First impressions are mixed, as the car initially looks like an A1 – only bigger! But on closer examination there are plenty of design details that make the new A3 stand out as the third-generation A3. Under the skin the car is virtually all-new and there are big improvements in the engines available, too.
A3 is the first car in the Volkswagen Audi Group to use the new 'modular transverse engine components set' (MQB). This is a jazzy and versatile engineering package that allows almost infinite combinations of front-wheel drive engine, suspension, track and wheelbase options to be fitted to different body shells. It means virtually nothing has been carried over from the second-generation A3. In time MQB will dramatically reduce manufacturer and design costs across all VW-owned brands.
New A3 is more angular yet it still remains curvy and non- aggressive. Dubliner David Caffrey designed the exterior. He trained in Ireland and then moved to Germany for a number of years, where he worked under design guru Walter de Silva. Caffrey now lives in Santa Monica, California, where he works at Audi's design studios. In his spare time he restores classic Triumph motorcycles. Motors caught up with the 38-year-old at the A3's international launch recently and - thankfully for once - was able to look a designer in the eye and compliment their work. The A3 is not his first Audi exterior design, as he was also responsible for the Q5 SUV. Weight reduction was very important with the new A3 and the car has shed kilos thanks to new materials and lightweight metals.
Inside the cabin it is quiet and overall the feel is one of a car that is very well put-together. Rear passenger room is tight and barely more accommodating than an A1 Sportback. There are a few cubbies to squirrel away bits and pieces and the boot is adequate for the class at 365 litres.
On the road the level of ride comfort very much depends on the wheel size and tyre choice, as the ride ranges from 'just about right' to 'very firm'.
Front-wheel drive cars will make up the majority of sales, but a big plus with the A3 is that it is available in Quattro four-wheel drive form, too – albeit for a premium. Engine choice is critical if you want to drive enthusiastically. There are engines ranging from a 1.2 petrol (€25,900) up to two 2-litre diesels. The diesels (TDi) are torquey and very practical but not a lot of fun.
The brand new 1.6 TDi is a great unit and can do 3.8 litres per 100 kilometres (74 mpg) while sitting in tax band 'A'. It's a great unit but lacking in spirit, whereas the 1.4-litre, 122bhp (90kw) TFSI (4-cylinder direct injection petrol engine with an exhaust turbocharger with indirect charge air cooling and double overhead camshafts) that we also tested was a hoot and loved being driven-on. For me, this engine was absolutely perfect for the A3's character. Audi A3 deliveries will begin in September.
A3 has been around since 1996 and in that time has built up a loyal following of discerning owners. New A3 has evolved and looks very smart, is more fun to drive and will be loved even more than the outgoing car by young professionals everywhere.