One of Audi's most crucial models has reappeared in its third generation, and is charged with the task of fighting off even more rivals in the premium hatchback sector it helped to create. Like the previous cars it aims to offer decent practicality and driving pleasure alongside the crucial premium luxury style and feel.
An ever-expanding range means that Audi has a car to fit into every single niche and has arguably created a few of its own. But out of the broad choice it is the A3 that is one of the core products, and it is its strong and consistent sales over the years that has allowed the German firm to expand into other areas.
From launch the A3 comes in three-door form only although further bodystyles will inevitably follow. Marketed as a premium compact hatchback with both practicality and style in mind, the A3 will be the entry-point to the Audi brand for many buyers and so has a challenge to meet expectations and keep buyers coming back for newer and bigger models.
Like many of Audi's most recent models the A3 has an overall focus on efficiency, and this manifests itself in terms of the design and the mechanical make up. Increased use of aluminium and lightweight steels reduces the overall bodyshell weight by 25kg compared to the old car. Other weight saving measures means it is 80kg lighter overall and Audi claims it is the lightest car in the class.
The other side of the efficiency coin is a range of engines that are either new to the A3 or substantially revised. Audi claims that fuel consumption is reduced by an average of 12% across the range with even the least fuel-efficient version managing to achieve a healthy combined figure.
Our verdict on the Audi A3 1.8 TFSI Sport
Visually the car may be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but Audi's A3 offers buyers a considerable step forward where it counts. Cleaner and more frugal than before plus packing a wealth of new comfort and safety kit, the German firm's compact executive hatch delivers a rounded performance that easily rivals that of the competition.
Despite the performance on offer the 1.8-litre TFSI A3 has the potential for remarkably good fuel consumption and emissions figures. That means relatively low costs for Vehicle Excise Duty too, while keeping the A3 fuelled up won't require too much investment. Repair and servicing costs may be a little higher thanks to the premium badge, but on balance the A3 should be cost-efficient.
Space and practicality
Although the A3 is not designed to be the last word in practicality, it at least makes the most of its compact footprint. Boot space is very healthy and certainly beats many of its close rivals, while for passengers there is good head and legroom - the rear seats are certainly suitable for full-sized adults. Neat changes up front also save crucial space; the adoption of an electronic handbrake means the MMI system doesn't take up all the available oddment space.
Controls and display
The big screen and new MMI control system make the A3's controls even more intuitive. After a few moments of familiarisation it all makes perfect sense, and the solidity of the switches and buttons make them a pleasure to use. It has even more features than before yet the dashboard itself seems even more uncluttered and clean, avoiding a busy looking dashboard yet retaining a strong ease of use.
The A3 doesn't put a foot wrong in terms of ultimate comfort. Arguably an SE model with its standard suspension will offer the best ride comfort, but even this Sport model with a firmer set-up never feels overly harsh. As befits the quality of the cabin the seats are very supportive, noise insulation is very impressive and the overall comfort levels would not disgrace a more expensive car.
Aside from the standard fitment of an interior alarm, engine immobiliser and remote central locking, the A3 offers complete keyless operation, which allows the driver to keep the key well out of harm's way.
The focus on saving weight is only achieved with a complementary increase in chassis stiffness and strength, so there is no compromise in terms of overall crash safety. On the active safety side, as well as standard fit elements such as ESP and airbags there are optional systems such as radar-guided cruise control, active lane assist and even the Pre-Sense system, which anticipates and prepares the car for a potential collision.
Choosing a premium product raises the expectations a little, and despite the A3 inevitably being an everyday sort of car most buyers will also expect it to provide a reasonably invigorating driving experience when circumstances permit. To that end the 1.8-litre TFSI version is an ideal compromise. Paired with the seven-speed S tronic gearbox, the petrol unit delivers unfussed turbocharged torque from low revs for easy cruising and perky low-speed acceleration.
Family car appeal
Three-door cars are at an instant disadvantage when it comes to family duties, but aside from that the A3 has enough space and practicality to manage the mundane tasks. Children will have far less trouble getting into the rear seats and the standard Isofix mountings are present for extra security. The boot will happily swallow larger pushchairs although it is deep and wide rather than long, and as long as you choose leather rather than cloth the A3's cabin will stand up to sticky finger abuse.
First car appeal
A well-heeled new driver could probably just about afford an A3 as a first car and with that hurdle negotiated would find it very suitable. Not too big, easy to drive and with a more modest engine beneath the bonnet not too expensive to run either. A bigger purchase price means potentially higher insurance bills too, but otherwise running costs are comparable to an ordinary hatchback.
Quality and image
A high standard of quality is one of the key elements of Audi appeal and the A3 manages to move that on still further. The cabin is textbook example of slick design and is executed with fine materials. The same goes for the outside with tight panel gaps and a flawless paint finish. The A3's image is one of a desirable and accomplished car, the only potential demerit being its own success.
With a three-door only configuration as present, getting into the front seats is obviously easier than getting into the rear. The long, single door on each side opens wide and even the tallest of occupants will have no trouble getting into the front seats. Although there is the usual tilt and slide mechanism there's no escaping that the aperture to the rear seats is smaller and could make it a little awkward for taller passengers. Conversely the boot is a breeze to use with a big tailgate and a sizeable boot aperture.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
Raising the standard over the old car is a large 5.8-inch foldaway display screen sitting centrally in the dashboard, with audio information repeated in the panel between the instruments. Steering wheel controls also give further ease of use, and with a proper MP3 connector, Bluetooth and voice control as standard the specification is high.
Colours and trim
The A3's exterior lends itself to a broad choice of colours, although to make the most of the subtle edginess brighter shades are best. Inside the typical high quality cabin can be specified in a variety of trims and colours - black will likely be the most popular choice but brighter colours show off the quality even better.
The A3 hasn't grown in any significant way and so remains a relatively compact hatchback. Parking will never present too much of a problem particularly with the option of parking sensors and even a reversing camera, although the rear pillars are relatively thick. Cars with larger alloy wheels will need to be parked with care too to avoid any unsightly kerbing.
Space saver spare wheel fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options - 1.4-litre (122bhp, 140bhp); 1.8-litre (180bhp) Diesel engine options - 1.6-litre (105bhp); 2.0-litre (150bhp). Transmissions: Six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch S tronic fitted as standard depending on engine. Trim levels are SE, Sport and S line.