I was astonished to realise that the Audi A3 will be 25 years old this year. To me it still seems like a fairly new addition to the brand’s range but perhaps that’s more a reflection of my advancing years than anything else.
Over that quarter of a century and three generations it has carved itself out a niche as one of a handful of premium alternatives to regular family hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf, and in 2020 this fourth-generation A3 made its debut aiming to maintain that position.
The three-door version has been ditched and the A3 is now sold either as the tested five-door Sportback or a four-door saloon. Both models are sharper looking than their predecessor. There’s a clear connection but the new model features deeper and sharper creases along its flanks, more prominent wheel arches and, as is traditional, an even bigger and more aggressive grille.
The new A3’s interior is new as well, more minimalist and more focused on being “digital”. That means a 10.1-inch touchscreen - nicely integrated into the dash rather than popping out the top like before - and a 10.25-inch digital instrument display as standard. There are lots of sharp angles and creases (like the exterior) with two distinct lines slashing across the dashboard and encasing the media screen and full-width air vents on the passenger side. The driver’s air vents are mounted high either side of the instrument binnacle, meaning they’re well positioned for cooling/heating and don’t interfere with the position of the touchscreen.
Audi A3 Sportback 35 TDI S Line
- Price: £30,725 (£37,480 as tested)
- Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
- Power: 148bhp
- Torque: 266lb ft
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Top speed: 139mph
- 0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
- Economy: 57.6mpg
- CO2 emissions: 128g/km
The new A3 is longer and wider than before but the wheelbase remains unchanged, so there’s no extra legroom. Despite that there’s still decent room for four average-sized adults inside and it’s a comfortable space even on long journeys. As ever, everything feels well put together and high quality and it’s lessy fussy and gaudy than either the BMW 1 Series or Mercedes A-Class - its two key rivals.
It might seem like a minor thing but in an otherwise well put together package, removing the scroll wheel for the media system feels like a backwards step. It’s been replaced by a combination of more touch and voice controls and a weird little touch-sensitive circle on the centre console which is far more fiddly to use. Audi will insist it’s because you can use the in-car voice assistant but heaven help you if you have a regional accent. At least the A3 retains proper physical controls for the heating system, with real switches instead of the idiotic “sliders” in the related Golf.
Like that Golf, the A3 Sportback is available with a fairly standard selection of the VW Group’s engines, including 1.0-litre or 1.5-litre petrol with 109bhp or 148bhp respectively, a 115bhp 1.5 diesel and the 2.0-litre, 148bhp four-cylinder diesel tested here and attached to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
A diesel in that capacity and output has been a mainstay of the A3 range for almost as long as the car has been around and by now they’ve got it pretty much spot on. This latest iteration is quiet, smooth and with a linear power delivery owners of early models could only dream of. There’s an abundance of torque that pulls the A3 along easily and matched to the (mostly) slick S tronic transmission it makes for an easy, almost effortless driving experience.
As one of the higher-output models, our test car came with independent multi-link rear suspension while less powerful models get a simpler torsion beam setup. I can’t comment on how the two compare but as with previous A3s, this latest model feels secure and capable on the road rather than particularly sporting. It’s more dynamic than its predecessor without being truly engaging. What it definitely is is comfortable in a way that owners of older Audis wouldn’t believe. After years of being hammered for poor ride quality, Audi has worked wonders and made the A3 refined, pliant and smooth even on 18-inch wheels.
As with every new model, the latest A3 is packed with new technology. Along with the always-connected infotainment system and smart navigation, it features vehicle-to-X technology to allow live communication between the car and compatible infrastructure such as traffic lights and road signs. Driver assistance includes a standard collision detection and mitigation system and lane departure warning while the £1,400 driver assistance pack adds adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic warning, lane keep assist, high beam assist and parking assist which will take care of bay and parallel parking for you.
Prices for the A3 start at £24,900 while our car was £30,725 before options and a whopping £37,480 with the extras. It’s a lot of money for a compact hatchback but the truth is that a similarly equipped 1 Series or A-Class will cost a similar amount and with the proliferation of PCP deals, it’s more about how good a monthly deal you can find than the top-line price.