You don’t quite need a magnifying glass, but you really need to stare pretty hard at the latest Audi A3 to see that it’s new. But new it is, every body panel changed, its interior redesigned and its innards besides. Look harder, and you realise that the make-over is more substantial, this much-liked Audi is now presenting a more agile-looking body whose lower set grille, beautifully wrought shoulder line and blade-like lower door sculptings lend it a much sportier, more sophisticated stance. And the interior, a standard-setter in the previous model for its elegant sculpture and quality of finish, will make you even keener to step aboard.
The previous A3 looked good and provided Audi’s usual elegantly high-precision finish but proved a less shiny thing on the road, the upstart Ford Focus and VW Golf being better to drive, as were the classier BMW 1-series and Alfa Romeo Giulietta that are its natural competitors. So this third-generation A3 needs to drive as well as it looks, especially with prices that start at a wallet-battering £19,205. That’s for the cheapest three-door, and there’s a five-door Sportback version too.
Besides agonising over whether you dare go orange 1970s retro with some of your A3’s cabin furnishings, you can also mull over an array of engines. It starts with a petrol 122bhp 1.4 TFSI that’s just fine for urban commuting, moves on to a swift 180bhp 2.0 TFSI petrol and features two diesels of 1.6 and 2.0 litres. The 1.6 TDI may sound like an unappetising economy special with its 105bhp, but this is a smooth, eager engine whose solid pulling power makes the more gruffly delivered 150bhp of the 2.0 TDI unnecessary.
Audi has taken a critical pounding over suspension that often does the same to its cars’ occupants, which is why you can now combine the more supple, standard suspension settings of this A3 with the Sport and S-line trims for no extra cost, which we strongly recommend. The stiffened, lowered set-up that usually comes with these models is too unyielding for Britain’s roads. You lose little agility for the trade-off, and though the A3 is deft enough with bends, its slightly feel-less steering means that you should look elsewhere if driving thrills are a priority. But this new A3 is nevertheless a very agreeable device on all roads.
Do you stroke the dashboard of your car to feel the quality of its texture? Check the glovebox and centre console for accuracy of fit? Probably not, but it’s these kind of niceties that make the interior of an Audi such a pleasingly fashioned thing, and the quality target for almost every other car-maker. And with this latest A3, Audi has lifted its standards again, although you must spend money (what a surprise) to make this cabin look its best. It’s a practical interior too, improved space making it comfortable for four adults, who can fill a decently scaled boot. The basic SE trim is just about adequate given the A3’s prices, but it’s easy to spend more. You are, however, getting a well-rounded, finely finished car that is undoubtedly the best A3 yet.
What to look out for when buying a used Audi A3 Mk 3
Build quality is excellent but some owners have complained about niggling electrical issues and clutch burnout, so check these carefully when buying. Some also find Audi’s dealerships less than helpful, while faults and servicing can be expensive. There have been no recalls to date.
The one to buy
Audi A3 1.6 TDI Sport
- £21,380 (price correct at time of publishing)
- 1598cc, in-line four
- 104bhp @ 4400rpm
- 184 lb ft @ 1500rpm
- 6-speed manual (automatic available)
- 0-62mph in 11.4sec
- Top Speed:
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4238mm W 1765mm H 1421mm
Audi A3 rivals
- BMW 1-series (click to view used car prices on driving.co.uk)
- Volkswagen Polo (click to view used car prices on driving.co.uk)
- Mercedes A-class (click to view used car prices on driving.co.uk)