What Car? says...
If the first thought that enters your head when you gaze upon the new Audi A3 Sportback is “Lamborghini Countach”, you’re either standing very far away or are part of Audi’s exterior design team. After all, they are quoted as saying the legendarily angular Italian supercar was a design reference for this new family car.
Take the marketing spiel with a pinch of salt; it’s clear that the design of the latest A3 has generally played it safe, choosing evolution, rather than revolution. Audi’s similarly cautious approach to the rest of the car is a good omen; after all, the previous Audi A3 was one of the outstanding family cars of the past decade – insurmountably impressive in every area, and winning group tests against newer rivals even at the end of its life.
It offers you a choice of petrol, diesel, mild-hybrid and (shortly) plug-in hybrid versions, with various different suspension setups and trim levels available. But just how good is the new A3? Can it live up to the exalting standards of its forebear? And if it wins you over, which is the best version to go for?
Read on to find out. And, for a hassle-free deal on your next car, head over to our New Car Buying pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
At launch, there’s a choice of just two engines, a 148bhp 35 TDI diesel and a 148bhp 35 TFSI petrol. The lineup will expand in due course including a 108bhp 30 TFSI petrol as the first addition, with a 114bhp 30 TDI diesel also joining the fray.
The three engines that we’ve tried so far return performance that’s on a par with what you can expect from equivalent rivals. Predictably, the 30 TDI needs to be worked quite hard to make any quick progress, while the 35 TDI is noticeably stronger and proves particularly relaxed on motorway runs. The 35 TFSI, though, is our pick of the lineup, because it’s cheaper than the 35 TDI and still offers strong, impressive performance throughout the rev range. For those who want true hot hatch levels of performance, an Audi S3 is on the way.
Suspension and ride comfort
The suspension you’ll find under your A3 depends on its engine and the badge it has on the back. Lower-powered models (with less than 148bhp and the number 30 on their badges) have a less sophisticated rear suspension setup than the more powerful versions. If you go for an S line model, you also get lowered, firmer suspension, which you can delete as a no cost option.
So far we have only driven the 30 TDI S line as a truly representative car for the UK. All other models we tested were fitted with adaptive suspension, which you won’t be able to get over here. Just like M Sport versions of the BMW 1 Series, an S-line A3 has an underlying firmness to its ride, but the Audi is the softer of the two rivals, exhibiting an impressive cushioning quality at all speeds. When you do hit rough stuff, the impact is over very quickly, with no bobbling or bouncing around afterwards.
We suspect, though, that the sweetest riding A3s will be the ones that dodge lowered S line suspension, and have the more sophisticated rear suspension set up.
The A3 is very agile, dealing with quick changes of direction in a very accomplished, unflustered manner, with plenty of front-end grip. And those fitted with S line suspension corner very flatly.
The steering isn’t perfect, though. It’s accurate and precise, but feels a little vague when you only turn slightly from straight ahead, and this initial steering input doesn’t generate the lively sensation of bite that you’ll enjoy in the 1 Series. Nor does the A3’s steering have quite the oily slickness that the A-Class’s boasts. You can change how it feels by engaging Sport mode, but the heft this adds feels unnatural. Ultimately, the A3 is always pleasant to drive, but the 1 Series remains the best driver’s car in this class.
Noise and vibration
All engines are impressively quiet, but the fact that you need to work the 30 TDI harder than the more powerful engines makes it the first to show signs of strain.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard across the range; its chunky gearstick provides precise shifts, while the effort required to manipulate the pedals is nicely even across the three. Audi’s ‘S tronic’ seven-speed automatic gearbox is very slick and impressive; it shifts between gears with a similar swiftness to the 1 Series’, and dithers about far less than the automatic used by the Mercedes A-Class.
Automatic 35 TFSI models have a mild-hybrid system to marginally boost efficiency, and its regenerative braking system makes the brake pedal take some getting used to. The mechanical gubbins that harnesses energy that would usually be wasted during braking (and uses it to charge a tiny battery) gives the brake pedal a different feel to those of the non-hybrid cars. It’s initially quite unresponsive before suddenly becoming quite grabby, so stopping smoothly can be difficult.