Stepping from an old A3 to a new one is like going to the supermarket and discovering your favourite brand of washing powder has been ‘reformulated.’ First you wonder why they’ve felt the need to change a formula with which you were already entirely happy. Then you look a little closer and discover the product and its packaging appear to have changed hardly at all and you wonder some more.

But then you read the small print and discover the new product has been built up around an entirely new formula that despite all appearances to the contrary, bears no relation whatever to what you’ve been using for years.

It’s because within the VW group that owns Audi, there exists a culture of never, ever making radical changes to known winners. You can see it all the way from the Porsche Boxster to the Volkswagen Golf, but most of all you can see it in the A3, which has dominated its class since launch.

Chances are you’d need to be an existing owner before you’d be likely to spot the differences between old and new. But make no mistake: the differences are real and, for the dynamically underachieving A3, game changing.

In fact all has changed – there’s a new platform and every engine is either new or substantially renewed. It’s this change without appearing to change that Audi hopes will provide the right blend of technical improvement with design reassurance to keep the new A3 on top throughout its third generation. To ensure this remains the case throughout its full-lifecycle the Inglostadt-based manufacturer has given the A3 a facelift, which is noticeable to current owners, but will leave the impartial feeling indifferent about it.

Question is, will it really wash whiter?

Top 5 Premium hatches

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    9 December 2016
    Audi Sport drops a sub-4.0sec-to-60mph bomb into Porsche Cayman territory
  • First Drive
    9 December 2016
    Plug-in-hybrid 3 Series shows the benefit of BMW's experience with the i3 and i8. Sophisticated, swift and broadly talented to drive – and sweet-handing, too
  • Car review
    9 December 2016
    Italian brand emerges as a true luxury power with a large SUV
  • 2016 Porsche Panamera Turbo
    First Drive
    8 December 2016
    A smaller engine doesn't prevent the new Porsche Panamera Turbo being a ridiculously quick and capable sporting GT. We've driven it in the UK
  • 2016 Vauxhall Adam 1.0i Turbo Unlimited
    First Drive
    8 December 2016
    The 1.0-litre turbo engine and Unlimited trim combine to make this the best Adam in the line-up