AUDI claims it invented the premium small car with the original A3 in 1996. Fans of various Wolseley, Riley and Vanden Plas models from the ’60s might have something to say about that, but look where those brands are today. Clearly, Ingolstadt knows how to make something stick.
Now, four years and a million cars later, the third-gen A3 has undergone a facelift – enough to keep the hard-charging Mercedes A-Class at bay, it’s hoped, when Aussie sales start in October.
Along with a flatter and squarer grille, there are redesigned (allxenon or optional LED ‘Matrix’) headlights, new bumpers, air intakes, tail-lights, and diffuser.
The aim is to bring the Sportback, Sedan, and Cabriolet into line with Audi’s freshly minted B9 A4.
Also fresh is the optional ‘Virtual Cockpit’ instrumentation, which was considered essential as no rival offers this sort of tech. It brings a configurable multimedia TFT screen in lieu of regular dials, joining an updated MMI centre control dial. Both work seamlessly. A 40:20:40 split rear backrest, Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto, on-board wi-fi, inductive charging, a new steering wheel, and revised colours and trim complete the makeover. As expected, the quality remains Audi-level OCD.
Speaking of control, the A3’s chassis is largely left alone, with the strut front/multi-link rear suspension in most versions deemed sufficiently sorted. The electric power steering, while light and remote at lower speeds, firms up satisfyingly as the pace picks up, for crisp, involving, and secure handling. Unfortunately, ultra-smooth roads precluded any ride quality analysis, but expect goodness on Aussie surfaces.
Big changes lurk in the engine line-up, however, with the lovely 92kW/200Nm 1.4 turbo turfed out for either the continuing (and best-selling) 110kW/250Nm 1.4TFSI cylinder-on-demand sweetie, or – yet to be confirmed – an all-new 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-pot turbo-petrol.
Audi isn’t sure if Aussie buyers are prepared for such dramatic downsizing. We disagree in principle, since this is a smooth and punchy engine, sprinting off the line eagerly (perhaps too much so, with some axle tramp in wet conditions), and pulling away energetically up through the rev range via a polished seven-speed dual-clutch ’box.
Our reservations concern the unexpected amount of engine noise when fully extended, which isn’t very premium. And with it, the 1.0TFSI (and 1.6TDI) brings an inferior torsion-beam rear end.
Both are retrograde steps over the outgoing base A3.
Also gone is the spirited 132kW/250Nm 1.8 turbo, but in its place, an all-new 140kW/320Nm 2.0TFSI/sevenspeed alternative is more than worthy. It leaps into action, is muscular across the board, and displays delicious polish.
In either front- or all-wheel drive, the 2.0TFSI’s performance didn’t feel too far adrift of the EU-spec 228kW/400Nm S3 Cabrio also sampled. The latter now sports more oomph, the seven-speed S-tronic, and firmer suspension, though ours will use a neutered 213kW/380Nm version due to hot-weather compromises.
Prices will remain “in line” with the outgoing versions, which currently start from $36,500.
The facelift’s changes – all 2300 of them – run deeper than the samey styling suggests. Clearly, Audi intends to keep dominating the segment it reinvented. But we’re not sure the 1.0TFSI/torsionbeam combo is the right move, either for us or anywhere else.
1.0TFSI is noisy when extended; torsion-beam rear on lesser-engined A3s Design; dynamics; cabin presentation; performance; efficiency Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale el e rre een n t hhy yye eee e Audi A3 Sportback 1.0TFSI S-tronic 999cc 3cyl, dohc, 12v, turbo 85kW @ 5000-5500rpm 200Nm @ 2000-3500rpm 7-speed dual clutch 1170kg 9.7sec (claimed) 4.7L/100km (EU) $35,000 (estimated) October
Sadly for Oz the gutsy 110kW 2.0TDI turbo-diesel has been dropped, while the 81kW/250Nm 1.6TDI will be on special-order only. But the Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid launched last year carries through, offering a 150kW system output total from a 110kW/250Nm 1.4TFSI mated to a 75kW electric motor. Up to 130km of EV range is available.
Weighing in at 88kg thanks to extensive use of aluminium, the 999cc turbo triple first arrived in atmo form in the late and lamented VW Up. Audi says the forged connecting rods and aluminium pistons are so finely balanced that no balancer shaft is required. The commonrail injection system builds up to 250 bar of pressure.
One Audi insider admitted that making the TT’s trick new ‘Virtual Cockpit’ system fit within the current A3’s older dashboard architecture proved to be one of the facelift’s biggest challenges, requiring painstaking re-engineering to get right.
The A3 facelift gains updated driver-assist tech, such as better AEB (now up to 65km/h), adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’ full braking and re-acceleration capability, as well as unique-to-class goodies including rear crosstraffic alert, active lane assist and an impressive new ‘Emergency Assist’ system that warns, brakes and then stops the car if no steering input is detected. All are potential lifesavers, especially if the driver falls asleep.
Adaptive dampers and better trim lift Mercedes’ popular hatch, and in A250 guise, it hammers hard. But the ride and quality feel still aren’t class-leading, while the cramped back seat and small cargo area grate.
This is reportedly the last rear-drive hatch, so hurry for this focused driver’s BMW, albeit one with tight back-seat packaging and a firm ride without adaptive dampers. Eager powertrains are a peach, but it requires optional kit to feel premium.