First drive: The Audi A3 remains a quietly brilliant premium hatchback

What is it?

With the new VW Golf bursting onto the scene at the end of 2019, the arrival of similarly-sized models from its sister brands was inevitable – such are the ways of the Volkswagen Group.

We've already seen Skoda's and Seat's offerings, but now it's time for the most premium of the lot to show its face – the Audi A3. There are no surprises here – it looks exactly how you think it would and the interior shares plenty in common with other Audi models.

But no revolution is needed – this is Audi's best-seller in the UK after all, and the last one was widely considered as one of the best cars in its class, though was really starting to show its age. So, can this new Audi A3 amend that?

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First drive: The Audi A3
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First drive: The Audi A3
First drive: The Audi A3 remains a quietly brilliant premium hatchback
First drive: The Audi A3 remains a quietly brilliant premium hatchback
First drive: The Audi A3 remains a quietly brilliant premium hatchback
First drive: The Audi A3 remains a quietly brilliant premium hatchback
First drive: The Audi A3 remains a quietly brilliant premium hatchback
First drive: The Audi A3 remains a quietly brilliant premium hatchback
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What's new?

On styling alone, you might think this is a facelift, rather than theall- new fourth-generation model. But with its larger front grille and fancy LED lights, it's certainly helped to improve the looks.

The main differences, though, lie in the cabin. Gone is the easy-to-use but old-fashioned feeling pop-up media screen and in place is a glossy new 10.1-inch touchscreen and digital dials – both of which feature on every new A3.

The engine line-up has also had a rejig, with the 1.6-litre diesel unit being ditched in favour of a new 2.0-litre powerplant. Select engines also benefit from new 48-volt mild-hybrid technology, which helps to drive down emissions and reduce fuel consumption.

What's under the bonnet?

At launch, buyers have a rather limited choice of engines to choose from. So, if you want a petrol, it has to be the 35 TFSI – a 148bhp 1.5-litre unit – and it's mated exclusively to a six-speed manual transmission.

But it's the diesel option we're trying here – a 148bhp 2.0-litre engine paired to a seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox, with power being sent to the front wheels. It offers a good mix of performance and efficiency, with 0-60mph taking 8.2 seconds, and maxed out, it could hit a top speed of 139mph. In terms of fuel economy, Audi says it can return nearly 60mpg, with CO2 emissions of 127g/km.

The introduction of the mild-hybrid 1.5-litre petrol engine will boost the A3's appeal to the fleet market, as will the new 114bhp 2.0-litre diesel and a plug-in hybrid later this year.

What's it like to drive?

Behind the wheel, it's pretty much business as usual with the A3, with refinement and comfort being two areas where this compact Audi excels. These traits lend themselves hand-in-hand with this higher output 2.0-litre diesel unit, and makes this hatchback an excellent car to spend time in on the motorway.

The steering is linear and direct, and body roll is well-controlled, though while Audi promises that the A3 is sportier than ever it's still a model that feels more at home to a relaxed cruise than being thrashed down a twisty B-road. That's certainly no bad thing, just that a BMW 1 Series remains a more involving premium hatchback choice.

The only real gripe with the A3 is its automatic gearbox, which is dim-witted and has a delay when you put your foot down. It's a trouble that affects plenty of Audis, and while not as bad as other models, we expect better from a premium model.

How does it look?

Audi isn't known for being particularly wild with its designs, and the A3 is a perfect example of that.

Viewed side-on, it's much the same as the outgoing car, just with a few more angles and marginally stretched dimensions.

The front represents probably the biggest difference, with the A3 featuring a larger version of Audi's trademark singleframe front grille, as well as the option to have Matrix LEDs. The latter means you can have a fancy 'look at me' lighting sequence on the A3 for the first time too.

So, while this might not be a revolution in design, the A3 caters to an audience that isn't looking for concept car-like styling, and in our eyes at least this update has done everything it needed to continue to make the A3 look as classy as ever.

What's it like inside?

As we mentioned earlier, the biggest difference here is the new 10.1-inch touchscreen, which is sharp and very easy to use. Mated to digital dials, it helps to give the A3 a far more modern feel, though it lacks the show-stopping cabin that you find in the Mercedes A-Class.

Audi A3 interior
The interior of the A3 has been radically overhauled

Perhaps the best thing about the A3, though, is the quality. Historically, that's why you'd pay more for this hatch to have an Audi badge on the front, rather than a Volkswagen logo, and with high-grade materials being used throughout, the A3 feels far more upmarket than the Golf.

The latest VW's interior is also overly digitalised with few real buttons, which actually makes the cabin overly complicated to navigate. Thankfully the Audi keeps things a bit simpler with more conventional dials and knobs, and it's the correct step to take.

What's the spec like?

Initially, three trims are on offer – Technik, Sport and sportier S line.

Standard kit is impressive and includes LED headlights, the large touchscreen and digital Virtual Cockpit, rear parking sensors and cruise control.

Audi A3 badge detail
The A3 is one of Audi's most successful models

If you want sportier looks, the S line is the one to go for – adding large 18-inch alloy wheels, upgraded LED lights and a sportier bodykit. Half leather sports seats also feature, along with LED interior lighting and sports suspension.

With the A3 range starting from £24,900, it makes the Audi marginally more expensive than its two closest rivals – the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. In terms of a like-for-like spec to our test car, which cost £31,650, you could save yourself £640 by choosing the BMW and £710 with the Mercedes. However, if that's split down into monthly payments, it's likely to make minimal difference.

Verdict

This latest Audi A3 successfully continues where the last model left off – adding additional technology to the interior, and improving the way it drives both for enjoyment and comfort. With its classy styling and upmarket cabin, it's a model that is likely to continue being Audi's best-selling model on these shores.

The interior of the A-Class might offer more in terms of wow factor, and the 1 Series remains more fun to drive, but as an all-round package, we reckon the A3 could have both of those two cars beaten. We'll have to wait for it arrive in the UK in May before making full judgement...

  • Model as tested: Audi A3 Sportback 35 TDI S line S tronic
  • Price as tested: £31,650
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
  • Power: 148bhp
  • Torque: 250Nm
  • Max speed: 139mph
  • 0-60mph: 8.2 seconds
  • MPG: 58.9-57.6mpg
  • Emissions: 127g/km
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