It’s mid-life facelift time for the Audi A3. Now that the Waitrose-spec Golf’s current generation is nearly four years into its life, it’s been given a spring clean in that most Audi of ways – just enough to make the pre-facelift car look and feel a tiny bit outdated, but without any sweeping changes. No babies lost with this bathwater.
Picture editor to my office, please – isn’t that a picture of the old A3?
No, this really is the new one. Look closer and you’ll see new headlights, rejigged rear lights and bumpers, and, inside, the configurable ‘virtual cockpit’ digital instrument panel as seen in TT, R8 and A4 (although that’s an optional extra, rather than standard-fit).
During our time with the car, it turned a surprising number of heads. More than one curious passer-by came over to ask if this was the new A3, and one restaurant attendant told us excitedly he’d been watching the car park since the facelifted A3 was announced, waiting for one to turn up so he could see what it looks like in the metal. Clearly there are more Audi anoraks out there than we thought.
What else is new?
There’s improved integrated support for Apple and Android smartphones, automatic beam-shifting matrix LED headlights (an option at extra cost – xenons are standard), and a ‘traffic jam assistant’, which can bring the car to a halt and pull away again autonomously in stop-start traffic.
There are also two new turbocharged petrol engines, a powerful 2.0-litre and a 1.0-litre triple-cylinder.
Which new Audi A3 engine are you testing here?
One of the old ones, actually – the 1.4-litre turbocharged TFSI petrol engine. It packs 148bhp and a cylinder-on-demand system to shut down two of its four pots when under low load, to save fuel. It’s churchmouse-quiet – so much so that it’s difficult to hear it at idle – and the cylinder shutdown and reactivation is all but impossible to detect in motion.
A seven-speed auto gearbox is an option, but this car had the standard-fit, light-feeling and entirely pleasant manual gearbox. The trip computer indicated mpg in the low to mid 40s over a variety of roads during our time with the car, and there’s more than enough performance on tap for any driving situation.
Really there’s no reason to bother with a diesel A3, unless tax bands are an absolute priority. The CoD 1.4 enjoys a low 109g/km CO2 rating, and we’d pick it over the undernourished-feeling three-cylinder petrol option, too.
While you might have a shade more fun in a Ford Focus or Mazda 3, the A3’s chassis remains decently rewarding to drive, with a game front end grip, good body control and a pliant ride, even in S Line spec. Seems the days of bone-shaking Audis really are gone for good.
No massive leaps here, but the A3 didn’t need one. It’s still a very nice car, albeit at a price. In base SE trim, with three doors (the same engine is available in the longer-wheelbase, five-door A3 Sportback), and a manual gearbox, you’d need to shell out £21,500.
For that you’ll get a tidy-handling, desirable car with a still-lovely interior and enough updates to give its drivers a subtle sense of one-upmanship over drivers of pre-May 2016 A3s. Until the next update arrives.