Audi’s new A3 Sportback is claimed to be “more dynamic, expressive and individual than ever”. So does the new hatchback match the hype?
On the road
On the road
The premium lower-medium segment is often the first step into prestige brands for many company car drivers, so to entice buyers Audi has sharpened its A3 offering inside and out, in a similar way to what Mercedes did with the 2019 Company Car Today CCT100 Car of the Year-winning A-Class.
1. It’s true of pretty much all VW Group systems, but the sat-nav seems to take an age to boot up when you start the car and sit patiently waiting to enter
2. The lane-keep system is as intrusive as most examples of this tech, but it’s easily switched off with the button on the end of the indicator stalk.
3. Audi’s naming system is still baffling, a couple of years after it was introduced. This car is a A3 35, whatever that means.
It’s a more linear and clean-cut look from Audi compared with its rounder predecessor, although retaining the basic profile and style of the A3. But there are more edges, lines and attempts to make the car dynamic and striking, especially on the sportily styled S Line version. This trim is popular with user-choosers in particular and previously sat at the top of the range, although now it’s the mid-point of a five-trim line-up that stretches from the basic Technik up to the fully loaded Vorsprung, which has a price to match the kit.
The new A3 launches as five-door Sportback and four-door saloon with just two petrol and two diesel engines, although the range will be rapidly expanded over the next six months; a pair of plug-in hybrid models are on the way, at least one of which will offer a range of more than 40 miles, joining a select group of cars in the 6% BiK tax band.
But for now it’s 110hp or 150hp petrol and 115hp or 150hp diesel engines, the higher-powered petrol of which is the most popular choice, and driven here in six-speed manual form. An S tronic auto is also available as a £1550 option for each engine, which cuts emissions by a few grammes per kilometre, and is enough to drop the car one BiK band in the case of the 150hp petrol.
The new model has a slightly larger footprint than its predecessor, coming it at 30mm longer, 18mm wider and 1mm lower. Audi claims that there is more elbow room front and rear and increased rear shoulder room despite the similar dimensions, and there is a perception of better headroom in the front thanks to the front seats being set lower.
But as with the exterior, the most notable thing about the cabin is the sharper design theme, with pointed shapes to everything from the door release handles to the binnacle around the air vents. Combined with the nice sweeping aluminium inlay across the dashboard and the deign touches that come with the S Line, it’s a great cabin. Audi has always been good at interiors, but this is a significant step on from that in the outgoing A3.
As is the exterior, although the honeycomb grille is a little overbearing when you look closely, and could almost host a game of Blockbusters. But otherwise it’s a more angular and appealing look, helped by the larger front air intakes and more slender rear lamps; it’s certainly more assertive than the inoffensive style that previous A3s have worn. The S Line’s 18-inch alloys are also stunning, if terrifyingly kerbable.
The infotainment seems to take an age to boot up when you get into the car and want to set a navigation destination, which isn’t unusual for the Volkswagen Group, and the voice-activation system is neither the most straightforward in usability nor the best at understanding what it’s being asked to do. The 10.1-inch infotainment system does offer a larger screen than rivals, and it’s clear, looks good and has the clever haptic touch facility that gives a physical click feeling when you press, so you know the system has taken the instruction. Rival touchscreen systems can leave the driver unsure if they didn’t click properly or whether the car is just being slow, but Audi’s avoids this in intelligent fashion. The MMI system is also claimed to be 10 times faster than the previous A3 in terms of processing speed.
Unlike larger models, the new A3 doesn’t get the latest twin touchscreen system where the bottom one is in charge of the climate control system, though many drivers will prefer that the buttons have been retained anyway, because they’re more usable when on the move as you can change the temperature by touch without taking your eyes off the road. The rocker switches that you use to do so do take a couple of goes to familiarise yourself with, however.
All cars from the base Technik trim get the same large screen size, as well as technology including lane-departure warning, the excellent 10.25 customisable virtual cockpit dashboard, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and rear parking sensors. The Drive Select system that controls throttle response, shift pattern of the automatic gearbox and steering feel across four settings is fitted to all bar the entry spec, as are split-fold rear seats. S Line gets front and rear LED lights, including the attractive dynamic rear indicators, as well as styling adornments and Sports suspension (which can be deleted as a no-cost option for those that want the S Line looks without the harder ride of the sportier set-up). The two highest trims – Edition 1 and Vorspring – are a big jump price-wise but offer reams of extra kit.
There are few options, with the likes of heated seats or reversing camera bundled into a £1,195 pack on the three lower trim levels, while rear privacy glass, for example, isn’t available below S Line, where it’s standard.
