Audi A3 2.0 TDI SE 170 (2008) review | CAR Magazine

Audi A3 2.0 TDI SE 170 (2008) review

Published: 22 May 2008 Updated: 26 January 2015
Audi A3 2.0 TD first drive car review: front three-quarter picture
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Audi has given the A3 a mid-life facelift, and the revised 2.0-litre TDI engine heads the oil-burning line-up in 168bhp form. Audi promises this diesel A3 is cleaner and quieter than the car it replaces while still offering a sporty drive within premium quality surroundings.

This Audi A3 diesel doesn’t look that much different does it?

Not visually, no: it’s a minor nip and tuck job that only the committed Audi fan will spot – re-crafted bumpers, headlamps, tail lamps – unless you’re looking at a car fitted with the new optional daytime LED running lights, of course.

Doesn’t sound like they’ve done much then?

Well there are quite a few detail changes across the range – flatter underfloors, improved aerodynamics, tweaks to the interior trim – and the A3 range has recently become rather complicated on the engine front. There’s a 1.4-litre petrol engine that makes more power than the 1.6-litre – thanks to a turbocharger – leaving the latter as the entry level – and rather dated – motor. Then there’s a new 1.8-litre turbo engine in the range that sounds to the ear like the 2.0-litre TFSI but is in fact an all-new unit first seen in the recently launched A4. Actually, the acclaimed 2.0 TFSI won’t be around for much longer either: it’s due to be replaced soon by another 2.0 TFSI unit based on the new 1.8-litre block. The 3.2 narrow-angle V6 has been dropped in the UK, but not elsewhere, where it continues in S-Tronic Quattro form only.

On the diesel side, the ubiquitous 1.9 TDI is still rattling away at the foot of the range but can also be had in greener ‘e’ trim, and then there’s a couple of 2.0-litre TDI motors with 138bhp and 168bhp. Except don’t be fooled by these numbers, because they aren’t the usual A3 pump-düse injection engines, but the revised common rail injection units first seen in the new A4. Got all that? And there’s now a seven-speed dual clutch S-Tronic ‘box available on smaller engines, as well as the usual six-speed S-Tronic ‘box on the bigger engines.

Click ‘Next’ below to read more of our first drive of the Audi A3 2.0 TDI

What exactly has been done to this TDI motor?

Modified piston geometry, redesigned drive belt, new-gen turbocharger and, of course, the replacement of the old unit injectors with a common rail delivery operating at 1,800 bar. There’s 258lb ft of torque on offer here so it should go a fair bit, and it’ll do 47.9mpg on the combined cycle.

Sounds good – what’s it like on the road?

Can this engine really be from the same firm that produced the old-spec 2.0-litre TDI? Sure, in the right car the old engine went like stink, but all that harshness, the gravelling boorishness and vibration – it’s all gone. When coupled with the S-Tronic transmission as in this case it offers fluid, smooth power with a restrained note from behind the bulkhead.

This is a diesel A3 with a remarkable 0-62mph time of 7.8sec – let alone colossal in-gear shove – but subjectively from behind the wheel, it doesn’t feel that fast thanks to a very linear delivery; it’s the kind of car that surprises you when you glance down at the speedometer.

Factor in a chassis that while sophisticated on paper and competent in practise, is hardly involving or exciting, nor the most comfortable riding – although the newly optional Magnetic Ride damping might improve that in the UK – and despite the constant talk of ‘sportiness’ from Audi you’re left with a desirable hatchback, but not one that’ll get the pulse racing.

For many would-be owners that won’t be an issue, because it’s the same recipe of quality interiors and bewitching brand at work here. But if you’ve read the headline engine stats and begun to see this A3 as some kind of frugal hot hatch alternative then I think you might be disappointed.


Smooth, solid, proficient, expensive: it’s more of the same from the new Audi A3, and thanks to this heavily revised engine it’s an improved car in diesel form. Just not one you’ll necessarily covet.


Price when new: £20,165
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1968cc 16v 4-cyl turbodiesel, 168bhp @ 4200rpm, 258lb ft @ 1750-2500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed twin-clutch, front-wheel drive
Performance: 7.8 sec 0-62mph, 138mph, 47.9mpg, 156g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1340kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4238/1765/1421

Photo Gallery

  • Audi A3 2.0 TD first drive car review: front three-quarter picture
  • Audi A3 2.0 TD first drive car review: interior picture
  • Audi A3 2.0 TD first drive car review: rear three-quarter picture
  • Audi A3 2.0 TD first drive car review: front three-quarter picture
  • Audi A3 2.0 TD first drive car review: rear three-quarter picture