Of the entire refreshed Audi A3 range, this 1.6-litre TDI model is the one that is going to the most obvious choice for many buyers in Ireland. Along with the new styling updates and optional tech like the Virtual Cockpit display, the A3 Sportback continues to define what a premium hatchback should be.
In the metal
Blink and you'll miss it. Stop and stare for a minute in fact and you still might miss it. Such is the subtlety of the exterior styling updates to the new Audi A3 Sportback. To be fair, the car has been one of the best looking in its segment since it was first introduced 20 years ago. This latest A3 Sportback's biggest changes are at the front, where there's a new headlight design along with a slightly wider grille and reshaped front bumper. The SE model features a less technical looking front bumper than the sportier looking S line car, which can look a tad fussy. This SE variant is more in keeping with the refined and upmarket image that the A3 has curated for the last number of years.
All models will now get bi-Xenon headlights as standard and as an option buyers will now be able to specify either LED or Matrix LED headlights on the A3 - these two options include dynamic turn signals. Around the back of the car the new lamps have a different light signature. Unlike the S line specification, a simpler bumper design graces the rear end, which does nothing to detract from the A3 Sportback's position as one of the best looking cars in its class.
On the inside, the only significant change is the inclusion of the high-tech Virtual Cockpit as an option. This 12.3-inch colour screen replaces the traditional two-dial Audi instrument cluster and delivers a much wider variety of information for the driver, as well as looking very cool. All A3s still get the seven-inch MMI screen that electrically rises from the top of the centre console when the ignition is switched on. Functions on this can be controlled via a rotary dial that is located between the front seats. This rotary controller looks and feels just like the combination dial on a safe and along with the rest of the buttons shows just how well Audi does its haptics (how it feels to touch and use), even on cars lower down in the range. Boot space in the five-door Sportback is 340 litres and this can be increased to 1,220 litres with the rear seat backs folded.
If you already own a 2012-onwards Audi A3 and are worried about this newer model being far better, fear not: it drives and handles no differently, but that's not a criticism. In fact, the A3 is a very good car to drive, blending refinement and luxury and packaging it in a way that you would expect from an Audi. Minor changes to the software of the S tronic automatic transmission see it rev a little more in Sport mode and upshift a little quicker in regular modes to further eke out fuel economy in the latter case.
Audi will also offer this engine with a manual transmission, but if you can afford to bridge the extra cost to the seven-speed S tronic it is well worth the money. It slips easily between gears and if either Comfort or Efficiency drive modes are chosen on the Drive Select system it keeps engine speeds down for a more refined drive. Audi says it is capable of consuming as little as 3.9 litres/100km when fitted with 16-inch low rolling resistance tyres while emitting just 102g/km of CO2, which makes for a budget friendly €190 per annum motor tax bill.
The 1.6-litre TDI engine is louder than the 2.0-litre option, but overall the A3 offers a reasonably quiet drive that sees the suspension cope well with uneven surfaces. It feels well sprung and nicely damped over speed bumps in town and doesn't jar you around in the seat as much as some others do. The seats deserve a mention; far from being sporty bucket chairs, they offer a good level of comfort and provide plenty of support for the lower back and sides.
What you get for your money
Exact pricing and specification for the updated Audi A3 range has yet to be finalised by Audi Ireland but all models will be subject to a price increase of €600. The level of standard equipment is rising in accordance with that and items such as 17-inch wheels and bi-Xenon headlights will now feature on all cars. On SE models the total value of the new level of standard equipment is valued at €2,754, making the €600 increase in price seem like good value for money.
BMW 116d: diesel engine is not as refined, but this is a more involving experience for the keener driver.
Mercedes-Benz A 220 d: the lack of a smaller capacity diesel engine will rule this out for some.
Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI: still the best all-rounder in the segment, a Highline spec Golf feels almost as premium.
Tweaked looks and better levels of standard equipment add more appeal to a car that was far from lacking in desirability already. The 1.6-litre TDI engine and slick S tronic automatic transmission make for an impressive combination and regardless of what trim level you choose this updated Audi A3 feels nothing short of premium.