Advanced chassis, breadth of abilities
Looks just like the old one, myriad options will baffle you
What is it?
If you’re thinking the latest Audi A3 looks just like the very long-running model it replaced a few years back, 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 give it time. Then, the crisper appearance becomes clear. A frequent entrant in the UK top ten best-seller charts, this facelifted Audi A3 reviewed here is sure to build on its predecessors' successes.
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. They don’t come cheap but do help distinguish the A3 from mainstream alternatives. This flexibility also means Audi’s been able to offer more variants on top of the three-door hatchback and five-door Sportback; you can now have a two-door cabriolet or, for those who think the A4 has become too big (or miss the Vauxhall Belmont), four-door A3 Saloon. And don't forget the A3 e-tron hybrid, if you're after something you can plug in and drive silently.
Want something faster? There's the deceptively quick, really rather subtle S3 and the boisterous and wonderfully five-cylindered RS3, the latter with close to 400bhp for some genuine supercar-scaring pace. Both come as either a hatch or saloon.
Our choice from the range
What is the verdict?
The Audi A3 founded the premium hatchback genre, and it remains the best one. While a Mercedes A-Class prioritises comfort and a BMW 1 Series focuses on sharp handling, the A3 strikes a great compromise between the two. More interesting than the Merc to drive, but unlikely to cause you BMW-esque problems when the snow falls, the A3 balances the requirements of its class well.
It doesn't cost much more than a VW Golf to buy, either, making it a better value proposition than you might imagine. And with loads of petrol engines to choose from - not least the quite barmy 400bhp RS3 - you've plenty of options if you want to avoid diesel. This generation of A3, while updated, has been around since 2012, yet it's still a mightily strong contender.