Audi has refreshed its entire four-body A3 family, from entry-level right up to the hot S3 performance models, with perhaps the biggest news coming at the bottom of the range. The cheapest A3 engine you can get is now a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder TFSI petrol engine, and with it fitted, the A3 Sportback is a thoroughly likeable premium hatchback.
In the Metal:
Audi officials at the launch event told us this was a 'technology update' for the revised Audi A3, rather than a 'facelift'. Which is just as well because, visually, very little has changed for this compact premium contender. Of course this isn't a failing; the A3 sells brilliantly for Audi in all its two-, three-, four- and five-door (that being this Sportback) guises and so it's another of those minimal plastic surgery jobs as there's little need for a wholesale aesthetic fix. We can tell you that the 'Singleframe' grille is wider, there are new designs for the headlamps and the rear light clusters and that the lower bumper areas are different too, but we wouldn't blame you if you didn't believe a word we said and went straight off to compare photographs of this 'new' car and its predecessor, just to be on the safe side.
The interior remains as beautifully finished as ever, with haptics and ergonomics of the highest calibre. There's little in the way of design flair to the A3's console yet that won't stop buyers being completely satisfied with the cabin. New technologies, which we'll talk about in the 'What you get for your Money' section below, have been fitted here, the most eye-catching of which is the superb 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit TFT display, the first time it has been seen in the A3. If you want this feature, it will be at extra cost, obviously - standard equipment is a set of analogue dials as before.
This is the second Audi to get the 1.0-litre, turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine after the smaller A1. Because the A3 is a little larger, the 1.0 TFSI unit has been uprated from the 95hp/160Nm outputs of the A1 three-pot; instead, it makes 115hp at 5,000- to 5,500rpm, and 200Nm from 2,000- to 3,000rpm. Standard transmission is a six-speed manual driving the front wheels only, although on the launch all the cars had the seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch 'auto'. The 1.0 can be found in all A3s bar the Cabriolet, which is thought to be too heavy to be propelled by this willing engine.
Alone among the A3 line-up, this new 1.0 TFSI - and the 1.6-litre TDI diesel - are equipped with torsion beam rear suspension, whereas all other variants get multilink rear axles. That might lead you to suspect the ride would be more primitive on these small-engined Audis, yet that simply isn't the case. The 1.0 A3 feels as grown-up and refined as any of its stablemates, flowing along roads with a high level of compliance and little in the way of noise intrusion. The engine is also perky enough to make motorway driving easy, rather than necessitating a succession of wild, gear-shifting thrashes simply to keep up with traffic.
The A3 1.0 TFSI has a couple of major plus points on its side, which are lightness and that oft-quoted, hard-to-quantify commodity of character. On the former score, the 1.0 TFSI Sportback tips the scales at just 1,180kg, with that little engine clocking a mere 88kg over the nose. This has many benefits, not least of which is that this is the most fun A3 to chuck around - shy of the S3 almost at the polar opposite of the family tree. In fact, it's probably more engaging than the Audi RS 3, astonishing to say, with understeer largely absent from the 1.0's repertoire. Such a lack of mass on the front axle also frees up the steering, resulting in one of the nicest helms we can remember in any Audi at any price for a while. The 1.0 isn't fast in any meaningful sense of the word - 115hp can only do so much, after all - but if you enjoy maintaining velocity through corners and keeping something modestly powered 'on the boil', this TFSI is the best pick of the A3 pack.
The character is harder to define, because there's no denying the three-cylinder engine is more muted here than it is in the Audi A1, where it was borderline raucous and therefore a lot of fun. The off-beat warble that's synonymous with these triples is less noticeable in the cultured A3, but it's there and it's more enjoyable than the hushed burring of the diesel models. We really like the 1.0 TFSI in the A3 as it's not lost even in the Sportback's 30kg bulkier body, but what we can't assess from our short test drive is the long-term, real-world fuel economy; driving the TFSI in a manner designed to elicit fun will not elicit frugality of the order of Audi's quoted economy figure.
What you get for your Money:
Audi Ireland has yet to confirm the full pricing/specification line-up for the 'technologically updated' A3s, which are due to be delivered in the summer, although it has confirmed that Xenon headlights are standard across the range, SE models get one-inch-larger 17-inch alloys from the off, Audi Smartphone Interface is thrown in for SE and S line trims and S line cars are equipped with LED headlights. Audi Ireland further says that the price of facelifted A3s has gone up €600 across the range, despite the fact there's €2,754 and €1,785 of extra stuff on the SE and S line models respectively. A summary here might say the Audi won't be inexpensive, but it will feel worth its chunky outlay nonetheless.
The additional kit offered (either as standard or optionally, depending on specification) across the A3 family includes new driver assist systems such as Traffic Jam Assist, Audi Pre-Sense Front with predictive pedestrian protection and Cross-Traffic Assist rear, extra infotainment connectivity - with a fresh smartphone interface for iOS and Android devices, as well as more Audi Connect services - the aforementioned Virtual Cockpit, and the option of having Matrix LED headlights, which can dip selected bulbs in main beam to prevent dazzling other road users. Audi claims this is a first for this segment; Opel would no doubt cite the fact the latest Astra has optional IntelliLux units of a similar ilk.
Little has changed visually, but the Audi A3's enviable blend of high-quality packaging, upmarket cruising manners and decent dynamics continues with these updated cars, and nowhere else in the range is this all-round display better exemplified than by the new 1.0 TFSI model. If you can tear yourself away from the diesel variants, we really do reckon this is the A3 to have.