Originally launched in 1991, the Audi A3 is now in its third generation and selling better than ever. In the UK, 2015 was its best year yet with 47,653 registrations, putting it in 8th place overall.
Audi’s not one to stand back, and just four years after the introduction of the current version, the whole range has received an update.
A facelift infers that the changes are simply cosmetic, but the fact is that there’s more to the ‘new’ A3 than meets the eye.
Yes, the exterior tweaks are subtle, but when the refreshed and outgoing cars are parked alongside each other, the 2016 model is definitely sharper.
The most obvious changes are the new headlights and deep grille at the front, echoing the A4 and Q7 launched in 2015, plus A4-esque rear light clusters with mesmeric pulsing indicators. Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights are now standard, while matrix LED headlights are offered as an option.
It’s inside that the changes are mostly noticeable – if you’re into tech and connectivity.
For instance, the Audi virtual cockpit is now available for the A3. First seen in the TT, it’s a digital dashboard which allows the driver to toggle between various viewing options – there’s everything from traditional dials to Google Earth sat nav.
Audi’s MMI (infotainment system) has also had an update. It’s now simpler to use, while voice control and a touch-sensitive pad are now available.
Cruise control, light and rain sensors, plus three-spoke multi-function steering wheel are now standard. And there’s more – place your smartphone in the optional Audi Phone Box at the rear of the centre console and it will now charge wirelessly, plus two phones can now be connected via Bluetooth.
Audi has also introduced various driver assistance systems, including traffic jam assist system, which works together with adaptive cruise control (ACC) to keep you a safe distance from the car in front. It can automatically set off again after a short stop.
Cross-traffic assist can be specified too. It warns of oncoming traffic when slowly backing out of a drive, for example.
Finally, there are six engines in the new A3 line-up (three petrol and three diesel units) and, of course, four body shapes – three and five-door Sportback (hatchback), Saloon and Cabriolet. There are also high spec and performance S3 and RS3 versions of the A3.
I tried all four body styles with three engines – the 1.4 TFSI, plus 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel units (sadly the superb new three-cylinder 1.0 TFSI first seen in the A1 was not available). Whichever shape or engine rocks your boat, they all have different characteristics, but essentially the evergreen A3 is still a premium choice in the mid-size sector.
If it’s economy you’re after, the pick of the engines has to be the 1.6-litre diesel which is capable of a claimed 78.5mpg with CO2 emissions of just 107g/km, resulting in £20-a-year road tax.
The A3 range caters for all tastes. At a basic £22,480 before extras, the three-door Audi A3 1.6 TDI (110PS) in Sport trim was the best combination of value for money, economy and driving enjoyment for me, though the five-door version might be more practical.
The Vegas yellow convertible was fun and the 1.4-litre petrol engine was smooth and responsive, while the 7-speed S tronic automatic transmission was suitably slick. However, rear legroom is modest and fitting the large wind deflector robs space from the rear. The basic convertible costs £31,440, though extras on the car we tested brought the final cost to £40,280.
The saloon was spacious with room for four adults and a large boot. It was fitted with the 2.0-litre diesel which is a definite step up in terms of torque from the 1.6. For the record, it has a top speed of 139mph, can reach 62mph in 8.8 seconds can return a shade over 60mpg.
Starting at £28,700, the A3 Saloon 2.0 TDI S line (150PS) S tronic we tested had various options bringing the final price up to £38,795.
Verdict: The Audi A3 range is classy with sharp looks, excellent build-quality, good choice of engines, refinement and lots of toys – just don’t go mad with the optional extras.