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Review: Big thinking for compact Audi A3

PUBLISHED: 12:26 24 October 2016 | UPDATED: 12:26 24 October 2016

Audi A3 Saloon

Audi A3 Saloon

Matt Vosper

Audi has raised its game again with the hi-tech, high-spec revised A3 range, a big car in all but size, writes motoring editor Andy Russell

It’s 20 years since Audi fired up the premium compact sector with its A3, its most popular model in the UK and a regular top 10 seller. With the three- and five-door hatchbacks joined by a cabriolet and saloon, the range benefits from variety, versatility and innovative technology cascading down from bigger siblings in the Vorsprung durch Technik brand. Now Audi has revised the A3 to keep it at the top of the class with a technology update, new engines and styling refinements.

What’s new?

On the face of it, not a lot – a broader grille, new bumpers, rear lights and flatter A4-like headlights with that distinctive serrated lower edge give the A3 a wider, more purposeful look. Add fresh colours and alloy wheels and they sharpen an already good-looking car.

Technology is king

A3 interiorA3 interior

It’s what you don’t immediately see that takes the A3 forward with more technology, some new to the class.

Audi’s smartphone and music interface are standard. Enhanced, super-fast connectivity is available with a pre-installed Audi SIM card while two mobile phones can be connected simultaneously with the Audi phonebox.

Optional 12.3in fully-digital virtual cockpit – new to the compact class – shows big dials in classic view or can be dominated by a wide central window to show the navigation map or infotainment listings.

Advanced new driver assistance features include traffic jam assist, which slows, stops, speeds up and even briefly steers the A3 at up to 40mph, and rear cross traffic warns of vehicles when reversing out of parking spaces.

Audi A3 CabrioletAudi A3 Cabriolet

Cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, multi-function steering wheel and Xenon or LED headlamps are standard. Matrix LED lights which alter pattern to avoid dazzling others are optional.

The multi-media interface is more intuitive with two toggle switches for the four functions rather than separate buttons.

Under the bonnet

The initial line-up comprises the 150PS 1.4-litre turbo petrol, which cuts to two cylinders under light engine loads, and 110PS 1.6 and 150PS 2.0 turbo diesels with a 184PS version of the latter following soon. The highlights, unfortunately not available at the media launch, are a new 190PS 2.0 turbo petrol, also offered with quattro all-wheel as well as front-wheel drive, and a new entry-level 115PS, 1.0 turbo petrol – Audi’s first three-cylinder unit. All are offered with manual or S tronic auto gearboxes and quattro is also available with both 2.0 diesels.

Diesels will be popular with the 1.6 - the sweeter engine. The lower-powered 2.0 has more grunt but is gruffer. The 1.4 cylinder-on-demand turbo petrol offers strong performance, economy and emissions which compare favourably with the diesels.

How it drives

Try before you buy to get the right match of suspension and wheels. The standard SE suspension is not soft but the ride gets firmer with the 15mm lower sport suspension which is a free upgrade on Sport models and standard on S line (but can be deselected at no extra charge). Then there’s no-cost option S line sport suspension, 25mm lower than standard.

SE models get 16in wheels, Sport has 17in and S line 18in but the options go up to 19in. A standard SE’s ride is comfortable and cosseting but there’s a lot of buzz and tyre roar on poor surfaces with an S line model with sportier suspension and 19in wheels, but handling is more agile.

Space & comfort

The cabin boasts top-notch materials and finish where it matters, apart from the hard plastics on the centre console, and innovative features like the exquisite operating action of the round air-vents.

Four average adults will be quite happy in the A3 but tall passengers in the back will find legroom a mite tight.

The saloon leads the way on load space with a 390-litre boot, and 845 litres with the split rear seats folded. The folding soft-top drops the cabriolets load space to 320 and 678 litres respectively. The popular five-door Sportback has a 380-litre boot, and 1,220 litres with the seats folded, while the smaller three-door hatch offers 365 and 1,100 litres respectively.

Final say

The A3 has been a key model in driving Audi’s ongoing UK sales success and the new model adds big-car technology to the premium ambience in a highly-desirable compact package.

FACT FILE

AUDI A3 1.4 TFSI HATCH

Engine: 1,395cc, 150PS, four-cylinder turbo petrol

Performance: 0-62mph 8.1 seconds; top speed 136mph

MPG: 60.1-62.8 combined

CO2 emissions: 105-109g/km

AUDI A3 1.6 TDI HATCH

Engine: 1,598cc, 110PS, four-cylinder turbo diesel

Performance: 0-62mph 10.5 seconds; top speed 124mph

MPG: 68.9-74.3 combined

CO2 emissions: 99-108g/km

Pricing (SE, Sport, S line models): Three-door hatch £19,365-£30.915; five-door Sportback £19,985-£31,535; four-door saloon £24,235-£32,085; two-door cabriolet £26,875-£36,405.

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