IF YOU’RE one of those studious types who consulted your car’s handbook when it was new, you might have noticed the few lines of advice on the subject of running in. Some view it as an old fashioned concept more appropriate to bedding in the engine of an Austin A40, but the underlying reasons remain valid in today’s world of high pressure fuel injection and turbochargers.

So much so that, with the A3’s odometer having recently clicked over into five-figure territory, I swear the car’s fuel consumption has crept closer to the official figure. If true, it provides substance to the belief that the more miles you pile on a diesel engine the better it gets.

That’s certainly the case with the A3’s 2.0-litre TDI motor, which started out as a disappointingly gruff engine for the first few thousand miles but has evolved into a much smoother and quieter unit. A more scientific observation centres on the trip computer, which has gone from consistently displaying a fuel consumption figure in the high 40s to recently a more wallet-friendly one in the mid 50s.

Okay, so that’s still a little way off the car’s official combined figure, but this is after a brisk long distance motorway commute. Turning the pace down a notch on the back roads regularly sees a figure in the low 60s, though.

And so much for Audi’s much publicised Drive Select system; the concept of different drive modes – economy, dynamic, a user customised mode and an adaptive ‘auto’ choice – is supposed to put the driver in charge and offer noticeably different characteristics such as weighted steering or reduced output air-con to aid performance and economy respectively.

My humble achievements were made with the A3 in the default auto mode as it offered the best balance of consistent steering feel, the right level of throttle response and didn’t neuter the air-con on those damp mornings when prompt demisting was more important than saving the planet.

The Drive Select concept might be a sound one – its similarities with BMW’s Efficient Dynamics philosophy are obvious – but the reality is a system, when flicking between the different modes, that offers only marginal gains at the expense of driver engagement. Thankfully it’s a cost option so the fact the button has seen very little action doesn’t worry me. Plus, and I doubt unintentionally on Audi’s part, it also highlights how good the A3’s default set-up really is.

For instance, the A3’s steering gradually but noticeably weights up when cornering quickly yet offers supermini-light assistance when parking. And save for the times when it’s really hot or cold outside, the engine’s stop-start system works on time, every time you come to a halt.

Crucially, despite the arrival of new cars such as Volkswagen’s Golf and Seat’s Leon keen on stealing the limelight, the A3 still looks great in the metal. Its design was always intended to be more evolution than revolution, but its understated classy appearance never fails to raise a smile. This, along with its modest drinking habit, will be sorely missed when it eventually returns to its maker.

Model: Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sport 3dr, from £22,730 on the road.
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 150bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 134mph, 0-62mph 8.6 seconds.
Economy: 68.9mpg.
CO2 Rating: 106g/km.

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