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Four years later, Audi moves to address criticisms of its swanky family hatchback

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Since its introduction in 1999, the Audi A3 has been the conservative and consistent, if somewhat predictable, option in the premium family hatchback class. Now halfway through its fourth generation, it's been treated to a mild nip and tuck in a bid to bolster its ability to compete with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and BMW 1 Series.

Just like its Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen Golf relations, the new A3 continues to use an evolution of the Volkswagen Group’s ubiquitous MQB platform, with enhancements to accommodate a wider spread of powertrain options that includes mild hybrid and, eventually, plug-in hybrid variants.

Anyone stepping out of the relatively minimalist cabin of the previous A3 and into this new one will be in for a shock, albeit mostly a pleasant one.

 

 

 

 

It remains available as a (curiously popular) compact saloon or, as driven here, in traditional Sportback guise, and while neither has been radically reinvented, a wide-reaching package of visual, technological and mechanical revisions make this a tangibly different proposition to the outgoing car - which, remember, was only updated as recently as 2021.

Changes to the standard car are particularly subtle – at least until a heavily upgraded plug-in hybrid is added to the ranks iin late 2024 – but the hot Audi S3 has been more tangibly overhauled. 

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DESIGN & STYLING

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audi a3 sportback review 2024 02 front tracking

Few facelifts are so literal: the obvious give-away that the A3 has been updated is the slightly higher-mounted front badge. But there's also a wider grille, loads of new colour and trim options and trick new headlights that let you choose from one of four customisable 'signatures' - certainly technically impressive, but we couldn't help wondering whether this might be innovation for innovation's sake. 

Perhaps it's no great surprise Audi hasn't chosen to more drastically restyle one of its stalwart models, particularly when it wasn't in dire need of updating visually in the first place.

This remains a conventionally handsome and convincingly premium take on the hatchback formula - and one with more than enough of an opulent aura to mark it out as a cut above its Skoda and Volkswagen cousins, and that remains true even of smaller-wheeled, lower-specification models.

Of particular kerb appeal is the rugged new A3 Allstreet, which has no real off-road credentials, but has the necessary cladding, raised suspension and softer damping to suit the UK’s knackered, hedge-lined B-roads nicely. Shame it’s not coming here, then. 

INTERIOR

Anyone stepping out of the relatively minimalist cabin of the previous A3 and into this new one will be in for a shock, albeit mostly a pleasant one. There is a wider variety of materials and a dashboard that is, to a degree, split in two, with a more driver-focused design.

Audi acknowledges that this generation of A3 has been criticised since launch in 2020 for the finish and design of its interior, and so the priority for its mid-life update was to give the cabin a quality and charisma boost. So there are now illuminated door panels (30 colours available), redesigned air vents with optional chrome surrounds, a smaller gear shifter and a raft of new upmarket materials and colour schemes.

Plus, the infotainment runs the latest generation of Audi’s infotainment platform – giving access to inbuilt apps and various paid-for functions on demand – and the standard kit list has been extended to include a wireless phone charger, ambient lighting and comfort air-con.

The result is a cabin environment which straddles the contentious digital-physical divide to great effect. The touchscreen – nicely integrated and unobtrusive as it is – is crisp of graphic and swift of processing speed, with its menus laid out sensibly and easy access provided to the functions you’ll want to use on the move. But it’s far from omnipotent, with the A3 retaining a healthy smattering of toggles, switches and buttons across the dash, console and steering wheel - each sensibly placed and with a satisfying tactility about it. 

Top marks, too, for the ADAS integration; you only need to press one physical button to bring up the electronic driver aids, so turning off the speed limit and lane-keep bongs is the work of five seconds.

As in other smaller models in the Audi range, there isn’t a secondary touchscreen for the climate control settings. Instead, there’s a small cluster in the lower section of the dashboard with easy-to-reach physical buttons that make frequent adjustments possible without glancing away from the road. This is the preferable set-up in our opinion.

Aside from that, there’s 6mm more elbow room in the front than the pre-2020 car, and 3mm more in the rear, thanks to an increase in the car’s width. A 7mm increase in front head room and 2mm more shoulder room are also welcome, if small, improvements.

