New Audi A3 2020 review
The new Audi A3 Sportback hatch ramps up the tech and quality
It’s business as usual for the Audi A3 Sportback, which slots neatly into the premium hatchback market with high quality, good refinement and a price that makes it a very competitive offering for anyone after this sort of car. From the outside, the mild design changes won’t immediately grasp current A3 owners, but the interior revolution certainly catches the eye. This is a car that’s dripping with tech and desirability, but still faces tough opposition from BMW, Mercedes and VW.
Few premium models have struck such a chord with the British car-buying public as the Audi A3. While there are family hatchbacks that have sold in much larger numbers than the 600,000 A3s shifted in the UK since its introduction in 1996, Audi has long set the benchmark for compact quality, forcing Mercedes’ hand into transforming the A-Class into a proper hatchback, and BMW into upping its game with the 1 Series. Now, we’ve driven the latest A3 in the UK for the first time.
Now in its fourth generation, this new version picks up where the Mk3 car left off, but with a slimmer line-up than before. Audi offers the new A3 as a five-door Sportback or as a traditional saloon: it won’t give buyers the option of a three-door hatchback or a convertible, due to dwindling sales.
From a design perspective, the latest A3 continues the careful evolution of the model along the rules set-out in Audi’s latest design playbook. That means the front is dominated by a large grille with honeycomb detailing, flanked by sizeable sporty-looking vents on S line models and topped by three slits between the grille and the bonnet.
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Angular LED headlights feature, while the surfacing on the flanks of the car is more dramatic, with a low-set crease on the doors that flicks up flamboyantly towards the rear wheels. The rear end, despite being totally new, is instantly recognisable as an A3.
The underpinnings of the Mk4 car are carried over from the outgoing A3, so it uses the latest version of the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform. It means that mild-hybrid power features for the first time on Audi’s family hatch, while plug-in hybrid power will be offered in the near future, with two e-tron options for buyers to choose from. As ever, a sporty S3 version is also available , and an RS 3 with a five-cylinder engine will arrive in 2021.
From launch, one of the more popular options is likely to be the car driven here, the 35 TFSI. It uses the VW Group’s 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine, developing 148bhp and 250Nm torque. Go for this model, or a more powerful A3, and you get multi-link rear suspension, rather than the basic car’s torsion beam set-up.
On the road, the driving experience hasn’t changed a great deal from what we’ve become accustomed to with the A3. That means it still offers a decent mix of comfort and control, even with the stiffer suspension that’s fitted as standard on S line-spec cars.
The ride quality is well resolved overall, but the A3 retains a slightly firm edge that can send a jolt through the cabin over bad surfaces. However, impressive body control and a well insulated cabin mean the A3 is a pleasant hatchback to drive at any speed.
The steering in its base setting feels too light, so you don’t get a lot of feel through the rim itself. Even if you’re not cornering with enthusiasm, you might want to flick the drive select switch to Dynamic mode to inject a bit of artificial weight into the steering.
The light throw of the six-speed manual gearbox is simple to get along with, but the transmission is prone to low-speed jerkiness, making driving in stop-start traffic slightly laborious. Many buyers will remedy this with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which also introduces 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance as standard.
Irrespective of the lack of hybrid assistance, our manual test car proved very economical. According to the trip computer, exactly 50mpg was achieved over hundreds of miles of mixed running, outstripping the A3’s official WLTP fuel economy figure.
The 35 TFSI features one of the best engines the VW Group produces. It doesn’t quite feel as perky as its 148bhp and 250Nm power and torque figures suggest, but it offers an acceptable enough blend of performance, refinement and fuel economy – all of the traits that are required from a good family car.
Practicality is another highlight of the new A3 Sportback. The boot offers a decent 380 litres of space with all seats in place, which is similar to other models in the class; the opening is nice and wide, too, and there’s no awkward lip to get luggage over.
The A3 has always been near the front of the premium hatchback class for interior quality, and the previous two generations followed the same design direction. But, those upgrading from a Mk3 into this new model won’t find it that familiar, because the dashboard is far more angular and flamboyant in its design. The quality of the soft-touch plastics is still very good, but there are now swathes of hard faux-aluminium trim all over the fascia. It doesn’t feel like a drop in quality, though, more like a change of focus.
There has been a far-reaching swing to a more digital environment in the A3. Every version of the car now gets a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel as standard, with the larger 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit system available as an option on S line trim. All cars bound for the UK also come fitted with a 10.1-inch central touchscreen.
The infotainment system is a known quantity, given its application across most of the Audi line-up. It’s a little slow to load when you start up, but is pinpoint sharp in presentation and operation, and feature-packed. It’s a real slice of big-car tech in a compact hatchback. Our only bugbear is that it relies solely on touch inputs, with no MMI rotary dial or other controls for ease of use on the move.
Ultimately for many A3 buyers, the deciding factor won’t be the tech, the space, or the engine, but the price of the car on a monthly finance deal. Stick a 10 per cent deposit down on an A3 35 TFSI S line – roughly £2,800 – and over 48 months and 10,000 miles a year, you’ll pay £346 a month. On the same terms, the three-cylinder, 138bhp BMW 118i M Sport will cost you less, to the tune of around £313.
A VW Golf in R-Line trim with the exact same 1.5-litre engine as the A3 will cost you almost exactly the same as the Audi, while you’ll stump up more to drive a Mercedes A 200 in AMG Line trim.
It makes the A3 a compelling and affordable alternative to a Golf, but it can’t quite undercut the BMW for value.
|Model:||Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI S line|
|Engine:||1.5-litre 4cyl turbo petrol|
|Transmission:||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive|