What is it?
Not just an all new Audi A3, but an all new platform that will be rolled out across myriad of models from Volkswagen, Seat, Skoda and other Audi over time. For now though this is the A3’s first proper test on UK roads, an environment in which innumerable Audis have struggled to tackle in recent and not so recent times.
But despite looks that are evolutionary to the point of invisibility, this is a clean sheet design, so all prior expectations can be set aside. After all Audi has just replaced two other long servers, the A8 and A6 with machines not so much improved as transformed beyond the point of meaningful comparison.
A commensurate improvement should be all that needed to for class leadership, at least until the new Mercedes A-class goes on sale.
What is it like?
‘Good’ is the very word. Not great and certainly not ground-breaking, but clearly and indisputably good. A3 owners of old will find adapting to the new about as easy as replacing their toothbrush: it feels a little sharper but does exactly the same job but to a rather higher standard.
The 2-litre TDI will be the best-seller in the UK even after the 99 g/km 1.6-litre TDI goes on sale in November and with good reason: it offers 148bhp vs the 1.6 TDI’s measly 103bhp and 0-62mph acceleration of 8.6sec instead of 10.7sec. Yet the price at the pumps is minimal: the 2-litre’s 68.9mpg is a mere 5.4mpg inferior and while its CO2 emissions do tip over the 100g/km mark, few are going to grudge spending £20 on a tax disc after their first year.
It’s a smooth and quiet engine too, still discernibly diesel at medium to high loads, but hushed at a constant cruise and capable of pulling the unfeasibly high gearing of the slick six speed manual gearbox.
On the chassis side, Audi has played it very safe. While Mercedes has opted for a deliberately sporting set up for its new A-class and waits anxiously to see whether the resulting ride quality is up to the unique challenge posed by our roads, Audi has gone the other way, ensuring above all that the A3 rides at least respectably on this side of the channel. The test car was in Sport specification which comes with stiffened springs as standard but with normal settings as a no cost option. I’d take it because the Sport was much improved over the old A3 but still just a little restless on Home County A and B roads without offering anything particularly dynamic in the corners to justify it. The car handles capably, insofar as it will continue to go where you point it under provocation that would have its predecessor helplessly scrabbling for grip. But this is still no driver’s car: there’s too little interaction between man and machine for that.
So it’s best not to continue trying to bend it to your will but instead give yourself a break, sit back and enjoy the scenery. In the A3’s case it’s another classically conservative Audi interior. It’s functional, logical and, if you apply the time-honoured push and prod test, you’ll find real quality here too. And if you’re worried about the apparent lack of rear room you’ll probably be more likely to want a five door which, when it appears in Sportback form next year, will have miraculously sprouted a longer wheelbase.
And yet there is something missing here: a dash of originality perhaps, or just a little something unexpected. Like the outside, the interior is terribly predictable and lacking the sense of occasion now seen on both the impressive new Volvo V40 and forthcoming Mercedes-Benz A-class.
Should I buy one?
The A3 is the cash ISA of the premium compact class: an undeniably sound product with no nasty surprises up its sleeve, guaranteed to carry on giving for as long as it’s yours. And it will undoubtedly be a better car with which to live than drive. Unlike too many previous Audis it doesn’t throw its arms up in horror at the first sight of a UK road, it just calmly knuckles down to the task and is pretty capable as a result.
But you need to know it is also as unadventurous to drive as it is to look at. To all those who made the old A3 such a mammoth sales success these last nine years, that’s the news they’ve been waiting to hear. Others, myself among them, would have been happier still were it a touch more ambitious. This is a safe car, not a bold one.
Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sport
Price £22,370; 0-62mph 8.6sec; Top Speed 134mph; Economy 68.9mpg; CO2 106g/km; Kerb weight 1280kg; Engine 1968cc, 4cyl, turbodiesel; Power 148bhp at 3500rpm; Torque lb ft 236lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-sp manual