David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
Audi has updated the A3 range, although you'll have to look closely to notice. There's a new front grille, new headlights and new alloy wheel designs, but the design tweaks don't mark a dramatic change.
There's more equipment than before, with all cars coming with xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, cruise control, light and rain sensors, and a clever way of connecting a car to a smartphone – more on that later.
Engine-wise, it's largely as you were. There's an intriguing new 1.0 TFSI petrol engine with 115PS (113bhp), but such a modest power output means it's unlikely to appeal to caravanners. The new 190PS (187bhp) 2.0 TFSI engine has more potential as a tow car. In the five-door Sportback (the updates and new engines also apply to the three-door, saloon and cabriolet models), the 2.0 TFSI 190PS has a kerbweight of 1360kg (including 75kg for the driver) and a legal towing limit of 1600kg. All models have a 75kg maximum noseweight.
As before, it's the Quattro four-wheel-drive versions which have the most appeal as tow cars, not just because of their traction on slippery roads and campsites, but also because their higher kerbweights make for more favourable matching ratios. The new 190PS is the only petrol model with a Quattro version, with a 1460kg kerbweight.
The diesel line-up is unchanged. The least powerful is the 1.6 TDI with 110PS (108bhp). It's a willing enough engine in everyday driving and should adequately pull a lightweight tourer or micro caravan, but with 184lb ft of torque it will be working hard to tow a typical four-berth. The five-door has a kerbweight of 1335kg for the manual (1360kg for the S-tronic auto) and a legal towing limit of 1500kg.
While it's not especially quick, it should prove economical with an official combined figure of 74.3mpg for the manual when kitted out with 16-inch alloys (economy worsens with larger wheels).
The other two diesels are both 2.0-litre engines, with 150PS (148bhp) or 184PS (181bhp). We drove the 150PS version.
There's a big step up in performance compared with the 1.6. The extra power counts, of course, but it's the increased torque that really makes its presence felt. There's 251lb ft, enough for very brisk acceleration in solo driving.
Stick to the 85% guideline, and the engine won't be taxed too much; a manual five-door has a kerbweight of 1380kg, giving an 85% match figure of 1173kg. The S-tronic weighs an extra 15kg. In both cases, the legal maximum is 1600kg, although we'd recommend following the advice of both major caravanning clubs and towing no more than the kerbweight, even if you've been towing caravans for many years.
Although we only drove front-wheel-drive cars, the Quattro models open up a wider range of sensible matches. With a manual 'box the kerbweight is 1465kg, giving an 85% match figure of 1245kg. The legal towing limit is 1800kg.
We also took a steer in the 150PS (148bhp) 1.4 TFSI petrol. On paper it's not such an appealing choice for caravanners, but if you have a very light van it shouldn't be ruled out. It's quieter than the diesels, has surprising mid-range punch and returns impressive fuel economy, with an official combined figure of 61.4mpg. With kerbweights from 1305kg, though, it's limited in what it can sensibly tow.
With any of the three engines we tried, the new Audi A3 drives well. It's a competent and satisfying car rather than fun, though. The ride is more comfortable on the standard suspension rather than the sport set-up fitted as standard to the range-topping S line, and available as a no-cost option on Sport models. What's more, it's worth thinking twice before choosing large alloys as an option, as not only do they worsen economy and emissions but they firm up the ride. There's also more road noise with bigger wheels and tyres, in what's otherwise a refined and quiet cabin at speed.
And it's the cabin that really sells the A3. It's not especially roomy in the back, but few other small hatchbacks feel so upmarket, with such tactile switchgear and quality materials. Audi's Virtual Cockpit is now available as an option, replacing conventional dials with a 12.3-inch LCD display. You might wonder what's wrong with conventional dials (the answer: nothing), but if you love your gadgets the way the Virtual Cockpit can alter its appearance to highlight different features will appeal. It's at its most useful when showing the sat-nav map directly in the driver's line of sight, rather than off to one side.
All cars, including the entry-level SE, now come with the Audi Smartphone interface. Rather than simply connecting a phone via Bluetooth, this uses a USB port and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to allow access to many of the phone's functions and apps through the car's infotainment screen.
This level of technology and quality does come at a price, though. In three-door form with the new 1.0-litre engine, prices start from £19,365. Go for the 2.0 TDI 150PS Sportback, and you'll pay at least £23,585. Push the boat out and go for a range-topping 2.0 TDI 184PS Quattro S line and you'll be asked to pay £31,535.
There are many heavier and more practical tow cars available at these prices. But if you have a light van to tow, deep pockets, and appreciate high-tech gadgets and premium build quality, then the revised Audi A3 has plenty to offer.