Audi A3 review (2012 onwards)
What - 2012 Audi A3 Sport 1.4 S tronic
Where - Mallorca
Date - May 2012
Price - £22,000 (est)
Available - September 2012
Key rivals -Alfa Giulietta, BMW 1 Series, Mercedes A-Class, Volvo C30, VW Golf
Summary - More highly evolved than it first appears, the new A3 is a brilliantly well-rounded package.
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We like - Lots of nice detail design, comfort, interior quality, pleasant to drive
We don't like - Not particularly involving, options seriously ramp up the price, no five-door version yet
Back in 1996 Audi came up with a concept that has done it proud ever since. The A3 established a new class of car, the premium compact hatchback, a posh rival for the Focus or Astra. Until then buyers wanting something a bit special had just the Golf.
2012 sees the launch of the third generation, still obviously an A3, but in reality a dramatic redevelopment. It needs to be, for BMW and Mercedes are hot on its heels with the latest 1 Series and the new A-Class.
The new A3 is almost identical in size to the current model, but up to 80kg lighter. To achieve that the car has been re-engineered from top to bottom. The lower weight and a new range of more efficient engines should help economy, emissions and performance.
Initially the range will be limited to a three-door body and a choice of 1.4 and 1.8 petrol, and 2.0 diesel engines - all turbocharged. But in time there will be a five-door hatch as well as, for the first time, an A3 saloon, and the range of engines will broaden.
Prices start at under £20,000 - just. In true Audi fashion the A3 gets an options list that includes almost everything you could wish for on its luxury A8. Self-parking, Google Earth mapping and radar cruise control are just the tip of the iceberg. Pretty quickly you could build an A3 that would cost you more than an A6.
Though there will eventually be a 1.2-litre engine to start the range, the base car on the launch in Mallorca was the 1.4 with 140hp. This, like every A3 engine, is turbocharged, and in this instance was coupled to Audi's S tronic transmission.
It's a particularly sweet combination, pulling well at low speeds and giving lively performance higher up the rev range. The seven-speed transmission works as effectively as Audi's S tronic always does, changing smoothly in automatic mode with a manual override via the paddles or gearlever should you demand a bit more interaction.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the performance is how quiet this A3 is at motorway speeds. It really is exceptionally good, which is explained by the particular effort Audi has made to cut down wind noise by designing a very aerodynamic shape.
It's not perfect though. The 1.4 engine makes its presence felt when driven exuberantly, while the 2.0 diesel has a distinctive hum at any speed.
Ride and handling
BMW always makes a big deal about its rear-wheel-drive cars giving the driver the last word in interaction with the road through the steering wheel. That this gift is unique has become more arguable these days, yet driving the new A3 still isn't the last word in driver involvement that BMW can offer.
It's an issue that might disappoint a few drivers but most, we reckon, will find the steering and suspension just fine - accurate, light and comfortable.
There is an increased set of options with the new A3 too, with regular, Sport and S-line suspensions plus a Dynamic setup that can be changed at will. That's not all. The cheapest A3s get a simple rear suspension that we have yet to try. The more sophisticated package on the launch cars, with the standard configuration, is good.
At first glance, without the fancy seat options, it all seems a bit too plain. A slash of aluminium here, a group of instruments there, but little to inspire. Yet there's more to this Audi interior than first catches the eye.
The screen for the stereo system pops up out of the fascia like it does in the A1, and if you specify sat-nav, the screen handles that as well. Tucked behind the handbrake - except there is no handbrake, but an electronic parking brake switch - is the MMI knob.
This controls a whole raft of functions via the screen. Impressively, with the right option pack, you can draw out letters of the alphabet with your finger on the pad to spell out your navigation destination. An iPod interface is standard.
A nice feature on every A3 is the dashboard vent. The knurled outer ring that controls the volume of air has a solid engineered feel to it. Then push or pull the inner knob to change from a focused jet of air to a more general waft.
It's curious that Audi has chosen to launch the three-door version first, as the five-door will be the big seller. Access to the back seats in these three-door cars is a bit of a struggle, but once in place there's decent room for a couple of six-footers and a good deal of comfort too.
All the seats in the new A3 have undergone a weight-saving boot camp. We don't know how this has affected the standard chairs, but with the optional 'sports comfort' seats there's much to like.
Luggage space looks at best average, though the boot floor has two heights and there's also a concealed compartment beneath if a spare wheel isn't specified.
Economy and safety
The numbers look impressive. The 122hp 1.4-litre TFSI model claims an average of 54.3mpg and CO2 of 120g/km, striking figures for a petrol-engined car. The more powerful 140hp version won't be quite as good, but it will be close.
The first diesel on offer, the 150hp 2.0-litre, returns an astonishing 68.9mpg and 106g/km of CO2, while the forthcoming 1.6TDI comes in at 99g/km and thus is road tax free.
Audi is promising five-star safety on the EuroNCAP crash tests. Every model gets front, side and curtain airbags, and another for the driver's knees.
The MSN Cars verdict
We have possibly been a little generous in awarding the new A3 five stars. Its price is high and others are (slightly) better to drive.
Yet there's a great deal to like, and it's not hard to see where the extra money goes. Good resale values of the current model show that buyers already understand this. They will like the new model even more.
|Need to know||Audi A3|
|Engines, petrol||petrol 1.4 turbo, 1.8 turbo|
|Engines, diesel||diesel 2.0 turbo|
|Power, hp||122 - 180|
|Torque, lb ft||149 - 239|
|0-62mph, secs||9.3 - 7.2|
|Top speed, mph||126 - 144|
|Mpg combined||50.4 - 68.9|
|CO2, tax||106/15% - 130/17%|