What is it?
If you’re thinking this ‘new’ looks just like the old one – a very familiar model, given how it ran for more years than is normal in this sector – then join the club. This is Audi doing what Audi always does: design evolution rather than revolution. It’s a very purist way of doing things, which relies on people having the patience to, basically, give it time. Then, the crisper panels and less chubbypuppy appearance become clear. How many in this fashion-conscious sector will, though?
Following the Vorsprung Durch Technik mantra, the interesting stuff is hidden beneath the surface. This third generation A3 debuts the new Volkswagen Group MQB platform, upon which around 10 million cars a year will be built. It’s clever, highly flexible and features some technical jewels that help make the A3 much more premiumfeel than before. They don’t come cheap but do help distinguish the A3 from mainstream alternatives. This flexibility also means Audi’s been able to offer a new variant, the A3 Saloon. For those who think the A4 has become too big (or miss the Vauxhall Astra Belmont?).
Because the new A3 has been engineered to use lightweight parts, particularly up front, it has a lithe lightness on the road that the old A3 never had. Seriously – the handling is light-footed and playful in a way no mainstream Audi has yet managed. It grips hard, hardly understeers, even generates a semblance of feedback through the steering. Audi also offers three levels of suspension stiffness plus a trick magnetic ride option.
1.4 TFSI and 1.8 TFSI engines are effective, and more recent additions are the 1.2 TFSI and 1.4 TFSI ‘cylinder on demand’ motors, plus the storming 300bhp S3 (with standard quattro). There’s a frugal 1.6 TDI but the diesel most will prefer is the 2.0-litre TDI. Again, this is all-new, and is very quiet.
On the inside
All versions of the Audi A3 share one thing: an absolutely gorgeous interior, with top-level, classdefining fit and finish. The old A3 was, despite its age, at the top of its game in this area: the new one simply extends this leadership further, while bringing new features to the table too. These include onboard internet, fingertip recognition sat nav entry and Audi drive select. As for practicality, the hatchback ones are more flexible but the saloon has a huge boot.
All the lightweight engineering that goes into the new A3 pays dividends for fuel economy, too. The 2.0 diesel emits just 106g/km CO2. Launch cars are well stocked, despite equipment-adjusted prices broadly in line with the old car.