Audi A3 TDi 2008-2012: Max Power

April 30 2019
Audi A3 TDi 2008-2012: Max Power

Second Hand Style, with Richard Cooke

FOR £500 more than the set of fancy floor mats found in last month’s Aston Martin, you can buy this 2008 top spec ‘S Line’ Audi A3.

My test model had done 160,000 miles but still ran very nicely, thanks to a 170bhp unburstable diesel engine and typical sky-high Audi build quality. Two thick-pile mats on which to rest your feet and some spare change for petrol, or an entire car fitted with a Bose stereo, front and rear sunroofs, half leather seats, satnav and 45mpg regardless of how you drive it? And not just any car – an Audi A3, deftly face-lifted in 2008 and scrubbing up very nicely in the metal, with pristine paintwork. What’s not to love about that?

A3s are very expensive new. They have to be or no-one would buy a VW Golf, SEAT Leon or Skoda Octavia. All four cars share the same engines and underpinnings, but Audi has a badge and perceived build quality advantage that means you see more of them around than their much cheaper SEAT and Skoda cousins. But when buying used the price difference narrows significantly, especially vs. the Golf. And to drive the A3 does feel a cut above, albeit not quite as premium as you might imagine. It is still a great place to sit though – low body-hugging S Line seats ensure a really involved driving position. The dash still feels fairly modern, although having to put a key in an ignition was an interestingly retro experience. The manual 6-speed gearbox was still slick, the clutch a little heavy but the steering feel and weight was perfect. That 2 litre diesel is a total peach – 170bhp feels more like 250 when the turbo kicks in, such is the torque available all the way up to five thousand rpm. It never sounded gruff either, and it should go on way past 200k miles with no trouble at all.

This particular example has been fitted (advisedly or otherwise) with 19 inch low profile alloys and special suspension units, lowering and firming the ride further than the already low and very firm ‘S Line’ specification. I think it looks great, but it crashed about over Hambrook back roads. Each to their own though, and on a dual carriageway you don’t notice it so much.

What goes wrong? Very little: Audi have earnt their deserved reputation for reliability and build. The rear parking sensors had given up the ghost and the B pillar was delaminating. I really pined for a reversing camera, but instead had to actually turn my head around and look behind me when reversing. Good exercise, I suspect.

So we should all buy an Audi A3 Tdi then? Five or six years ago, the answer was firmly ‘yes’, and many people did. Today though, not so fast. Because that diesel engine was the main culprit in the 2015 VW Group emissions cheating scandal. Driving it into central London will now cost you an extra £12.50 on top of the congestion charge. Bristol and many other cities are set to follow suit with their own emissions zones and, in the eyes of legislators, this is something of an automotive pariah. You’d get less scorn from lobbyists by renting out your spare bedroom to Julian Assange. And on the face of it this is all a terrible shame, because the engine is so flexible, economical and robust that I can see why it was for a brief period held up as the solution. Buying one new a few years ago, you’d have every right to feel cheated.

So go ahead and buy a used diesel A3, safe in the knowledge that it will serve you well for years to come. Revel in the solid build, high specification and very handsome good looks. Avoid uncomfortable conversations about your environmental credentials and quietly accept that diesel’s time as our fuel of choice is rapidly coming to an end. Very soon you must simply dig out a bit of extra cash for petrol. Rude boy alloys an optional extra.

Audi A3 Tdi S Line:From £2k for a 2008 model with 160k miles