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Click for pictures“Highly desirable,
  that’s the A3
  Sportback, Audi
  compact new
  lifestyle estate”

a five-door A3 with a sporty estate-style back. However stylish, Audi never intended it to be just another estate and this is definitely an advantage. Because what really marks it out is that not only is it enjoyable to own and drive, but it also has more than enough room for your family and all their stuff.

The Sportback's bold visual identity begins with the distinctive mesh-filled single-frame front grille that immediately and unmistakably identifies it as an Audi. Beyond the B-pillars of the standard 3-door
A3, Audi have added two extra doors, a raked rear tailgate and sharp-looking, unique-to-the-Sportback Nuvolari-style rear light units. Flush-fitting satin chrome roof rails define the new roofline over the new
third side window that, together with the extra rear overhang, tricks your eye; making the five-door body appear substantially longer and larger than that of the three. Checking out a Sportback, it seems it should belong to a class above. And yet, it is just 83mm longer than the regular three-door A3.

The extended bodyshell guarantees that there's more than enough room for five full size adults to travel in comfort, with a headrest and 3-point belt for all of them. The sporty tailgated boot is, at 370 litres, bigger than that of its three-door sibling and it can be expanded significantly — to 1,120 litres — by folding down the asymmetrically-split rear seats. Lengthwise luggage space is best defined by the fact that if you specify the optional load-through system you can even accommodate skis. Take into consideration that all this costs only
500 more than the well-liked three-door A3, and you will see that
the Sportback is something of a snip.

In common with its three-door counterpart, the Sportback offers the widest range of petrol and TDI engines in its segment, combining them with either five- or six-speed manual 'boxes, an optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission or Audi's acclaimed semi-automatic Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). Prices range from an entry-level 16,460
to 24,890 for the 155mph V6 3.2 quattro flagship, so there's a Sportback to suit everyone. If you're still not satisfied there is also front-wheel or quattro four-wheel drive and standard or sports suspension. We tested the 2.0-litre FSI Sport that, with a six-speed manual 'box as standard, has an on-the-road price of 19,060.

With 150bhp and 147lb ft of torque, there's sufficient oomph from
the front-wheel drive, transversely-mounted aluminium in-line four to deliver a smooth and effortless drive. And also to deliver satisfyingly swift progress whenever it's needed. FSI is Audi's latest injection technology whereby fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber rather than via the inlet tract. Benefits are less carbon dioxide and more power, better acceleration and a higher top speed while using less fuel. To the average driver it will feel eager and smooth.

Give the 2.0-litre FSI its head and it will get you to 62mph from standstill in 9.1 seconds. Top speed is 132mph with a fuel consumption that's as rewarding as the Sportback's first class build quality —
27.9, 38.2 and 48.7mpg respectively for Urban, Combined and Extra Urban. Overall we recorded 34.3mpg and, in spite of our enthusiastic driving, long motorway journeys saw the trip computer showing 44+mpg. A feasible 500-mile touring range from the 12.1-gallon tank
is yet another bonus.

Audi build quality and interiors are excellent. The term 'masterclass' springs to mind, and they are deservedly acknowledged as among the best-of-the-best, regardless of the price tag. No surprise then that the Sportback's cabin exudes an expensive aura, making it an ideal place from which to watch the world whizz by.

Fronted by a smart fascia with echoes of the TT, the driving environment is a model of classy orderliness. Beautifully finished, it
is made more rewarding by elegant instrumentation and well-sited switchgear and controls. Satin chrome highlights — just enough to
be classy; not too much to be showy — brighten up the air vents, instrument bezels, door fittings and the gear lever surround.
A generous range of seat and steering adjustment guarantees a faultless driving position and maximum passenger comfort from
the Sport seats.

The on-board computer is operated by a rocker switch on the top
of the right-hand stalk, and gives you access to relevant data on a clear display sited between the large rev-counter and 160mph speedometer. Above it sit two small gauges, for coolant temperature and fuel. The grained full-width black fascia is punctuated by four attractively-detailed eye-ball air vents, whose finely-knurled outer bezels rotate to turn the air flow on or off. Another neat touch and they feel good each time they're used.

There's more to come. The short stubby gear lever, as thick as your thumb, is topped by a classic black sphere that's great to palm. Other agreeable touches are a meaty three-spoke wheel wrapped with leather and perforated on prime grip areas, and the master central locking button. Inset into the driver's door panel it glows red to show all the doors are locked. And it's bright enough to be easily seen in the daylight. Neither does Audi shortchange you on the electric windows because all four have one-shot auto operation.

Other delights include the uncomplicated climate control module sited directly below the audio unit in the central stack and the thumbwheel heated seat switches with six settings which take you from just pleasant to pleasantly roasting.

