Should you be ditching a diesel Audi A3 in favour of the new 1.5 TFSI?
Let’s face it, diesel isn’t doing too well at the moment. It’s still the more efficient fuel – and we’d firmly say the better option for high mileage drivers – but plenty of buyers are opting to shun the black pump in favour of petrol given the bad rep (and tax hikes) that diesel is facing at the moment.
So it’s an excellent moment for Audi to introduce this new 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine to the big-selling A3 Sportback. This engine is cleaner and more powerful than the 1.4 petrol it replaces and – more importantly - manages an official 114g/km (110g/km with the S tronic auto) and 57.6mpg compared to the 2.0 TDI’s 109g/km and 67.3mpg despite having the same 148bhp. Not much in it, then, although the petrol is some £1500 cheaper on list price, putting it on a par for purchase price with the lower-powered if even more efficient 1.6 TDI.
The addition of this new engine hasn’t brought any big changes to the looks or functionality of the A3. It’s a smart, precise-looking car that has handsome – if arguably quite forgettable – lines. The interior remains a real star quality of this car. The layout is easy to use, and the infotainment screen that rises from the dash is clear and easy to read, and is controlled via a straightforward rotary switch. Add the posh Virtual Cockpit digital dials to your A3 and this humble family hatch could just as easily be a full-blooded executive car, given the big-car tech and feel of the cabin.
This is also a car that’s easy to get comfortable in, and offers the best visibility in the class and one of the roomiest interiors. Check out our full range review of the Audi A3 Sportback for a more in depth look at the A3's practicality, trim levels and driving impressions of all the engines.
How does it drive?
It’s quiet but peppy, which is exactly what you want. This engine has the cylinder on-demand tech that means it switches off two of its four cylinders if it doesn’t need them. Try and catch it out and see if you can feel it switching from two- to four-cylinder mode when you accelerate, as we certainly can’t. It always feels responsive and smooth, and it’s a pleasure to rev out and enjoy nigh-on hot hatch pace if you wish. In practice, over twisty UK country roads the 1.5 TFSI feels faster than the 8.2sec 0-62mph time suggests it should.
Our car was fitted with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic ‘S tronic’ gearbox, which actually improves efficiency over the standard six-speed manual gearbox, and does a fine job of flitting discreetly between ratios to keep the 1.5 engine in its sweet spot.
Ultimately, this engine is a perfect fit for hearty cross-country drives or tedious motorway commutes, and anything in between. Refined, punchy and easy to enjoy or ignore; whichever you'd prefer.
As ever, the Audi A3 has a firm ride – especially the Black Edition test car that we drove, which comes on 18-inch wheels and didn’t have the optional adaptive dampers fitted (that we’d recommend if you’re going for big wheels and the firmer Sport suspension fitted to high-spec A3s).
The Audi is notable for its neutral, grippy handling, which is easy to enjoy if not the last word in driver reward and communication. It’s just an easy and unflappable car to drive whether you’re stressing in Tesco’s car park or taking the long way home down your favourite road.
Should I buy one?
You should certainly buy an Audi A3 if you want a posh hatchback, as it's our favourite of the premium small cars - although investigate the VW Golf very carefully if you can stand to lower yourself to a VW instead of an Audi. It has better standard safety equipment, is usefully cheaper on finance, and is also available with this engine.
The more pertinent question is 'should I buy one instead of a diesel?' Tricky question, which predictably comes down to your lifestyle.
While the official economy on this 1.5 is very good, in practice we struggled to get more than 35mpg on a fairly sedate town- and country-road drive, so while you could potentially see 40-ish mpg or more if you take it easy and spend a lot of time on the motorway, the reality is that the 2.0 TDI or 1.6 TDI (both of which in our experience will do around 50-55mpg in varied real-world use and are of course Euro 6) will still deliver usefully more miles to your fuel-pump pound.
Yet the reality is that a changing market is gradually eating away the incentives that used to make diesel so recommendable, so with added advent of this new engine you need to be doing at least 12,000 miles per year – more likely 15,000 or more – before you’ll be saving money by going for the 2.0 TDI.
Critically, company car tax bands have changes in petrol's favour, so a manual Audi A3 1.5 TFSI Sport will cost more than £1000 less over three years of BIK payments for a 40 percent tax payer (at £7690) than a 2.0 TDI Sport. Even the 1.6 TDI will cost around £500 more in company car tax over three years than the 1.5 TFSI, so company car buyers should also be doing the maths regards their annual mileage and fuel costs very carefully before assuming that a diesel is the better option.
And as for the 1.6 TDI? If you’re going for the A3, you probably want a premium-feeling hatch and the 1.6 is the least refined and least enjoyable engine in the range. We’d certainly opt for the 1.5 TFSI over the 1.6 TDI. Doing sub-12,000 miles per year? Ditch the diesel and go for this instead.