This improved MK3 model A3 shows Audi at its slick, intelligent best. Its styling might still be low key and the engineering eminently sensible, but there's now a polish to this vehicle that escapes virtually all of its rivals. Efficiency and economy are excellent by class standards, especially when it comes to a much-improved range of petrol engines. And some of the high-tech options available are extremely tempting.
Lots of changes have been made on the petrol engine front, the range now beginning with a downsized 115PS 1.0-litre TFSI unit that, nonetheless, still generates a useful 200Nm of torque. Next up is the more family 1.5 TFSI COD engine with 150PS and the efficiency of its clever 'Cylinder-on-Demand' technology. If you want more power, then the next step is a 2.0 TFSI unit - this a new engine featuring 190PS and an innovative new combustion process. It can be ordered with a freshly developed 7-speed S tronic auto gearbox and there's the option of quattro 4WD. Near the top of the range, the S3 hot hatch also gets 2.0 TFSI power - in this case with power upped by 10PS to a 310PS total.
The diesel line-up is more familiar from before, things kicking off with the usual 1.6-litre TDI powerplant developing 110PS and offered with either manual or S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission. Above that sits the consistently popular 2.0-litre TDI unit, available, as usual, with either 150 or 190PS and the normal transmission choices. Top diesels also get the quattro option. As before, lowered firmer 'Sport' or 'S line Sport' suspension set-ups are available and buyers can specify a progressive steering system for sharper turn-in. The Sportback e-tron petrol/electric Plug-in hybrid variant continues on for those with an eye on their tax status.
Exterior changes to the A3 are slight but the front looks a little more purposeful, courtesy of sharper lines for the familiar and now broader Singleframe grille. The headlights are flatter, with distinctive outer contours and can now be ordered in Matrix LED form, so they are significantly brighter and constantly adapt themselves to avoid dazzling other road users, plus of course they never need to be dipped. Equally subtle changes at the rear aim to accentuate the width of this car - with the horizontal illuminated graphics of the rear lights and the separation edge above the redesigned diffuser.
Inside, the 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument display used in the Audi TT and other pricier Audis is now available in this one as an option. This displays the most important driving-relevant information in high resolution on a 12.3-inch diagonal TFT screen. The driver can switch between two views by pressing the "View" button on the multifunction steering wheel. In addition, the menu structure that works the centre dash MMI infotainment screen has been redesigned and is now more intuitive. Otherwise, everything is pretty much as before, with classy materials and strong build quality. The hatch most will want with three or five doors has a 365-litre boot - and there's still the option of saloon or Cabriolet body styles if you want them.
The power of the brand. It's something Audi muses on at some length and it's the driving force behind the success of the A3. After all, an A3 is a Golf in a posh frock and commands a significantly heftier asking price. That won't change with this latest model. Nor will the fact that there will be many quite happy to pay that premium. Forget all the numbers that surround this latest A3. What Audi continues to do better than anybody else is tap directly into the often deeply illogical subconscious of the buyer. It sows seeds of desirability that are hard to bat away with simple financial rectitude. The A3 is an artfully laid trap that most of us can't wait to blunder into.
Is that wrong? Is it cynical? Not really. The A3 serves a need and serves it very well. The latest model is, by any reasonable measure, a smart, admirable and technically brilliant thing. The intelligent people who will buy it will nevertheless have the self-awareness to ask themselves whether they have been beguiled by brand awareness, even if only just a little. Those with typical Audi owner self-confidence probably won't mind either way.Click here to find out more about our Audi A3 Saloon range