Cabin storage is generous starting with the large glovebox divided into three separate sections, followed by a discreet 'valuables box' under the front of the driver's seat and supplemented by several additional stowage boxes and also by good-sized rigid door pockets. The smart, sturdy swan neck handbrake lever drops down out of the way offering a neat space-saving solution.

On the move, the cabin is aurally refined courtesy of a ride that smoothes out most bumps without the tiniest suggestion of a squeak or a rattle from the interior as it goes about its business. All part and parcel of the feel-good ambience that is complimentary with every Sportback.

The Sportback shares its MacPherson strut front and multi-link independent rear suspension with the three-door A3. Sport models have larger 17-inch '5-arm' design alloy wheels shod with 225/45 Michelin Pilots and a firmer suspension set-up that's lower by 15mm, resulting in impressive grip whether your driving style is restrained
or passionate. The chassis is benign with reassuring road manners
and remains neutral until pushed really hard, when it moves safely
to predictable understeer.

A combination of a light, positive and foolproof gearchange and a fluid clutch action makes driving a pleasure. It's not often we encounter such a sweet gearshift, and it certainly helps make everyday driving something else. 150bhp is more than enough to endow the Sportback with a good turn of speed. Third and fourth gears are brilliant for
B-road fun and should you find yourself pulling away in second there'll be no problems — demonstrating just how flexible the 2.0 FSI unit is.

At the other end of its range it will pull strongly in sixth. So much so that you do need to keep an eye on your speed — helped by the
speed warning facility to protect you from yourself. All you need is a quick press on the button at the desired speed to set the alarm. On motorways, higher speeds can creep up on you unannounced by wind or road noise as there's barely a hint from the engine at 90mph should you be eating up the miles on the Continent. At that speed the in-line four is spinning at just 3,200rpm and, for the record, 60mph comes up at 2,200rpm. A large left-foot rest is a boon for long hauls.

Brakes are discs all-round, ventilated at the front, and — like those fitted to the Audi S4 — feature a dual rate brake servo which allows very sensitive application of brake forces under normal conditions but delivers a substantially higher degree of retardation when full-on braking is called for. All the driver needs to know is that the Sport-back's brakes work with total reassurance, scrubbing off speed and pulling-up four-square without a hint of drama.

Turn-in and direction changes happen rapidly, with no wasted body movements. The speed-dependent electro-mechanical power steering needs less power than a conventional hydraulic system and it weights up reassuringly the faster you go, thanks in part to the Sportback's compact 10.7 metre turning circle. ABS with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist, an electronic differential lock and Audi's ESP stability control system are all fitted as standard.

Safety is taken care of with typical Audi thoroughness. Every model features anti-lock brakes and stability control along with driver, front passenger and front side airbags plus a head airbag protection system. Also standard fit are anti-whiplash crash active head restraints in the front along with three head restraints in the rear.

Drive a Sportback for a few days and you really appreciate just how well Audi has considered important key items. Things that at first appear insignificant can make all the difference to living with a car long-term. Powerful main and dipped headlights make night driving a stress-free task, helped by the soft red glow of the dials. The comprehensive range of seat/wheel adjustment ensures a comfortable and ache-free driving position whether you're nipping out for the Sunday papers or taking the family off to Land's End. Wide-opening doors — to ninety degrees — make life easier for rear seat passengers, who also enjoy more head and knee room than those in the back of
the three-door A3. They also enjoy a wide, comfortable central rear armrest that contains a useful lined storage tray, along with two pop-out cup holders.

Standard equipment is as comprehensive as you would expect from Audi and includes excellent contoured front sport seats that hold you firmly in place even during lively cornering, electronic climate control,
a premium radio/CD with simple controls, a handy and easy-to-use driver's information system, meaty three-spoke Sport leather-clad steering wheel, electric windows all-round, heated electric foldback door mirrors, height adjustable driver and passenger seats, heat insulating tinted glass and a practical lift-up rear sun blind built into the rear parcel shelf. Extras include a combined DVD/SatNav with a 6.5-inch colour monitor and MP3 player and an 'Open Sky' glass sunroof that is glazed all the way from the windscreen to the rear window and which, compared with most sunroofs, lets twice as much light into the cabin and comes with front and rear roller blinds.

We tested the Sportback immediately after some rather mouth-watering cars costing much, much more and yet, when the time came to part company with our test car after eight days and 600-odd
miles, everyone at MotorBar was genuinely sorry to see it go. It's a convincing package, beautifully built, does whatever you ask whenever you need it and there's ample room for the average family. In fact, if you don't already have a family, it's almost enough to make you wish you did!

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Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 FSI Sport | 19,060
Maximum speed: 132mph | 0-62mph: 9.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 34.3mpg | Power: 150bhp | Torque: 147lb ft

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--------------------------------------------------------------- Audi A3 Sportback