The all-new A3 is an important model for Audi because it’s one of the premium manufacturer’s best-selling models in Europe.
It’s also up against some strong rivals – especially the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Available as a hatchback (Sportback) or saloon, Audi says the fourth generation A3 (the first was launched way back in 1996) is more dynamic, technically advanced and sharper looking than ever than ever.
Sharing the MQB platform with its Volkswagen Group cousins, the latest VW Golf, Skoda Octavia and (visually very similar) SEAT Leon, the new A3 is completely new from the ground up and is slightly longer and wider overall.
The first thing you notice about the new Sportback, which is now only available as a five-door, is that it has a more athletic stance and enhanced by side-sculpting, while the front end is dominated by Audi’s wide ‘Singleframe’ honeycomb grille.
Upmarket interiors have always been one of Audi’s strong points and while the A3’s is undoubtedly attractive, some of the materials used are not quite as plush as you’d expect, especially lower down in the cabin.
The good news for tech-heads is that the new dashboard incorporates a new infotainment system, with a centrally-mounted 10.1-inch touch display and a 10.25-inch driver’s digital display, plus an optional head-up display.
Thankfully, Audi hasn’t gone down the minimalist road of the new Golf, so you can at least control the air-conditioning via physical buttons, but otherwise just about every function involves interacting with the touchscreen or the steering wheel.
Naturally there are no complaints on the comfort front, while rear space is better, though still slightly on the snug side for larger passengers. Luggage capacity is 380 litres (roughly comparable with its rivals), expanding to expanding to 1,200 litres when the 60:40 rear seats are folded down.
The Audi A3 range starts at £23,875, and the engine choice is between two petrol, a diesel, plus a plug-in hybrid model.
Our test car was an A3 Sportback 35 TFSI in mid-range S line trim. On paper, the 1.5-litre petrol turbo produces 148bhp, enabling it to reach 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds, while fuel economy is 45.6mpg and emissions are 142g/km. For the record, the quoted MPG is quite achievable.
Mated to a slick six-speed manual gearbox, this engine is likely to be the most popular option (a good balance between performance and economy), but if you cover big miles, then the 2.0-litre diesel might make more sense with its 61.4mpg potential.
The A3 Sportback is available in five trims, ranging from Technik up to Vorsprung. All models are well-equipped, with even the entry-level model getting the 10.1-inch touchscreen, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), rear parking sensors, Land Departure Warning and LED headlights.
On the road, the A3 35 TFSI is a refined and relaxed cruiser. It’s no hot hatch, but the power delivery is smooth and it’s ample for everyday driving.
There’s plenty of grip up front, it’s composed and there’s minimal body roll in faster corners. Ride quality is impressive, if on the firm side, while light steering and good visibility make it easy to manoeuvre.
Naturally, there’s also control over economy, ride and engine responsiveness via the usual drive modes (Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, Efficiency and Individual).
The only issue for us is that the A3 seems to have lost a little of its wow factor as the gap between it and the Golf especially gets narrower every generation, while the battle with its BMW and Mercedes-Benz rivals is now more down to badge appeal.
Verdict: The all-new Audi A3 Sportback is a class act. Sharply styled and boasting superb build quality, it’s well equipped, packed with the latest infotainment and safety tech, and offers a slick driving experience.