We've driven the facelifted version of the ever-popular Audi A3 Sportback in 2.0 TDI guise on UK roads for the first time

What is it?

Unless you’ve been exploring the North Pole for the last 20 years, you’ll probably recognise this as an Audi A3. Originally launched back in 1996, it quickly became Audi’s best-selling car.

Now in its third generation, the A3 has received a fairly significant facelift - not that you’d probably notice at first glance. From the outside, there’s new headlights and tail-lights, a sharper, broader grille, and some new colours and wheels.

Inside, you can opt for Audi’s 12.3in Virtual Cockpit configurable digital display in place of conventional instruments, and connectivity is also enhanced. Under the skin, there’s a choice of two new engines (a 1.0-litre triple and a 2.0-litre petrol turbo) and additional safety kit. We’re looking at the most popular version, though; the 2.0-litre TDI Sportback in S line trim.

What's it like?

There have been no changes to the 148bhp, 2.0-litre TDI engine or suspension setup so the driving experience is the same as it’s always been. That means this A3 is a car that can cover ground briskly without ever feeling truly entertaining.

The A3 is certainly pleasant to drive, however, the steering is nicely weighted unless you put it in sticky-feeling Dynamic mode, the gearchange is slick and the engine has plenty of pull from less than 1500rpm. That’s handy because the gearing is on the long side.

It’s easy to precisely place the front of the car, turn-in feels keen and grip is plentiful. You won’t feel much roll either, certainly not on the 15mm lower sports suspension that comes as standard on S line cars.

Quick through corners it may be, but you never get the sense the A3 is particularly playful. You also feel plenty of the road’s imperfections through the seat of your pants - it takes a very smooth road for the ride to be totally calm.

Thankfully you can opt for a slightly softer suspension setup for free if you’re dead set on S line trim. It won’t transform the A3 but should make it a more relaxed cruiser. Better still, look at one of the smaller wheeled Sport models, because the S line’s 18in rims do it no favours.

Few buy an A3 because they want B-road thrills, however. No, you’d probably be more interested in the high-quality interior and glitzy new tech. Step inside and you can’t argue with the array of soft-touch materials  and precise controls.

Naturally, there are some harder materials lower down the dashboard, doors and centre console, but these are well hidden and to be expected on a car at this price point. Besides, you’re more likely to be drawn to the 7.0in infotainment screen and optional virtual cockpit.

This is the same system as fitted to the likes of the Audi R8 and Audi A4, enabling you to switch between traditional looking dials with a central info screen, to displays that prioritise the sat-nav, music, trip computer or telephone. It’s impressive, especially in how it conveys so much information so clearly and attractively.

Also new are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. After plugging our iPhone in, it took just a couple of inputs from the MMI controller between the seats to get it to connect to the car. If you prefer, you can still connect via 'old-fashioned' Bluetooth.

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You also have the option of the Audi phone box that can improve your phone’s signal and also charge wirelessly should your device be compatible. You can even use the free Audi MMI connect app to access streaming services and transfer calendar items to the car.

The A3 can be made safer than ever, too. You can have a rear cross traffic assist that warns if you’re about to reverse into something’s path and even a traffic jam assist that can accelerate, brake and steer for you.

As for practicality, the Sportback may be better than the BMW 1 Series but still isn’t the most spacious of hatchbacks. Head room could be better and your knees are awfully close to the front seatbacks. Boot space is better than many rivals, though, and is on a par with the Volkswagen Golf.

Should I buy one?

Audi may not have done anything particularly groundbreaking with this facelift, but it’s enough to keep the A3 fresh enough to be well worth considering. The additional connectivity will probably win over a fair few buyers and there’s no classier-feeling hatchback interior on the market.

While the A3 may offer a perfectly agreeable driving experience, it won’t leave you desperate for an early morning blast on your favourite country road; it’s tricky to recommend the stiffly sprung S line version. If you’re going for an A3, make sure you opt for its Comfort suspension.

Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI S line

Location Worcestershire; On sale July; Price £27,285; Engine four-cylinder, 1968cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 148bhp at 3500-4000 Torque 251lb ft at 1750-3000 Gearbox six-speed manual Kerb weight 1305kg; Top speed 135mph; 0-62mph 8.6sec; Economy 55.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 109g/km, 21%

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Add a comment…
TegTypeR 29 June 2016

Desperately Boring!

Sorry, just can't get any enthusiasm for this car. It is really does fall in to the bracket of the car you buy when you don't enjoy driving any more.

I wonder how long before the buying public start getting bored by the same old same old? Or may be the majority consider it as just like buying a comfortable pair of old new shoes.

db 28 June 2016

virtual fun ......

"Few buy an A3 because they want B-road thrills, however. No, you’d probably be more interested in the high-quality interior and glitzy new tech. Step inside and you can’t argue with the array of soft-touch materials and precise controls"
Hardly a 4 star test yet again wake me up when something remotely interesting happens !
AddyT 28 June 2016

Will stick with my GTD thanks

Will stick with my GTD thanks....which cost less than this and is better to drive...