At first glance you might not spot the difference between the old Audi A3 and this one. But, look more closely and you will probably notice that it wears a sharper suit of clothes.
The crease line running from the headlights to the tail is much more pronounced and some of the rounded corners – most noticeably on the front grille – have become more angular. in short, it is a little bit more edgy.
This fairly subtle evolution of A3 design is no accident. After all, if you have a winning formula, you don’t want to scare loyal buyers. At the same time there needs to be enough change to make it look fresh.
But if the A3 doesn’t look radically different, don’t go running away with the idea this new model is just a facelift. The most fundamental part of any car – the platform on which it is build – is new. So the new Audi A3 is new from the ground up.
That platform is the Volkswagen Group’s clever new MQB. The acronym stands for Modularer Querbaukasten, which can be translated to Modular Transverse Matrix. Its dimensions can be adjusted to suit a range of models that use a front transverse engine layout, so we shall see it underpinning an increasing number of Audi’s, Seats, Skodas and Volkswagens in the coming months and years.
I have been very impressed with the two cars I have now driven with the MQB underpinnings – this and the new Golf. One of the biggest advances between the new and old Audi A3 are its dynamics – ride and handling particularly. The ride quality of the A3 is particularly impressive, especially for a relatively short-wheelbase hatchback.
But the dynamics are not the only area that has seen a significant improvement. While Audi are renowned for the quality of their interiors and, in particular the dashboard and controls, there was never quite the full Audi experience in the A3. It was good, but it lacked the quality style and feel of bigger Audis.
That is changed. The new A3 has a slightly minimalist style to the dashboard, but the quality feels such an advance. I love the bit of theatre that brings the small display screen motoring out of the dashboard when you turn the key. The return to prominent ‘eyeball-style’ air vents is not only good to look at, they are also excellent at pointing fresh air just where you want it.
The driving position feels better than the outgoing A3, with the seat and pedals in near perfect relationship. The chunky, multi-function steering wheel on the test car is a joy to hold. In fact the only thing I did cause an intake of breath was the electronic handbrake. I know they save a lot of space in the interior, but I am still not a great fan.
My test car was the Audi A3 1.4 TFSI . I have driven plenty of cars with Volkswagen Group’s 1.4TFSI engine, so I know it to be a bit of a giant killer, capable of producing responsiveness and power more akin to much bigger engines.
In this latest form, the 1.4TFSI will power the Audi A3 from 0-26 mph in 9.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 126 mph. Although I am used to driving an Audi S3, I found myself remarkably satisfied with the performance of the 1.4 TFSI with its eager responses and progressive power right through the rev range.
The benefit of the smaller engine comes at the pumps. My town and country routes peaked at just over 35 mpg average, which really is quite good given that I was enjoying the performance. The combined economy figure is actually an impressive 54.3 mpg, while CO2 emissions are 126 g/km putting the A3 1.4TFSI into Band C for UK car tax.
You can tell a well-sorted car by the way that the controls all seem to work together as a team. The new A3 is a good example, with progressive clutch, brake and steering and a slick gearchange making it easy to drive smoothly. For those who are so inclined the pedals are well placed for heel-and-toe downshifts.
With these attributes you can hustle the Audi A3 1.4TFSI through the bends on a twisty B road with confidence as the grin on your face gets broader. The steering is precise, with good weight, even if it doesn’t set the benchmark for feedback.
I really like that the Audi A3 TFSI is such a versatile car. You can enjoy driving in a spirited fashion, but you can also savour the excellent refinement and ride quality at a more leisurely pace.
With its combination of versatility, practicality and quality, the new Audi A3 may not look like a huge step forward. But it is.
With prices starting at £19,205 for the Audi A3 1.4TFSI it seems destined to keep loyal customers flocking to the showrooms. And, if a three-door hatch is not your desire, fear not. There are five-door and new saloon versions to cater for other tastes.