The Audi A3 has been astonishingly successful, selling tens of thousands of units in the United Kingdom since its launch way back in 1996. It created a genre, proving that premium products could be a mass-market proposition and did so at a price that most could afford. It had, quite literally, no competitors and caught BMW and Mercedes napping.
But time moves on, and cars like the BMW 1-Series
and Volvo V40
are snapping at its heels. Time for a completely new model then to reinvigorate the segment and maintain Audis dominance; after all, the A3 outsold the 1-Series year-on-year until 2011, the point at which buyers realised that it was starting to lag behind its Teutonic rival.
We were invited to the UK launch of the new Audi A3
range and had the chance to drive three models. After eight hours of driving we finally had an answer to the big question: is the A3 good enough to regain its crown as the best-selling premium car in its class?
If you take a casual look at the new A3 in isolation youll probably struggle to see the difference between it and the model it replaces This is a compliment, because the new model uses all of that precious DNA and evolves it into something lighter, stronger, faster, and more economical.
The front end is Audi corporate, which means serious, complex, and utterly gorgeous; no one is ever going to think that youre a cheapskate if you plump for an A3. The shut-lines are millimetre-perfect and the paint finish is flawless, as youd expect, further reinforcing its premium positioning.
The new A3 is not only beautiful; its up to 80kgs lighter than the old one, thanks to a strict diet. No area has been spared and everything has been pared and honed to reduce a few grams here and there, making it the lightest car in its class. Judicious use of high-strength steel and aluminium ensure that its as safe as ever, gaining the full Five Star rating in NCAP testing.
The new cars wheelbase is now 23mm longer (although the cars overall length remains unchanged), which adds a useful amount to the cars interior size. True, legroom is tight if youre sitting behind a tall driver, but other than that it never feels snug. The driver has oodles of room and can get perfectly comfortable thanks to multi-adjustment for both seat and steering wheel.
The quality of the interior is beyond reproach; everything fits perfectly and the use of materials is impeccably judged. No one, and I mean no one, does interiors better than Audi. The only jarring note is the use of three-dimensional metal trim on the doors and dashboard, which looks a bit odd to my eye, but my co-driver liked it, so it might just be me.
The bottom-of-the-range trim level is SE, which includes 16-inch alloys, MMI radio with Bluetooth and voice control, manual air-con, and cloth upholstery. Another 1,225 gets you into a Sport-trimmed car that adds 17-inch alloys, Drive Select, dual-zone climate control, sports seats, aluminium trim and sports suspension that is 15mm lower than standard.
The top-of-the-range trim level is S line, which brings 18-inch alloys, S line body styling, Xenon headlights, cloth and leather seats, leather steering wheel, and a luggage/storage pack. The S line pack costs 2,150 more than SE and comes with the lowest suspension set-up 25mm lower than standard if you want it. You dont.
Three further options are available across the range: Comfort at 605 that gives you rear parking sensors, cruise control, and automatic wipers, lights, and diming rear-view mirror. The Technology pack gives you MMI navigation and MMI Touch for 1,495, while the Xenon light option costs 1,150 and gives you Xenon lights and front, rear, and interior LEDs along with adaptive, and automatic switching, lights.
I drove three cars; two fitted with the TDI engine and one with the TFSI petrol engine, along with two suspension settings; standard and sport.
Ill cover the engines in the next section but the suspension settings are night and day apart, with one harsh and uncomfortable and the other compliant and forgiving. Can you guess which is which?
Both, funnily enough, give pin-sharp handling and great road holding, so there really is no excuse for not opting for the standard set-up, especially as its a no-cost option across the whole range, regardless of trim level. Seriously, the standard suspension set-up is far, far superior to either the Sport or S line lowered versions.
Other than that the A3 is much as youd expect; smooth, refined, and utterly capable. The brakes are terrific, the steering sharp, and everything operates with a well-oiled smoothness that makes everyday driving a pleasure.
I drove the 1.8-litre, petrol-engined TFSI first. With 177bhp and 184lb ft of torque youd expect the little A3 to fly and it does. Its a sweet engine, with no hint of coarseness, but it was mated to the S tronic transmission, which rather ruined it for me a little bit. Ive drive S tronic before on a number of occasions and liked it a lot but it just seemed a bit clunky in this application. It might have been a one-off, but it was flawed, not what you expect in a 24,410 car. It is quick though, with 62 mph coming up in just over seven seconds, and economical. The official fuel consumption figures suggest that up to 50.4mpg is possible.
The next model I drove was a 148bhp 2.0-litre, turbo-diesel with sport suspension and a manual gearbox, which was much, much better. The six-speed box is a delight and allows you to make the most of all the 236lb ft of torque. This model, in Sport trim, cost 22,730 in basic form and with no extras.
The sweet spot of the range is the 2.0-TDI with standard suspension and the manual gearbox. The standard suspension transforms the feel of the whole car (something that my co-driver and I noticed within 200 metres of driving it) and at 21,505 in SE trim, was by far the best of the bunch. The TDI engine is powerful, punchy, oozes torque, and is very civilised for a diesel. It will also be spectacularly economical, with 60mpg+ being easily achievable, which is excellent for a car thatll also hit 62 mph in 8.2 seconds.
Value for Money
As is so often the case, the base models represent the best value for money. There is nothing wrong with the SE trim level as it contains everything you need, even if it might be missing some bits and bobs that youd like.
If my, albeit limited, experience is anything to go by youre best sticking to the manual gearbox and the TDI engine.
The Audi A3 range is a significantly better car than the model it replaces. Its lighter, faster, more efficient, better to drive, and has more equipment.
Unless youre a diehard rear-wheel-drive fan, its also a better car than the 1-Series
, so you can expect it to start to outsell the BMW again. In fact, the A3 is so accomplished there is only one problem on the horizon, and thats the Volvo V40
, a car that we recently awarded a perfect 10/10 to. It might lack the uber-premium interior of the A3 but its even better to drive.
Considering buying a new A3? Save on average 1,500 and compare official Audi dealer prices. Find out more here