What is it?
This is the all-new Audi A3. If you’re thinking it 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 chubby-puppy 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 premium-feel than before – such as aluminium front wings and bonnet, cast aluminium front subframe, even a cast magnesium centre armrest bracket. They don’t come cheap but do help distinguish the A3 from mainstream alternatives.
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.
The A3 is offered with four engines, a sweet 1.4 TFSI and a punchy, silky-smooth 1.8 TFSI. There’s a frugal 1.6 TDI but the diesel most will prefer is the 150bhp 2.0-litre TDI. Again, this is all-new, and is astonishingly quiet. Nothing wrong with its power, punch or freedom to rev, either.
On the inside
The new A3 was launched as a three-door but the five-door Sportback is now out too. More will follow, including a four-door saloon, but all will share one thing: an absolutely gorgeous interior, with top-level, class-defining 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.
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.