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Click to view road test review picture galleryAs rewarding as it is
  to own a car wearing
  an Audi badge, one
  of the most satisfying
  aspects of Audi’s
  new A3 1.9 TDIe is
  the 35 Road Tax
  disc displayed in its
  windscreen...”


UK MOTORISTS ARE FED UP WITH HIGH FUEL PRICES, high taxation levels on fuel, road tax, congestion charges and, for company car drivers, high benefit-in-kind charges.

Car manufacturers have responded by introducing lower CO2 emission models which are also more fuel efficient. So whether you are a private buyer or a company car user there is now a much wider choice of 'tax-cheating' models to choose from — and more are on their way.

One of the most popular models in the Audi premium brand range is their A3 line-up of 3- and 5-door Sportback variants. This line-up was recently extended by the introduction of A3 1.9 TDIe 'green' variants in both three-door and Sportback body styles. A key benefit of this 'e' model is that, thanks to CO2 emissions of 119g/km, it will be exempt from the unpopular London Congestion Charge which — providing Mayor Ken Livingstone is re-elected — comes into force from 27 October this year.

If the sub-120g/km exemption does go ahead you can be sure that other towns and cities up and down the UK, and indeed throughout Europe, will look to follow London's lead and introduce tax gathering measures for higher emission vehicles.

Another reason to buy these 'greener' lower CO2 models is their lower road fund license costs: just 35 a year for road tax providing the emissions are 120g/km or lower. And, of course, lower CO2 means better fuel economy and in turn that means less money spent on fuel and less tax paid to the Treasury.

Audi says their A3 1.9 TDIe returns an average of 62.7mpg — and my three-door test model matched that figure almost exactly. The 1.9-litre TDI turbodiesel engine produces 104bhp of power and a healthy 151lb ft of torque from 1,900rpm to give it a top speed of 120mph. Zero to 62mph is covered in 11.4 seconds.

The core VW family 1.9 TDI engine is well known and widely used. Yes, the four-cylinder turbodiesel with intercooler, diesel particulate filter and exhaust gas recirculation, is slightly gruff and noisy. But it has decent power, and it gets the job done without fuss or embarrassment — particularly when it comes to overtaking. The engine has been modified to make it more fuel and CO2 efficient, the gear ratios have been lengthened to improve economy, low-resistance tyres are fitted and there have been a few aerodynamic body tweaks to improve air-flow over the car.

Priced at 16,660, the 1.9 TDIe three-door is the same price as the standard A3 1.9 TDI. The five-door Sportback TDIe version costs 17,160.

When these 'green' A3 variants went on sale at the end of last year, some of the motoring press thought the car was expensive as it didn't have much in the way of interior equipment. It does have electrically-operated door-mirrors, windows, stereo radio and CD player and air conditioning — undoubtedly nearly all of the things most people want on a day-to-day basis.

However, the comparable BMW 1-Series 118d three-door (which produces 119g/km of CO2 emissions) costs more — 18,290. The latest VW Golf BlueMotion, in three-door form with the same engine as the Audi, costs 15,565. The new Ford Focus Econetic 1.6-litre TDCi will be priced at 16,295, but this model is available with five doors. So you pay a bit more for the Audi brand over the Golf and Focus; but not as much as for a BMW 1-Series.

True, in Audi's case, you can add more options — but why bother? If you add more extras to the cost of the retail price and you are a company car driver or a business user-chooser you end up paying more benefit-in-kind tax, so it makes sense to have a reasonably well equipped, tax-efficient car than pay through the nose for the privilege of having satellite navigation. Sure, it's nice to have, but why pay more tax for it — instead, invest in a portable — and tax-free — TomTom or similar navigation unit.

That said, my test car came with 3,620 worth of additional options such as an interior lighting package, Audi Symphony/BOSE sound system, GSM mobile phone kit, heated front seats and leather upholstery.

However, I would suggest adding the optional 260 rear parking aid because — due to its high waistline, high rear seat line, small windows and door mirrors — the A3 three-door is not the easiest of cars to see out of when reverse parking. Some styling changes are due mid-year for the A3, in line with the introduction of the new A3 Cabriolet, so let's hope one of them will provide improved visibility.

Okay, the TDI engine is a tad noisy, visibility is not perfect when it comes to reverse parking and some of the options are high cost. However, in every other respect the 1.9 TDIe was good to drive — ideal for today's congested roads, and very frugal on fuel. The long-legged gearing makes it very relaxed to drive on motorways and on normal A and B roads. On occasion, you have to drive in fourth gear rather than fifth but this didn't seem to adversely affect the fuel consumption.

I drove lots of miles in this 'green' A3, on all types of roads, and it did exactly what it has been designed to do: it provided comfortable, fuel- and tax-efficient travel. Major plus points, then, are the low emissions, excellent fuel economy, high interior quality, the comfortable ride and
a responsive engine. And, definitely best of all, it has an Audi badge
on the bonnet. But what, perhaps, gave me an even greater sense of satisfaction every time I returned to the car was seeing that 35 tax disc on the windscreen. — David Miles

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Audi A3 1.9 TDIe 3-door | 16,660
Maximum speed: 120mph | 0-62mph: 11.4 seconds
Overall test MPG: 62.7mpg | Power: 104bhp | Torque: 151lb ft

CO2 119g/km | Insurance group 11

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