FOR 20 years the Audi A3 has been offering the executive pleasures associated with the brand — including quiet but unignorable status enhancement and passive aggression fitted as standard — but in a conveniently compact package.
Self-aware without being obsessively so, it’s a Volkswagen Golf wearing a better-cut suit and a superior cologne, and despite the premium price tag (or possibly even because of it), people rather go for it. At the start of May the A3 was the tenth-bestselling car in the UK, the only Audi on the list.
Now here it comes again, in an upscaled version of the third- generation A3 from 2012 — or, if you will, a “product development” of that model. Audi, it seems, takes exception to the term “facelift” by which other more vulgar manufacturers refer to the refreshment of their cars partway through their life cycles.
And fair enough. A facelift commonly means a pair of lightly restyled headlamps and a new set of brake lights rather than a proper step forward in a car’s evolution.
Here, by contrast, a product development of the A3 has yielded … well, a pair of lightly restyled headlamps and a new set of brake lights. Apparently the car is now slightly wider at the back, but you would have to squint at it for a very long time before you noticed, and squint at it for even longer before you cared.
However, there are some genuinely new engines, including a 1-litre three-cylinder petrol unit with an edgy buzz to it. But the unflustered power and soft waft of the new 2-litre TFSI petrol engine, attached to a new seven-speed automatic gearbox, are closer to the Audi experience customers will be hoping to buy into.
It probably won’t primarily be engines that draw people to the showrooms, though. More likely it will be the treats and fripperies that have been allowed to flood down from the range’s lush uplands, including Audi’s “virtual cockpit”, which reimagines the dashboard as a customisable home screen. The clocks can be shrunk down and squeezed out to the side of the display, freeing up the central area for things of more interest to you as a 21st-century road user, such as the sat nav map or the scroll-through contents of your iPhone’s music library or even ordering an optional seat massage.
The A3 also continues Audi’s good work towards a reinvention of the central storage box between the front seats, which, like the back of the knees, has always lacked a formal name. Audi is attempting to lead the way for language in this area by proposing the term “the phone box”, which we’re happy to go along with. You can simply put your phone in the A3’s phone box and it will charge by induction.
Meanwhile, the voice-activated command system has been uprated. According to Audi’s literature, the system will now react to the unforced cadences of the command: “I want to call Peter Miller.” This is excellent news, especially if you know anybody called Peter Miller, which unfortunately I don’t, but I’m sure other names can be made to work too if you say them clearly enough.
Otherwise, the A3 can manage feats of self-piloting and parking, foreshadowing the autonomous future that awaits us all and in which our cars will move us around while we are skipping through the latest Reddit postings and talking to Peter Miller.
Little wonder the provision of connectivity and a comfy interior suddenly seems to be such an urgent matter. OK, the A3 was hardly putting people off before, but now it’s an even nicer place to be. Do you want to call Peter Miller and tell him, or shall I?