Audi is attempting to redefine the premium hatchback segment with the all-new Audi A3, which has been revealed in three-door guise at the Geneva motor show.
The third-generation Audi A3 features a high-class premium interior packed with ‘big car’ technology, a significant weight reduction thanks to its new lightweight modular platform and a highly-efficient new range of petrol and diesel engines.
As before, Audi is planning to launch a full range of bodystyles, including a five-door Sportback and soft-top Cabriolet. For the first time, there will be a new four-door saloon targeted at North America and China. High-performance S3 and RS3 models will again be launched.
The three-door A3 is the first production car to be underpinned by Volkswagen Group’s new modular ‘MQB’ platform, which will be used as a basis for anything between an A1 and A5 Sportback in size.
In its lightest 1.4 TFSI-powered form, the new A3 weighs just 1175kg, some 80kg less than the equivalent model in the current line-up. The bulk of the body is made from high-strength steels. Aluminium is used for some of the bodywork, including the bonnet and parts of the bumpers.
The suspension is MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear. A sport chassis is offered that lowers the car by 15mm, and the S Line package lowers the car by a further 10mm. Adaptive damping is fitted if the Audi Drive Select package is specced. Standard alloy wheels are 16in in diameter, with up to 18in available.
Size and styling
At 4237mm long, 1777mm wide and 1421mm high, the new A3 is 1mm shorter, 12mm wider and the same height as its predecessor. Despite the length remaining virtually identical, the wheelbase has grown 23mm to 2601mm, which in turn has given the car a shorter front overhang.
Audi has stayed true to the look of the A3 saloon concept, which debuted at the 2011 Geneva motor show. It sports a cleaner, technical look at the front end, which features a large single-frame six-corner grille and a LED ‘wave’ in the optional xenon headlights pictured here.
The three-door’s most distinctive exterior feature is the sharp ‘tornado’ line beneath the rear windows. At the rear, the LED lights sit proud from the tailgate to give a 3D effect, something first seen on Audi’s smaller A1.
Another nod to the A1 is in the design of the A3’s C-pillars. Audi claims their sloping shape, which blend into a subtle rear spoiler, gives the hatchback the effect of looking like a coupe.
Audi says much of the A3’s development has centred on the interior, as drivers demand ever-greater comfort levels and in-car connectivity. The wraparound driver-focused interior is rich in high-quality, soft-touch materials, and features an intuitive new layout for all the major cabin controls.
The longer wheelbase has brought with it subtle increases in kneeroom and legroom for both front and rear passengers. The driver also sits lower than before, which aids headroom. In the rear, there is space for three. The rear seats can also be split and folded flat, which increases the standard 365 litres boot capacity to 1100 litres.
Chief among the innovations in the cabin is a new MMI controller for top-of-the-range models. This is used to control almost all major functions. Top-spec models get a 7in pop-out screen, while lower and mid-spec models get a 5.8in screen.
The MMI terminal in top-spec models features a familiar wheel, but with a touchpad fitted on top. Audi opted for a touchpad next to the driver instead of a touchscreen, as it minimises driver distraction and audible feedback means the driver’s eyes need never be taken off the road. The touchpad also helps reduce the amount of buttons on the centre tunnel, which is now slimmer thanks to an electronic parking brake being replacing a traditional handbrake.
The software and hardware of the new A3 can also be easily updated to prevent its technology becoming quickly obsolete. The A3 is also being readied for wireless charging of gadgets, and capable of hosting its own wireless hotspot for high-speed connectivity on the go. These features, Audi hopes, will increase the A3’s popularity among younger buyers.
Engines and transmissions
From launch, Audi will offer the three-door A3 with two petrol and one diesel engine from VW Group’s new modular family of engines. The entry-level 1.4 TFSI produces 120bhp and 148lb ft. It can crack 0-62mph in 9.3sec and reach a top speed of 126mph. Combined economy is 54.3mpg and CO2 emissions are rated at 120g/km. The 1.8 TFSI boasts 178bhp and 184lb ft, as well as 0-62mph performance of 7.2sec and a top speed of 144mph. Combined economy in the 1.8 TFSI is 50.4mpg, and CO2 emissions are 130g/km.
The sole diesel at launch is a 2.0 TDI unit with 141bhp and 236lb ft. This A3 can crack 0-62mph in 8.6sec and reach a top speed of 134mph. Combined economy is an impressive 68.9mpg, and CO2 emissions are just 106g/km.
Audi has also confirmed a new 1.6 TDI later in 2012 with 74.3mpg and 99g/km CO2 emissions. Another new addition later in the year will be a base 1.2 TFSI petrol unit to replace the 1.6 MPI petrol engine. The new S3 will get a 2.0 TFSI petrol engine with 260bhp and Quattro all-wheel drive. The A3 is also able to house hybrid, natural gas and ‘e-gas’ drivetrains, although market launched for these models has not yet been confirmed.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard in the 1.4 TFSI and 2.0 TDI, and a seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic standard in the 1.8 TFSI. Quattro all-wheel drive will also be offered on the 1.8 by the end of the year.
The new Audi A3 will reach UK showrooms in September, with prices starting from around £19,000.