Thursday 28 July 2016
Badge snobbery will get you nowhere, but we reckon you get what you pay for with the new Audi A3.
People sneered a bit when the A3 was released. The Golf was – and still is – an obvious choice in this segment, so the A3 seemed like a cynical opportunity to add four rings to the front and four grand to the price tag. It was a Golf, but for people who thought themselves above the VW badge.
Audi sold nearly 50,000 A3s in the UK last year, about two-thirds of the Golf’s figures and only about 10,000 units behind the Qashqai. It’s one of the most popular premium cars and still looks great after two decades.
This third generation A3 has just had a mid-life facelift. It’s hard to see where the nips and tucks have taken place, but the overall look is arguably about 5% more Audi-ish. Only the speedy S3 version has received any significant attention to its bodywork. Hatchbacks are rarely cool (you’ll have to wait for the next RS3 to find a truly covetable one) but the vanilla A3 is smart and sophisticated. The Cabriolet, too, is a mature choice for roof-down summer fun.
The same is true of the inside, which is where any remaining criticism of the Audi as being a Golf in disguise can be summarily pooh-poohed. One of the best things about the new A3 – and about the newest wave of Audis generally – is the cockpit-style dashboard, which will display Google Earth and navigation information on the instrument binnacle in your line of sight.
In terms of everyday usability, the A3 ticks a lot of boxes but doesn’t quite excel. Depending on whether you pick the regular or the Sportback model, the boot will be between 365 and 380 litres. Knock off around 40 litres for 4×4 versions (that all-wheel-drive system eats into luggage space) and around 100 litres for the Sportback E-Tron. Fold the seats down and you’ll get luggage space broadly on a par with another well-known German hatchback.
Front passengers enjoy copious leg and head room, though taller adults may find the back seats oppressive on long journeys. Three adults abreast on the back row will have to be exceptionally skinny or very comfortable with each other physically, because shoulder room isn’t generous back there. You shouldn’t have a problem with ordinary-sized kids, though.
The A3 has always enjoyed a curious range of engines, from the small-displacement diesels to the gently insane RS3 supercar-botherer. The 306bhp S3 is the most compelling everyday choice, but realistically even the 1.0-litre petrol offers enough power for British driving. It won’t win races, but it doesn’t frustrate you on the ring-road either. Squeezing 113bhp out of 999cc was an idea that works nicely in the A3.
The A3 handles well across the range. The Ford Focus and Mazda3 offer better driving dynamics, but it’s possible to coax some tyre squeal and a sense of urgency out of the A3 when required. Just like the rest of the car, the A3’s handling is solid, dependable, and maybe a little bit predictable.
Nobody’s expecting the A3 to be cheap. This particular manufacturer is well-known for having an expensive options list, and as the most ‘premium’ mainstream badge of the Volkswagen Group, it’s within its rights to add a few extra pennies to the price tag. If you’re looking for a bargainous family hatchback, you have some extremely attractive options from European and Asian carmakers.
But if you have the money and are prepared to stump up a few extra thousand pounds for the options you want (including that cockpit-style MMI display) then the A3 will be the nicest car to live with. A high quality interior, a
well-proportioned exterior and, yes, those four rings on the front all make the A3 a desirable car to park on your drive.
Relatively well-heeled families looking for a second car, young couples wanting an upmarket small car to share, and anyone in need of an understated premium hatchback would do well to take the A3 for a test drive. It’s not for everyone – thrifty buyers will opt for the excellent Hyundai i30 or nifty Mazda3, while driving enthusiasts should definitely take the new Ford Focus RS out for a spin (possibly literally). But last year, around 50,000 Brits figured that the A3 was the car for them. And it’s hard to argue with that.
This car summed up in a single word: Begehrt.
If this car was a… dog it would be a well-trained Alsatian sitting obediently at the heel of Polizist. Alert and businesslike, but not averse to chasing a tennis ball when the opportunity arises.
Audi A3 hatchback, from £18,000
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 113bhp
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Performance: 128mph top speed, 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds
Economy: 60.1mpg combined
Emissions: 107g/km of CO2
"abcdef" is not valid postalcodeOK