Audi has stuck with the same DNA for its third-generation A3, with more traditional hatchback styling that is an evolutionary – rather than revolutionary – update on the previous model’s design.
Chances are you’d need to be an existing owner before you’d be likely to spot the differences between old and new. But make no mistake: the differences are real and, for the dynamically underachieving A3, game changing.
In fact all has changed – there’s a new platform and every engine is either new or substantially renewed. It’s this change without appearing to change that Audi hopes will provide the right blend of technical improvement with design reassurance to keep the new A3 on top throughout its third generation.
In the meantime, materials research within Audi has allowed for weight savings of at least 80kg versus equivalent second generation A3 models.
The hood and front fender panels are formed in aluminum now, and the aluminum-steel Audi Space Frame chassis approach has been utilized on the new compact as well.
It all sounds good. But Audi is also bragging about the A3’s newfound sportier handling together with more refined cabin experience.
Over it, Audi has draped a shape so utterly familiar you can park a new Audi A3 next to the old and not only struggle to tell one from the other but, once your eyes have picked out the myriad differences, still not be entirely sure which is the new car.
Inside the A3, Audi has minimalized the dash area into a very tasteful arrangement. Front seats are plush and roomy. There is good adjustability to the driving position and enough cubbyholes for smaller items, including twin cupholders below the dash. In the rear, the seats are comfortable, with plenty of headroom. The design is simple, but the materials and the quality of construction are revelatory.
I really like the way Audi designers have carefully placed metal finishes, including the quad circular air vents that elegantly twist to open or close the flow. The vision is good, and the A3 lives up to its prestige premise from an occupant perspective.
Over the courses of the week test drive, I lived well with this new environment. From the simple, two-dial instrument binnacle, to the sliver of heater controls down on the center console, only what you need is displayed, with other functions hidden in the Audi Multimedia interface.
One of the key highlights, and a first in this class, is the optional Multi Media Interface [MMI] that integrates Audi’s unique finger-spelling surface right onto the MMI’s rotary controller knob. Thus arranged, I found myself finally using the system full-time, and it works great. The tactile authenticity is gorgeous; everything feels exactly as it looks.
Another key profit center for the A3 is the company’s new Audi Connect system, a subscription service that essentially allows the car to satisfy your every smartphone need. And, for better or worse, you can have a wireless hotspot on four wheels with an eight-device connective capacity, so you can never ever have quiet time again.
The Audi A3 is remarkably practical for a compact hatchback, and the size of the boot is an excellent measure of this. The Audi A3 boot space is a roomy 365 litres and 1,100 with both back seats folded flat. You can also get a five-door A3 Sportback as well, which adds an extra couple of rear doors and an even larger boot.
The 1.4-litre TFSI and 1.8-litre TFSI petrol engines are very strong performers, offering plenty of flexibility, excellent throttle response and consistent power delivery. The 1.8-litre offers up a claimed 7.1sec 0-100km/h time, while the 1.4 covers that measurement in 9.3sec. The 1.2-litre TFSI needs to be worked much harder, and clocks in with a 10.3sec 0-100km/h time.
All the engines have a standard six-speed manual transmission, though a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is optional. Both transmissions are satisfaying , and they shift gears smoothly. The A3’s performance is characterized by sharp handling and comfortable ride quality.
If you have the choice and can afford it, the 2.0-litre TDI motor is by far for me the best engine available for the Audi A3 but all the petrol engines are smooth and sweet.
The ride is good with great damping control, which absorbs and isolates broken road edges. Driving the A3 fast is at best a mildly pleasurable and only fleetingly diverting experience. As well as feeling light and user-friendly around town, this car quickly asserts itself as a competent machine on a winding road. The lightweight body brings an inherent agility that helps point the nose assertively in corners, while taut suspension contains body movement over bumps. It’s no limousine in its ride, but it’s comfortable enough.
There’s also a smattering of extra gear : seven airbags (dual front, front side, side curtain and a driver’s knee airbag), a colour control screen that pops out of the dash, alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, dual-zone airconditioning , real leather seats.
Honestly, the latest A3 is a clear improvement on the previous one and brings genuine fuel-efficiency advantages. This car is much better even than that it could and perhaps should have been.