As one of the key models in the Audi range, getting the refreshed A3 right is an important job. We drove all four body types, and various engines, to see if the A3 still has what it takes in a competitive market.
In the same year England crashed out of Euro ’96, Audi launched an upmarket compact hatchback to the world. Suffice to say some things don’t change – not least when it comes to football and, two decades later, Audi has released a refreshed version of the third-generation A3. Accounting for over a quarter of all 166,708 Audi sales in the UK alone last year, the A3 is clearly a big deal for the marque.
Being such a big-seller, it’s perhaps understandable that Audi has taken a subtle evolutionary approach with this mid-lifecycle update. The original third generation A3 only went on sale in 2013, so this update comes quite soon in car terms. With a significant proportion of outgoing A3 models potentially still leveraged on personal finance or business lease deals, the last thing Audi needs is to be damaging residual values with radical restyling efforts. Plus, the A3 has always been the more mature hatchback in the VAG platform-sharing world.
One of these is not like the others
Update and refreshed
Keeping that maturity in mind; reprofiled front and rear bumpers, the new Audi corporate grille, and updated lighting are the biggest changes on the outside. Xenon headlights are now standard across the range, whilst higher-spec versions get fancy LED units. There’s new colours, including the ESM-pleasing Vegas Yellow, and different alloy wheel designs. In short, you’re most probably going to be a real Audi geek to be able to spot the differences. But whilst it might appear similar to the outgoing version, the technology underneath is where the biggest changes have occurred.Virtual Cockpit, first seen in the TT and R8, is the most important news for the revised A3. It’s on the options list but, once sampled, it would be a tough call not to tick that box. Having a 12.3” screen instead of conventional instrument dials makes so much sense, with the ability to see all information right in front of you. It renders the standard 7″ MMI display on the centre console essentially redundant, to the point we drove with it retracted most of the time. Thankfully that centre screen can be dropped and raised at the press of a button. It’s a novelty – but we approved.
Remember when infotainment controllers like MMI were controversial? Yeah, we’d forgotten about that, too. The revised MMI system in the new A3 is simpler, with fewer buttons and optional touchpad atop the main controller. We’re fussy when it comes to infotainment systems, but this version of MMI is genuinely a joy to use. It’s logical, responsive and also pretty good to look at. Furthermore, it proves that touchscreens aren’t always the answer to everything.
Virtual Cockpit is genuinely brilliant
Almost makes this MMI screen redundant
Revised MMI controller has less buttons
Being 2016, online connectivity is also a big deal. With the optional Technology Pack, buyers can have an embedded SIM card fitted at the factory, allowing access to the Internets immediately. It’s worth it for the integration of Google Earth and Google Street View into the navigation system alone. In fact, our notes from the test day labelled it as “awesome” which is probably all you need to know.
Safety and assistance systems from models higher up the Audi food chain also make an, optional, appearance in the new A3. Along with adaptive cruise control there’s emergency brake assist, active lane assist, and traffic jam assist. The latter allows the A3 to keep itself in lane, brake, and accelerate on congested roads. Make no mistake – this is the onward march of autonomous driving.
Aside from new technology, the changes inside are limited to new air vents, new steering wheel designs and… that’s about it. However, it still looks suitably modern, although it should do when the previous version is less than three years old. The minimalistic style, thanks to a dashboard not dominated by an infotainment screen, makes for an attractive and well-built interior.
Not much has changed superficially in here. But that’s hardly a bad thing.
Three-up in the back of the 3-door hatchback
Compulsory boot photo
Revised petrol engine choices now range from a new 113hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo, to a 1.4 TFSI (featuring cylinder-on-demand tech) producing 148hp, and a 2.0-litre TFSI unit with 187hp topping the range. Diesels feature a 108hp 1.6-litre TDI, and 2.0-litre TDI units in 148hp and 181hp flavours.
All engines have the option of the S tronic dual-clutch gearbox, with the most powerful engine variants available with quattro all-wheel drive. A new S3 with 306hp is also coming soon, but not present at this launch event, and there’ll be an RS3 with even more power in due course. That excites us – a lot.
On the road
A3 Saloon 1.4 TFSI CoD [S tronic] S LineSay what you will about badge snobbery, but the A3 saloon has seemingly succeeded where the Volkswagen Jetta has failed. The four-door A3 has become a desirable compact sedan, no doubt helped by strong lines and balanced proportions on the outside. (more…)