Following the unveiling of the eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf last year, and with Seat and Skoda also showcasing their platform-sharing siblings, it’s now time for the most premium of the VW Group hatchback lot to grab the limelight – the new Audi A3.
Revealed earlier this month, the fourth generation of Audi’s UK best-seller aims to continue on where the excellent outgoing model left off. That means it gets a thorough interior rejig, a classy, if subdued, styling change as well as new powertrains – including mild-hybrid technology for the first time on the A3.
Audi is promising the model is sportier than ever before too, so can this new A3 prove to be even better than its predecessors, as well as compete against the excellent BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class? It’s time to find out…
While Audi will expand the line-up significantly over time – including new mild- and plug-in hybrid models – the choice at launch is relatively limited.
If you’re wanting a petrol, the only option is a 148bhp 1.5-litre unit, which is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. But here we’re testing a 2.0-litre diesel engine. It too produces 148bhp, but increases the torque figure to 360Nm. For the time being, this diesel unit is only being offered with a seven-speed S tronic automatic transmission.
It delivers a good mix of performance and efficiency, with 0-60mph taking 8.2 seconds, along with a claimed top speed of 139mph. As for running costs, this A3 will return up to 62.8mpg, along with CO2 emissions of 119g/km.
Ride and handling
Audi is making a big deal about this being the sportiest A3 from behind the wheel, and it certainly feels more dynamic than its predecessor. The steering is sharp and direct, while there is minimal body roll, with the car feeling planted to the road. Top-spec S line versions also come with a sportier suspension setup.
But despite this, the A3 is a car that feels at its best on a relaxed cruise, rather than being thrashed down a B-road, with the hatchback’s refinement and comfort shining through. Our only real gripe with the car behind the wheel is with the automatic gearbox, which can be dim-witted and slow to respond. It’s a problem that affects most diesel Audis, and while not as bad as in other models, we expect better from a premium car.
Interior and equipment
Aside from the badge on the front, it was often the A3’s higher-quality interior that was the reason why buyers chose the Audi over the Volkswagen Golf. That remains true here, with this car having a more upmarket feel than the Golf and a much classier layout.
Gone is the last A3’s pop-up media screen, and in place is a new 10.1-inch touchscreen, along with digital dials – both of which feature as standard. This helps to give it a much more modern feel, though it lacks the wow factor of the Mercedes A-Class’s cabin. On the plus side, Audi has kept some physical buttons in the cabin – unlike the Golf – which makes it more intuitive and easier to use.
There are three trims on offer from launch with the A3 – Technik, Sport and S line.
Standard equipment is generous, and includes LED headlights, the aforementioned digital dials and touchscreen, cruise control and rear parking sensors.
The Sport brings 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, configurable drive modes and part-leather seats, while the top-spec S line looks the part with its sportier bodykit, 18-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass. It also brings upgraded LED headlights, sports suspension and LED interior lighting.
Unsurprisingly all this technology and high-quality feel comes at a price, as the A3 is one of the most expensive premium hatchbacks on sale. The range currently starts from £24,900, though this will drop when a smaller 1.0-litre petrol engine joins the range later this year. It does a good job of justifying this price tag, though, with its generous kit list.
Our high-spec diesel S line model is a pricier affair, though, and costs £31,650. Put that next to a similarly equipped and powerful BMW 1 Series and you could save yourself £640 with that car, or £710 with the Mercedes A-Class. When those figures are digested into monthly payments, though, it’s unlikely to make any major difference.
Audi might not have thrown out the rule book with this new A3, but with a loyal customer base and such solid foundations, it didn’t really need to. That said, big improvements have been made to the on-board technology, while it’s better to drive than ever and when new engines and powertrains join the range, it’ll offer plenty of choice to buyers.
Both the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class might be better in certain areas – the BMW being more fun to drive and the Mercedes having more tech in the cabin – but neither feels like as good an all-rounder as this new Audi.