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On test: Audi A3 2.0 TDi DSG review (2003-2008)
- Model:Audi A3 2.0 TDI DSG
- Bodystyle: 3dr hatchback
- Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder Diesel
- Transmission: six-speed semi-auto
- Date of Test: November 2004
What is it?
A car we like a lot, but this is a test less about the car and more about the gearbox optionally available with it. The second-generation A3 is now a familiar sight in the UK, and rightly so. Sporty three-door lines remain head-turning, while the interior is brilliant and the drive very sophisticated. What sets this particular version apart is the six-speed semi-automatic ‘Direct Shift Gearbox’. It’s probably the biggest advance in gearbox technology for over a decade, and at the moment is exclusive to VW Group – VW, Seat, Skoda and, of course, Audi. Indeed, the TT was the world’s first car to be available with it.
Where does it fit?
The A3 DSG is probably the ideal car for the city slickers to whom the range in general appeals. Two pedals mean much less fuss in traffic, and smoother progress. It’s not a cheap option at £1,400, but then neither is the A3 itself, so this is unlikely to be a problem. Alternatives undoubtedly include BMW’s new 1 Series – currently only a five-door, so it’s arguably only a rival for the A3 Sportback at the moment – plus the Alfa 147 Selespeed, Mercedes C-Class Sports Coupe and VW Golf with which this car shares a platform. One point to note, though, is that the DSG is currently only offered on either the 2.0 TDI tested here, or the 3.2 V6. For most people, choosing an A3 DSG will mean choosing diesel power; the V6 is costlier to buy and to run.
Is it for you?
If five-doors are essential, the A3 Sportback will be for you. But if you’re seeking sporty, sleek, coupe-like styling that’ll turn heads without appearing dated in six month’s time, the A3 is certainly onto something. The image is also an appealing one, understated and classy, and you kind of feel that the ‘right’ sort of person drives an Audi. Certainly you’ll find you drive with less of a swagger than certain BMW drivers.
What does it do well?
The gearbox is brilliant. No two ways about it, it’s a miraculous ‘box. That’s because it’s so advanced. Instead of a single clutch, the DSG employs two clutches – one controlling ‘odd’ gears, the other operating ‘even’ gears. When you change gear, you don’t actually physically ‘change gear’, but instead change clutch as gears are permanently engaged. All very complex, but the results are gearchanges in the blink of an eye. No automatic gearbox is as fast, or as supremely smooth either, as there’s not a jolt whether you’re changing up or down. It’s just as smooth using the steering wheel paddles as it is in full auto mode too – extraordinary. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the 140bhp TDI engine, which punches hard from low revs and offers eye-opening pace. This, plus the Audi’s exceedingly accurate steering, firm and roll-free suspension plus spot-on driving environment, make it a deeply satisfying car to own and drive daily.
What doesn’t it do well?
Handling may be safe and secure, but it fails to offer the dignity of a BMW – feedback is lacking and there isn’t the response of the new 1 Series. Steering is also light and lacking in feel, though by most other standards it’s difficult to fault. The brakes are typically Audi in their lightness and sudden response, which leads to plunging-passenger, diving-nose syndrome under deceleration. The engine is packed with grunt but lacks the refinement of rivals such as BMW’s 2.0-litre turbodiesel; there’s a grittiness to the clattery Audi, though it can’t be considered unrefined. The final grumble is one that keen drivers will have. No matter how brilliant the gearbox, some still want the interaction of three pedals and a lever to stir. For them, the DSG ‘box won’t appeal, though considering the remoteness of Audi’s easy-but-dull manual shifts, their argument is a tenuous one in this instance.
What’s it like to live with?
Faultless build means the hewn-from-solid Audi makes its owner feel good daily. Every switch is a precision instrument, the instruments are models of clarity, the night-time illumination soothes classily, the ample seats are firm and supportive. Steering is ultra-light at slow speeds which, with the DSG gearbox, means it’s light and easy to punt in town, if hindered somewhat by some blind spots; shallow windows and thick C-pillars have a habit of hiding obstacles. The engine may not be the most refined but it is one of the more economical, with an average of over 50mpg if you’re steady. Insurance costs are kept in check by a group 11 rating – good for a premium make – and variable service intervals offer the potential to cover nearly 20,000 miles between dealer visits, if you’re easy on the car. Needless to say, retained values are excellent. Save for the high list price, it’s hard to call this car expensive.
Would we buy it?
We think the DSG-equipped Audi A3 is a very impressive car indeed, just the sort of machine we’d happily drive every day. Sure, it’s not the most invigorating car in its class to punt across back roads, and the engine trades some refinement for its never-dull low-rev punch. But the car overall, particularly the quality, the cabin and that magic gearbox, will satisfy long after you’ve stopped worrying about a lack of interaction on that drive across the Yorkshire Moors, six months ago. DSG is a rare auto that pleases drivers, and makes a capable car eye-openingly complete. Yes, it would do us quite nicely.
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