The boot capacity of the A3 remains the same as in the previous generation, at 380 litres, and this increases to 1200 litres when the rear seats are folded forward. From Sport specification up, these are split 40:20:40, rather than 40:60.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

From launch, the updated A3 comes with either a 1.5-litre petrol or a 2.0-litre diesel, both mildly hybridised and carried over from the pre-facelift car. The smaller-engined TFSI – expected to be most popular in the UK – remains a punchy but frugal proposition, just nudging towards a degree of thrashiness at the top end, but otherwise unobtrusive and generous with its reserves. 

Meanwhile, the TDI still stands up as a commendably long-legged and refined proposition, with an obvious economy edge: 58.9mpg on the WLTP cycle plays the petrol’s 54.3mpg, and that contrast will be starker, still, if you spend a lot of time at 70mph. 

The 2.0-litre TDI lump is still a bit of a grumbly chugger, but there’s plenty of torque in reserve at the low end and it’s paired with a quick-witted seven-speed which shifts smoothly and quickly enough to smooth out this powertrain’s rougher edges. 

Audi will add cheaper 115bhp versions of both the petrol and diesel engines later this year – with a six-speed manual – along with a plug-in hybrid that’s set to offer more than 60 miles of electric range, so we’d hesitate to name a pick of the bunch at this stage, but safe to say the A3 has most bases covered already. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Audi hasn’t enjoyed a stellar reputation for giving its cars involving steering feel, but while the A3 isn’t pitched as the last bastion of engaging dynamics, most buyers will likely have no cause for complaint.

All of the models we drove came equipped with Audi’s optional Progressive Steering, which uses a variable ratio rack. This makes the steering more direct the more you turn the wheel, which is great for parking, because you can get from lock to lock speedily, but it also makes the A3 feel incredibly biddable when attacking a sequence of especially tight corners. The variable ratio allows this without making the steering overly sensitive at or near the straight-ahead position. It’s a worthwhile upgrade no matter where you spend most of your time driving. Incidentally, the standard power steering system is electromechanical with speed-sensitive assistance.

Drivers can further adjust the feel of the steering by toggling through the different modes in the Drive Select function (available from Sport trim). We found that it was only the sportier Dynamic mode that made any real difference, predictably weighting up the steering to require more input force from the driver. And actually, as you wind on lock in this setting, there’s an unpleasant amount of resistance, so we feel the steering is best left in the default mode.

Better in operation is the adaptive suspension, again an option, which lowers the ride height by 10mm. It uses a new system with specially designed valves in the dampers to alter the rate of flow, thus allowing for a greater difference between the Comfort and Sport settings than previous systems. Driven back to back with an A3 on passive suspension, the greater distinction between the settings is immediately obvious. However, the standard setup still offers a good compromise between comfort and body control, so the upgrade isn’t strictly necessary.

An 11mm-wider track raises cornering speeds and stability across the board, in comparison to the previous A3, but the sophistication of the suspension underneath varies considering across the line-up. If your A3 has less than 148bhp, it gets a torsion-beam rear axle. The more powerful variants benefit from superior multi-link suspension with a separate spring-and-damper design. Finally, the S line comes with a stiffer passive set-up as standard, reducing ride height and the centre of gravity by 15mm. All of the A3’s engines have been re-engineered, and in the case of the 35 TDI (2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel), this has resulted in quieter operation. It certainly feels smoother than previous iterations of this unit did, too. When matched with the S tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox, it makes for an ideal long-distance driver. All diesel A3 engines also gain a twin-dosing AdBlue system to help reduce NOx emissions, especially at higher speeds.

VERDICT

However it’s propelled, and largely irrespective of its specification, the A3 remains one of the biggest-feeling small cars around, which is to say it’s generously equipped in all forms, is finished with excellent attention to detail, rides firmly but never harshly and holds up impressively in long-distance running. Expensive, still, but justifiably and reassuringly so. 

Cheaper and more expensive powertrains are coming on stream over the next few months, and we're particularly interested to measure the real-world efficiency and performance of the new plug-in hybrid. But we'd wager you'd be pretty well-served by either of the two launch engines. 

Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: News and features editor

Felix is Autocar's news editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years. 

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Audi A3 Sportback First drives