buyers won’t worry – there’s little feedback, and a somewhat vague, overly light feel to the steering.  But that’s about it. The Audi A3 is a refined, quiet, solid and downright enjoyable car to drive.

Audi A3 - Verdict

To be brutally honest, even if the Audi A3 was a poor product, it would still sell rather well, such is the desirability of the Audi badge at present. But remove badge appeal from the equation for a moment and you still have a very solid proposition. Yes, three doors limit its ultimate practicality, but if that’s what you’re really after, get an Audi A3 Sportback for not much more. The Audi A3 is a stylish, solid and economical premium product that has real substance to its style.

We like:

  • Sophisticated, upmarket looks
  • Cabin quality
  • Powerful engine
  • Fuel economy
  • Premium badge
We don’t like:
  • Some optional features should be standard
  • Three doors limit practicality
  • Dull steering
Fast facts

Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel

Power: 103 kW @ 4 000 rpm

Torque: 320 N.m @ 1 750 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Top speed: 205 km/h

0-100 km/h: 9,5 seconds

Fuel economy:  6,8 litres/100 km


Also consider:

  • Volkswagen Golf (6) 2,0 TDI Highline: An enemy from within the family, and a strong one, too. Yes, the Golf doesn’t have the Audi’s brand appeal and is not offered as a sporty three-door. But it has the same engine and is more practical.
  • Honda Civic 2,2i-CDTI VXi: Offers sci-fi looks inside and out, but is more practical than its bizarre design would seem to suggest. The engine is superbly refined, and offers even more torque than the Audi A3. An acquired taste.
  • Alfa Romeo 147 1,9 JTD MultiJet Distinctive 5-dr: This is an underrated car, but even so it struggles to compete at this level. Even as a five-door it can’t match the boot space of the Audi A3. It’s a fun drive, but probably less fun to own long-term – build quality gripes remain.