Yes, the A3 is pricey – but there's a deal to be done
I have never yet driven an Audi A3 on test without somebody, somewhere, saying it was too expensive. It is a fact that A3s are viewed as dear. Ask anyone. Oh! They'll tell you.
Then ask someone who has one. Not a word out of them about price.
Then ask someone who is looking for one. They'll tell you (as one told me): "They're fierce hard to get second-hand." Translated, that means you won't get a cheap one.
I agree, by the way, that paying €30,000 for what many perceive to be a snobby Volkswagen Golf (same platform) is a big commitment to a brand and an emblem.
I also feel the general shortage of cash has had the value antennae working overtime. But just when price might have been a bigger deterrent, along comes a means of driving a new car without the need for a bootful of cash. Enter PCPs (personal contract plans). They are, I believe, keeping many a marque's sales ticking over this year.
Typically, you hand over 10pc of the price, then meet 36 monthly payments and at the end either buy the car for a pre-agreed price, hand it back, or use the pre-agreed value as a lump sum towards a new foray.
The reason I mention it here at all is that Audi is selling a big percentage of its cars this way now. It seems to appeal particularly to younger buyers. As ever, however, make absolutely sure you know everything involved before you commit to anything like this.
You can see, I hope, how such deals might dilute the total concentration on price – which is not a good thing either, so we'll continue to keep a sharp eye on that, too.
And after all that, what about the A3 Sportback itself?
This is your typical modern Audi: smart-and-strong looks, and a cabin of simple excellence. The interior has been completely overhauled to fit the template that now covers all models and puts so many rivals in the shade. Bluetooth is standard so you can get your phone hooked up and never again have to hold one to your ear while you drive.
Don't be fooled by the five-door hatch tag either. There is a surprising amount of room, especially at the rear. The effect of moving the front axle forward a bit has been disproportionately magnified by the extra rear-seat room.
There is also a good-sized boot.
Partially as a result of 90kg being shaved from the car's weight, the engines have all reduced fuel consumption by 10pc.
Under the bonnet in my test car was a splendid 2-litre diesel. I thought it excessively large and powerful (150bhp) for a hatchback of this size. There is a 1.6-litre diesel and a 1.4-litre petrol, which I'd also suggest you try. There is a 1.2-litre petrol coming next month, which will cut the entry price by nearly €2,000 (€27,750). Will that quieten the criticisms on price a bit? Probably not.
Incidentally, we need to recognise there are technically excellent petrols out there that more than compete with diesels for anyone doing up to 15,000km a year.
And after all that, I didn't think the 2-litre diesel was excessive.
No, indeed. I had some great driving in it. At €190 road tax a year, it represents something of a treat without a perennial financial penalty (okay, okay, it still costs more to buy).
I really did let this off the leash. It wasn't that quick from a standing start but the amount of in-gear zip and motorway overtaking pull was remarkable. The agile suspension shone most when I flung it around some mountainy roads in rain-soaked Wicklow.
All my passengers liked this car.
All – I knew this would happen – raised their eyebrows when I told them the price.
But I think one or two made a sneaky mental note to have a test drive because they asked a lot of questions about those PCP deals.