YES, you are looking at the new Audi A3. No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – it does look an awful lot like the last one. Frankly, given the A3’s track record, it’s hardly surprising that Audi’s designers resisted the urge to radically alter a winning formula. Still, if it helps, the important changes have all happened under the skin.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades you should be familiar with Audi’s steady rise to prominence as a maker of premium cars, large and small. Most observers credit the original A3 hatchback with kick starting this trend. The demand from buyers for an upmarket compact hatch continued with the sharper-suited second-gen car, as did the emergence of a more credible opposition. And with no sign of a dip in the sector’s popularity, here we are with an all-new car.
And with a car this popular the last thing you want to do is produce something radical that scares away the buyers, which explains why this A3 looks a lot like the last one. Look closely, though, and there’s been a subtle but noticeable evolution of the car’s appearance – especially at the front – to compliment the changes to Audi’s larger cars and maintain the all-important family resemblance.
What can’t be seen from the outside, however, are the changes Audi has made to how the car is constructed. This A3 is built on an all-new platform that’s destined to be rolled out to a wide number of cars within the Volkswagen Group. Boasting significant weight savings and improvements to safety and refinement, it’s a big deal. The end result for the consumer should be better fuel economy, enhanced cabin refinement and a more rewarding driving experience.
With more competition in the marketplace from the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Volvo, Audi has had to work much harder to create a compelling package. As such, this A3 continues the current trend for low CO2 and fuel consuming engines be they petrol or diesel. This, along with an ever expanding list of equipment – be it standard or optional – is hoped will keep the A3 competitive.
Of course, the four rings on the car’s (new) grille should help draw in the crowds. But, with the A3 a favourite among company car drivers what with its ‘affordable premium’ positioning, the issue of running costs is never far away.
With Audi’s 2.0-litre, 150 horsepower diesel motor expected to be a popular choice, it’s good to know that its CO2 rating is a miserly 106g/km. The car’s fuel consumption is an equally stingy 68.9mpg, yet the whole package feels surprisingly sprightly as the car’s claimed 8.6 second zero to 62mph sprint time illustrates. The standard fit six-speed manual gearbox goes some way to eeking out the fuel, as does the engine’s quick to react stop-start function.
On the road the 2.0-litre TDI car easily combines the ability to shrug off most urban road imperfections while ensuring pitch and roll is kept to a minimum when you’re pushing on. That’s not an easy feat these days when large wheels and rubber band-thickness tyres are the norm. Clearly the A3 has, like its exterior styling, matured with age, which should please drivers long past their boy racer sell by dates.
That said, if you do want to spice things up, Audi’s made the choice of SE, Sport and S Line variant a little more flexible. For instance, you can mix one trim level with a regular, Sport or S Line suspension setting. Naturally, kit levels also vary depending on the core trim selected, which means plush sports seats, larger alloy wheels and a host of detailed cosmetic and equipment enhancements the further up the pricing ladder you go.
And if you’re a gadget freak you won’t be lacking in distractions, what with the different navigation and audio options to supplement the standard offering – CD player, MP3 and SD card inputs, Bluetooth, central colour display.
Frankly, what with Audi’s current popularity ratings hitting the roof, the chances are that if you were in the market for a compact, premium hatchback you’d be sold on the A3 from the moment you saw it. A little too predictable? Perhaps, but it’s this level of consistency in the car’s design and operation that’s ensured a strong following in recent years.
There have been niggles in the past centering on ride comfort and the driving experience, but the engineers of this third-gen car have done well to banish such wrinkles from this all-new A3. As such, you’ve got a car that’s responsive, refined, frugal and comfortable in a variety of road conditions. Factor in the considerable weight of the brand behind the car, and the total package makes a compelling and attractive argument.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Audi A3 2.0 TDI SE TSI, from £21,505 on the road.Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 150bhp.Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.Performance: Maximum speed 134mph, 0-62mph 8.6 seconds.Economy: 68.9mpg.CO2 Rating: 106g/km.