Overall rating: 4/5
Audi may not have intended it but in the 150hp TDI version of the new A3 hatchback it has created the perfect compromise between efficiency and performance, both of which can be attributed as much to the new MQB platform as the engine. The German giant has also moved things along in the cabin, which looks and feels more like that of an executive saloon than a family hatchback.
In the Metal:
Audi's third generation A3 is more of an evolution rather than a revolution. Penned by Dublin-born designer David Caffrey, the front end is dominated by the distinctive family grille and LED headlights. Audi expects the five-door Sportback model (which will arrive in March next year) to be the volume seller but we quite like the three-door shape all the same. In standard guise it is elegant while S Line specification is undeniably sporty looking - something that bodes well for the 272hp S3 that will arrive later this year.
The cabin is as you would expect of an Audi, though a big Audi that it. The A3's interior has the look, feel and quality of one of the larger members of the Ingolstadt family with some touches like the retractable 5.8-inch display and full MMI input unique to the class. The A3 can be specified with the MMI touch system too, which allows you to input information by 'writing' it on a special pad with your finger.
The new A3 is the first recipient of the Volkswagen Group's modular MQB platform that in time will underpin much of the Group's core sellers. Stiffer and lighter than the platform of old it means the A3 is more economical and dynamic than before. A3s of old were often lamented for their tendency to understeer when pushed and while there is still a touch of this present it is nowhere near as pronounced. The car responds well to steering inputs, even mid corner, but the electro-mechanical steering offers little in the way of feel. This steering system does contribute to the fuel economy however, which we suspect will be of more importance to buyers than feedback through the rim.
At launch Audi is offering A3 buyers the choice of a 122hp 1.4-litre TFSI, a 1.8-litre TFSI with 180hp, a 105hp 1.6-litre TDI and the 150hp 2.0-litre TDI that we drove. A 1.4 TFSI petrol engine with cylinder-on-demand technology will be available next month while a 105hp 1.2-litre TFSI unit will follow in November.
The 150hp TDI engine should, on the face of it, be an economy special, as it emits 106g/km for Band A road tax and 4.1 litres/100km (69mpg) fuel consumption. But the engine is something of a revelation; while it can do the money saving bit it also performs well. A lot of this is down to the weight of the car (the engine has less mass to haul around) and thanks to mid-range punch of 320Nm it never feels sluggish. It is also remarkably refined with smooth power delivery and little in the way of diesel clatter.
What you get for your Money:
The cars driven at launch were base specification models with approximately €6,000 worth of extras included. Nobody in their right mind would spec up a Base model that much with the SE and S Line variants adding a lot of the options for less spend.
Ignoring the options (many of which were minor styling tweaks) the A3 is fairly well equipped as standard with 16-inch alloys, leather multifunction steering wheel, air conditioning, the MMI system and Bluetooth all included from the factory.
Some of the choice extras included the €1,185 Navigation Package, €896 Metallic Paint and 17-inch alloys at €964.
The MQB platform that the A3 is built on is not the only thing that is modular; the infotainment system is too. Audi has effectively 'future-proofed' the system by making it easily upgradable to take advantage of changes within the technology sector. Should Apple et al develop a new way to stream audio to your car (and considering the patent wars going on, that is not too farfetched) then it is a simple case of upgrading the system rather than being stuck with a car that cannot communicate with your new phone.
Audi describes the A3 as its 'gateway' car; it is the model that most attracts new buyers to the marque, so it has to be right. Considering the outgoing Sportback model is still selling well the new three-door version may not set the sales figures alight, but it does have a lot going for it with the 150hp TDI engine the pick of the line-up.