Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI 150 SE Technik
List price £24,080
Target Price £21,916
The A3 Sportback has long been the top choice if you want a premium family hatchback
Mini Clubman Cooper D Media Pack
List price £23,395
Target Price £22,254
Second-generation Clubman offers a host of improvements, including more interior space
Mini looked like it had a winner on its hands when it launched the Clubman in 2007. Here was a car that promised Golf-rivalling practicality, as well as distinctive looks and a hefty dose of driving fun.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a flawed offering. It handled well, but its boot wasn’t very big and the gimmicky single rear offside passenger door was an annoying feature that hampered access.
Now, Mini has taken note of the car's failings and dramatically revised the design for this, the second-generation Clubman. It has two rear doors and a much bigger boot. But it faces stiff competition from traditional premium hatchbacks, particularly the superb Audi A3 Sportback, which has just been facelifted.
It gets the latest Audi family look, including a sharper front grille and new headlights with LED daytime running lights. Plus, it comes with the latest smartphone integration and is available wth Audi's Virtual Cockpit digital instruments.
What are they like to drive?
Both cars are fitted with four-cylinder diesel engines that drive the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. They both produce 148bhp along with similar amounts of low-rev pulling power. Despite these similarities, the A3 is the quicker car. It completes the 0-60mph sprint in a swift 7.9sec, whereas the Clubman takes 8.6sec. However, if you put your foot down in a higher gear, the Clubman will accelerate more briskly than the A3, making it easier to keep pace with the ebb and flow of traffic.
Both cars have gearing that’s well suited to motorway cruising because the low engine revs help cut noise and boost economy. At 70mph, the A3’s engine is spinning at 1950rpm, while the Clubman’s turns at 2050rpm.
The A3’s engine is also superbly smooth and will happily rev to 5000rpm. The Clubman’s isn’t too noisy or unrefined, but it’s always that bit more gruff. The Clubman’s gearbox isn’t as slick as the A3’s, either.
Fortunately, the Clubman is still quite fun to drive. It feels lower and stiffer than the A3, which lends it a sporting edge. Its steering doesn’t offer a great amount of feel, however, which means it isn’t quite as rewarding to drive as you might expect.
The A3 doesn’t seem quite as agile as the Clubman, but it is actually easier to drive quickly thanks to its more grippy front end, which doesn’t run wide as early when pushed hard into a corner.
Both cars’ braking response is easily judged and controlled. However, the A3 stops slightly quicker than the Clubman, and it does a better job of transferring its power to the road in slippery conditions; the Clubman tends to scrabble when you accelerate out of junctions or on to roundabouts.
The A3 also rides in a softer, more composed fashion. The Clubman’s stiffer suspension makes it thud and jar a little more over cracks and bumps in the road, although it is never truly uncomfortable. The A3 is much better at shutting out wind and road noise, though, so it's the car that will get you to your destination feeling fresher.
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