Audi raises A3’s game

Audi's new A3 has moved upmarket but will appeal to your head as well as your heart, says Matt Joy, PA motoring editor.

When you are a major international car-maker, a glorious range-topping supercar is only ever a small part of the picture. Audi has that covered – witness the R8 – which has just appeared in yet another iteration to tempt those seeking an even more thrilling combination of exclusivity and performance. What matters more is the bread-and-butter stuff – which is where the latest A3 comes in.

Since the German company first entered the premium compact segment in 1996 it has sold a remarkable 2.7 million A3s spread over two generations – even more impressive when you consider that the segment didn't really exist before then. But where there is success there is greater competition, which is why the latest A3 has an even tougher fight on its hands.

It's not hard to spot this is an A3 of course. Subtle evolution is the name of the game when it comes to the exterior design, and while some may have hoped for more the truth is most will be well and truly in favour. It's sharper, leaner and slicker with some edgier detailing all over, exactly what most buyers are looking for. As always you'll want one of the bigger wheel options to get the best look, but it has class and presence to spare.

Then you climb inside, and where you would expect an Audi to be particularly strong, the new A3 manages to be even better than that. Compared to the last version the latest A3 has a more pared-back dashboard, with just a thin strip of switches across the centre of the dash above the air-conditioning controls. Pride of place in the centre of the dash is a large and attractive colour monitor. Like much of the new kit in here it gives the impression of being taken from an Audi further up the pecking order – contributing to the feelgood factor.

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The other tasty inheritance is the touchpad device for the Multi Media Interface. First seen on the A8 saloon, this allows the driver to trace letters and numbers to input sat-nav destinations or telephone numbers. But new to the A3 is that this touchpad now sits in the centre of the large control wheel – a clever alteration that cleans up the space around the gearlever, avoids unnecessary clutter while still packing in loads of features. And the materials used are first rate and it is all put together beautifully. Don't forget this is where you'll spend most of your time, and the A3's cabin is welcoming, comfortable and a pleasure to use.

There's plenty of substance to go with the elegant wrapping, as the new A3 has a longer wheelbase and is a fraction wider than before yet weighs up to 80kg less thanks to an aluminium bonnet and front wings. Underpinning all that is a new chassis that is lighter and stiffer than before, while the impressive mix of petrol and diesel engines are either new to the A3 or revised.

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One of the most popular choices will be the 1.8-litre TFSI engine which is something of a discreet hot-hatch. With 178bhp and of torque, performance is not in short supply – 0-62mph takes only 7.2 seconds and the top speed is 144mph. That performance is delivered with slick assurance, with a broad spread of torque and effortless acceleration available with just a gentle squeeze of the accelerator. Pair it with either the six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox and the A3 can cruise, potter or blast with complete ease. Yet thanks to the weight-saving and efficiency measures the combined fuel consumption figure of 50.4mpg and 130g/km CO2 emissions are hugely impressive in their own right, never mind compared to the performance figures.

And the way the A3 behaves on the road is a reflection of the car as whole – controlled, refined and unflappable. The steering is undemanding when cruising but accurate and sufficiently communicative when pressing on, and the ride quality even on sports suspension is firm but comfortable. Push hard and the A3 is safe and predictable, but there is fun to be had if the mood takes you.

You could say that the new A3 doesn't represent a giant leap forward from the old car, but the truth is it makes significant strides in all the important areas to give an overall package that is very hard to fault. It makes a whole lot of sense on paper yet it has the all-important desirability that will make your heart want it in the first place – no excuses necessary.

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