I had been hoping for at least an R8 as a courtesy car when dropping my S3 S-Tronic off for a service at Bristol Audi this morning. So my heart sank a little as I was handed the handed the keys to a 1.2 SE S-Tronic. Boasting 104bhp / 129 lb.ft to my S3's 300+ of each, the A3 was going to be an "interesting" way to spend the 85-mile round trip I had in mind to a nice town for lunch with the wife. Today's exam question was therefore to be: how does the almost bottom-of-the-range A3 (£19k) compare to the almost top-of-the-range S3 (£34k)? Does a third of the power and a lot less cash dilute the experience? A3 Sportback 1.2 TSI SE S-Tronic S3 Sportback S-Tronic Thigns got off to a good start once the service lady gave my 2 year old daughter a choc chip biscuit - can't beat Audi service. Opening the door to the Deep Sea Blue A3, I noticed a nice coffee stain to the cat-sick colour interior... don't even think of this interior colour option if you have a family. SE spec and the Comfort Pack meant at least an armrest and a few bits of kit (like rain and parking sensors) that my S3 doesn't have. The cloth interior, stereo and door inlays were obvious downgrades to the interior - but the overall effect wasn't too bad. Starting up the engine and selecting gear through the familiar S-Tronic lever, things started feeling good. The 1.2 may only have 104bhp, but with 7 gears to choose from it is always in a smooth and reasonably torquey spot - it's so good that I had to check that I didn't have the 125bhp 1.4 in the paperwork! It's clearly no ball of fire, but I'd say that this is possibly one of the best matched engine and drivetrain combination that I have driven (feels made for S-Tronic more than my S3's engine). Part of this was because I was driving smoothly for the day, but it really excelled in the zone of 20% effort for everyday driving. The ride quality on SE suspension was quite nice after owning an S-Line and S3, although it clearly lacked grip and poise compared to my quattro cars. It was also a bit of a surprise to experience wheelspin a few times - quattro makes a real difference even in the dry! Overall average fuel consumption for the day was 43.2mpg, compared to about 32mpg that I would have got from the S3 driving in a similar style. This isn't amazingly better than the S3 (which is running AWD too), but I think you'd need to be averaging 47mpg in a TDI to gain any cost advantage over the 1.2. This is something to really think about if you are looking at TDI's, as the 1.2 TSI felt a lot smoother than my own experience of VAG diesels. Getting back into my shiny and freshly serviced S3 at the end of the day, it was nice to be welcomed back to the comforts of leather, Bose sound, RNSE and back-lit display - but I'd certainly consider the 1.2 TSI as an alternative to a TDI or as a car for essential family needs. Overall, the 1.2 TSI is a real peach of an engine and very well-matched to 7-speed S-Tronic transmission. SE spec is comfortable and good value at the price, meaning that you get a good-looking and reasonably equipped car. Is it as good as an S3? Obviously not, but it's surprising how three times the power doesn't feel like three times the power...but also that you don't get three times the fuel economy in a 1.2!