To drive, the A3 is a more rounded car than the sharper and better-handling BMW 1-Series, but that makes it a handier long-distance companion with a ride that soaks bumps nicely. Refinement is good, with the driver well-protected from wind and road noise. The interior also feels more spacious than those of the Lexus CT200h or Mercedes A-Class, the A3’s other main rivals, along with the likes of the Mini Clubman or Volkswagen’s Golf.
Rear passenger space is reasonable in terms of legroom for what is a compact car, but adult passengers will find their head is level with the roof rather than the rear window.
From a practicality perspective, the boot is the same size as the outgoing A3 Sportback, which puts the car joint top of the class, although there’s very little to separate the main protagonists. The split-level boot floor is handy, as are the hooks on either side and the 12-volt socket in the boot.
The 150hp engine is lovely, offering reasonable pace without needing to be worked hard, and the A3 generally feels light and nimble, helped by a weight reduction of up to 200kg compared to the outgoing A3.
All this adds up to a car that is well placed next its main rivals. There’s no huge revolution, such as when BMW went from rear- to front-wheel drive with the new 1-Series, curing that car’s space and practicality issues, or when the latest Mercedes A-Class went from upright to sleek, but the A3 wasn’t in need of such radical surgery. The Audi’s styling changes are significant in terms of modernising the hatchback without threatening to switch off buyers, which is no mean feat. It’s not perfect, with efficiency figures that are slightly behind those of its key rivals being the biggest blot, but otherwise the A3 is updated with the latest connectivity and technology, while looking sharper inside and out, and still offering a sensible and balanced driving experience. Which can only be classed as a successful update.
Audi claims that its first A3 “firmly established the premium compact class” when it launched in 1996, becoming Audi’s first small car since the Audi 50 ended production in the late 1970s.
The new car is the fourth generation of A3 over a 24-year run since that first model arrived in the UK in three- or five-door form in November 1996, using underpinnings also present on parent company Volkswagen’s Golf. Sales total more than five million worldwide and 600,000 in the UK. Last year, the A3 was the second most popular Audi in the UK, after the A1 supermini.
The second generation of A3 three-door came in 2003, introducing the Sportback name to the model for the 80mm longer five-door a year later, while the A3 Cabriolet made its debut in 2008.
The third generation launched in 2013, and was the first Audi to get plug-in hybrid technology with the A3 e-tron, as well as being the first A3 offered in saloon bodystyle as well as three-door, Sportback five-door and Cabriolet, plus the performance-orientated S3 and RS3 variants.
That model won the What Car? Car of the Year award in 2013, as well as the World Car of the Year prize in 2014.
What they said
What They Said
“The original Audi A3 was revelatory in effectively creating the premium compact segment as we know it, and since then, Audi has continued to hone the model over four generations to make this latest one the most intelligent, most dynamic and best equipped that we’ve ever offered."
“Aside from its comprehensive specification, the big news for fleet is the arrival of the A3 TFSIe this winter. Offering up to 282.5mpg combined (WLTP) with a potential 41 miles of electric range, it’s a compelling addition, and that’s before you consider the 6% BiK, too.”
James Buxton, Head of Fleet, Audi UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
As with the exterior, the cabin features more angular styling
The swiveling cupholder is both neat and useful
The S Line spec’s seats front and back look good and are supportive
...And one we don't
The little flat audio control button isn’t as user-friendly as the old knob was
A pleasant enough drive without being overtly sporting, and the 150hp petrol is a lovely engine.
Considering the A3 is the newest car in the sector, it’s a shame to see this engine slot in behind all its key rivals for efficiency.
A practical boot, good rear legroom and reasonable headroom for rear passengers make for a decent package.
Kit levels are pretty good, including the Virtual Cockpit display standard on all cars, but some appealing options are only offered in pricey packs.
A pleasing evolution - it’s clearly still an Audi A3 but the styling is sharper and more edgy.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
The A3 makes for a relaxed and comfortable high-mileage companion, especially with the S Line’s upgraded seats. The Sports suspension on S Line models can be deleted for extra comfort.
Looks good and has a depth of quality to the materials as well as decent stowage, although some switchgear isn’t quite as user-friendly as before.
Takes a while to wake up when you start the car and voice activation isn’t the smartest. Haptic touch sensation on touchscreen is very clever.
Whole life costs 8/10
Residual value claws back most of new A3’s price rise over old, although efficiency hampers BiK.
CCT opinion 9/10
Sharp revision to a fleet favourite that will retain its popularity.
Not the most dramatic of replacement models, but the high-quality new A3 does things a little better than its predecessor while looking sharper inside and out.