What is it? Significant update of Audi’s biggest-selling model.
Key features: More technology, two new engines.
Our View: The latest updates to the Audi A3 range further enhance what is already one of the brand’s most comprehensive line-ups.
Type of review: First UK drive
The Audi A3 is the route that provides, more than any other model, so many motorists with their first experience of the German manufacturer with the four rings. It is the brand’s biggest seller in the UK, and having for many years been recognisable as ‘the Audi hatchback’, today there is a four-strong line-up also encompassing the Sportback estate, a saloon and a cabriolet.
Audi launched the third-generation version of the A3 in September 2012, at the same time introducing the MQB modular chassis architecture that has gone on to underpin so many cars across the VW Group.
So almost four years on, what we have in the new Audi A3 is effectively a mid-life refresh, albeit a quite substantial one as it involves, for example, two new engines.
Mainly, however, this update is all about technology, adding the fruits of four years of rapid development in such areas as digital dashboards and smartphone connectivity to the car that accounts for so much of Audi’s still climbing UK sales.
When we drove the third-generation Audi A3 back in 2012 we commented that the styling was not that distinctive, merely an evolution of what had gone before, and the update simply adds some subtle detail changes. These are most notable at the front where the broader single-frame grille and flattened-out headlamps give the car a wider look. This is emphasised at the rear courtesy of the horizontal digital light signature.
Those lamps, by the way, are now Xenon or LED as standard and with Matrix LED variants available as an option.
The big differences are found once one gets into the car, though they – to a great extent – concern aspects one can specify as options rather than standard equipment.
The highlight has to be the virtual cockpit – Audi’s digital dashboard first seen in the latest TT. It stretches across the panel behind the steering wheel and offers two configurations, large dials as normal or an ‘infotainment mode’ which reduces said dials in diameter and allows the navigation map to stretch the full width of the panel, and to be configured as Google Earth imagery if desired.
On its own the virtual cockpit costs £450 but to make full use of the navigation, Google Earth and such like you’ll need the dash as part of the ‘Technology Pack Advanced’ – a lot more money at £1,395, but which also includes such niceties as 4G Internet access, wireless charging of one’s smartphone, and an upgraded version of the ‘one-dial’ MMI control of the infotainment, car settings and such like. The MMI now boasts a touch-sensitive pad that can even recognise and respond to handwriting.
No matter how much of the technology you choose, however, some A3 staples remain. The interior is highly comfortable, finished to a standard that is the benchmark for the class, and generally spacious, especially the Sportback which with its 35mm longer wheelbase than the hatch helps free up some rear seat room. One needs to remember, however, that these are compact cars still and two adults will be far more comfortable in the back seats than three.
Two new engines are set to make their debut in the 2016 version of the A3, both petrol units. The 1.0-litre, the first three-cylinder in an A3, is a new entry-level unit, with 115 hp on tap and the promise of impressive efficiency figures.
Efficiency gains will also be prominent in the 2.0-litre unit, though its 190 hp will likely spark most interest. This engine will be combined with a new seven-speed double-clutch automatic transmission, replacing the previous six-speed unit, while the 2.0-litre petrol will also be the only mainstream A3 able to be ordered with quattro all-wheel-drive.
Unfortunately neither of these engines was available to try out at the launch event, so our test took in a cross-section of the range – the 1.4-litre petrol of 150 hp with its ability to turn off two cylinders to save fuel, and 1.6- and 2.0-litre diesels with 110 and 150 hp respectively – a 180 hp version of the latter is also on the way.
All these engines are familiar, both in the models regularly being launched by Audi and across the VW Group as a whole, and it is of no surprise that they do the job very effectively, combining freely delivered acceleration with excellent refinement. If anything the 1.6-litre diesel, expected to be popular with fleet buyers, is the least smooth, with the most noticeable audio note, though not intrusively so. It does seem, however, that Audi’s diesels, so long a benchmark, are beginning to be overshadowed by their petrol siblings.
Equally, the A3’s road manners are exemplary, no matter what body style one chooses – and we tried the hatch, saloon and biggest-selling Sportback.
Standard equipment on the new Audi A3 is impressive. As well as such desirable features as air conditioning, DAB radio and smartphone connection every car now includes cruise control, light-sensing headlamps and rain-sensing wipers.
The most impressive upgrade is to second-level Sport trim, the extras including the Drive Select chassis control with its four modes altering suspension, steering and throttle response. One also gains dual-zone climate control, navigation and the Audi Connect Infotainment services as part of the Sport grade.
The safety package has been further enhanced too with more new technology, though again a lot of it requires choosing from the options list. A host of new driver assistance systems, cascaded down from Audi’s larger models, includes traffic jam assist, which working with the adaptive cruise control on automatic gearbox models, allows progress in a queue without constant use of the pedals.
Emergency assist can brake the car to a safe stop if the driver doesn’t respond to warnings in a dangerous situation, while rear cross-traffic alert helps prevent a collision with a passing vehicle when reversing out of a car park space.
From launch, the new range is available in all four body styles, as are the performance-pitched S3 models with their now 310 hp engines. More versions are on the way too – in addition to the new powertrains mentioned, before the end of 2016 the Audi A3 will be added to the brand’s growing e-tron plug-in hybrid range, further enhancing the choice in what is already one of the brand’s most comprehensive line-ups. Little wonder it sells so well.
Audi A3 – key specifications
Models tested: Audi A3 Saloon 1.4-litre petrol S Line 150hp, 1.6-litre diesel Sport 110hp, Sportback 2.0-litre diesel S Line 150hp
On sale: July 2016
Range price: From £19,365
Insurance groups: 15-32.
Engines: Petrol 1.4. Diesel 1.6, 2.0.
Power (bhp): 148. 109, 148.
Torque (lb/ft): 184. 184, 251.
0-62mph (sec): 8.1. 10.5, 8.6*.
Top speed (mph): 136. 124, 135*.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 62.8. 74.3, 80.7*.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 105. 99, 105*.
Key rivals: BMW 1 and 2 Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Volvo V40.
Test Date: July 2016
Figures for Audi A3 hatch except * which are Sportback 2WD. All on 16-inch wheels