► New 2020 Audi A3 driven
► Finally gets updated tech
► Very different from the Golf
Audi has reinvented its bestseller: since 1996, around five million A3s have been sold, over three generations. Now the volume model of the premium compact class is completely new: fresh, sporty, varied, but above all fully digitised and networked. And of course, with updated styling.
In Europe, the story begins with the new Audi A3 Sportback, which will initially be delivered with three new engines from May 2020: in addition to the 35 TFSI with a 1.5-litre mated to a six-speed manual transmission, there are two more diesel versions available: a 30 TDI with 114bhp, also with a six-speed manual gearbox.
There's also a more powerful 35 TDI: it’s also a 2.0-litre model, but packs 148bhp and couples it with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, necessary for processing the considerable 266lb ft of torque. Other engine variants will soon be added to the range: shortly after the market launch, the 35 TFSI will also come with a 48-volt mild hybrid system for efficient braking energy recovery, for boosting and to support propulsion-free sailing.
More specs and news about the new 2020 Audi A3 Sportback
In the 35 TDI we drove, the new A3 Sportback has decent traction out of tight bends; torque delivery is elastic and punchy, but it never overwhelms the front wheels. Steering is more precise than that of its predecessor, and the A3 feels agile and pointy, though you'll never call it an enthusiast's choice. It's geared up for comfortable every day progress in most versions.
The new A3 doesn’t feel excessively stiff, even in the warmed-up S-line model we drove.
Ultimately, the active damper control for €950 on the Continent helps here, ensuring a sensitive response even on rough surfaces. The driver can switch between five driving profiles via the Drive Select button in the centre console. The differences between the driving modes are clearly noticeable.
Audi A3 Sportback: more distinctive styling than blander predecessors
LED headlights contribute to a more powerful-looking design. In the fully-adaptive matrix LED version - an option - they consist of a pixel field of three by five LED segments that draw special light signatures.
We've driven the new A3 at night and the adaptive headlamps' quick reactions prove useful in different driving situations.
And the interior?
Not much has changed in the size and footprint of the new five-door hatchback, but the use of space inside has been optimised so that the A3 Sportback is still one of the more spacious cars in the compact class. Incidentally, as in the previous generation, there will no longer be a three-door car in the current generation. It's Sportback or nothing.
The interior is significantly shaped by the new MMI operating and infotainment, and it’s one of the key areas of improvement in the new A3. Compared to its predecessor, all functions are networked much more closely - with computing power 10 times higher than what went before.
The logic is easy to get your head around and the system works quickly and efficiently. That Volkswagen connection means that this is still one of the best infotainment systems in the mass market.
It's fully connected, so you get access to numerous Audi Connect online functions. We're still at the start of this journey, but for now the new A3 can communicate with other vehicles (so-called Car-to-X services) in order to find free parking spaces in the city or string together several green traffic lights. There'll be much more to come here, as cars become ever more connected and more switched-on...
To control the new system, the driver can use the central touch display, the multifunction steering wheel or the voice control.
Interestingly, any owner of a previous A3 won't be scared by the newcomer. The chunky steering wheel, the logic and heft of the switchgear, that unburstable quality that's been present ever since the original 1996 A3 are all present and correct.
Think of it like a new digital layer that's been superimposed on the usual qualities we've come to expect of the range. It's always been sensible, stolid a little bit sensible; now the styling has added a modicum of extra visual interest and the infotainment is bang-up-to-date.
It's a sensible middle evolution of what went before.
So is the new Audi A3 Sportback a better bet than the Golf?
The acid question. For the new A3 is indeed based on the shared MQB architecture. So why would you pay the likely premium over the benchmark Golf?
Among the compact hatchbacks, the A3 Sportback remains a premium representative - you'll have to want that Audi badge to stump up the extra. The base A3 Sportback will be around £1000 more expensive than the VW Golf it’s based on. Granted, you get alloy wheels, that chunky sports steering wheel and heated door mirrors as standard here, and you won't find those on every car from Wolfsburg.
There's more to come: we'll see the new Audi A3 Saloon (aka Sedan in some markets) at the end of April.
And, of course, there will be sporty versions too. In fact, we've already driven the new Audi S3 Sportback and you can read our review here.
Although the new Audi A3 Sportback technically owes a lot to the latest Mk8 VW Golf, it has its own character. This applies to the dynamic suspension tuning and the expressive design, as well as the infotainment, the high build quality and overall asking price.
It's job done for now. But the real answer will come when we get to group test the A3 against its main rivals, the BMW 1-series hatchback and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. That review will follow, once the coronavirus mayhem is lifted.
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