Audi’s first new A3 for nine years is also our first glimpse at the new MQB platform, the building block of every major transverse-engined car in the VW empire for the next few years.
It’s been nine years since the last A3 was released. We’ve had two new Golfs in that time. Why the delay?
Well Audi has been a trifle busy in the intervening years, reinventing the A4, A6, A8 and TT while launching a whole range of new models from scratch: A1, A5, A7, Q3, Q5 and Q7. And while it’s true, the Golf Mk5 did appear the year after the second-gen A3, the Mk6 was more of an extensive facelift than a new car. The A3 is first to get the new platform.
What’s so great about this platform? Carbonfibre, is it? Aluminium, maybe?
Nothing that exciting, I’m afraid. Remember, it’ll have to underpin Skodas and Seats, too. So only the bonnet and front wings are aluminium, the rest is a mix of high-strength steels, though it’s clever enough to ensure the new A3 weighs 80kg less than the old car and a massive 200kg less than a basic BMW 1-series.
But surely there’s some clever tech on the A3. Poor-sprung durch technic, and all that.
There’s lots of tech we’re used to seeing on big cars, including radar cruise control, and Audi’s MMi touchpad, here built into the top of the MMi controller. But the most interesting bit of gear is a 138bhp 1.4-litre petrol with cylinder deactivation that arrives in early 2013. At a gentle cruise it seamlessly shuts down two cylinders, enabling it to achieve 58mpg on the combined cycle.
Other petrol engines include a basic 120bhp 1.4, and the 1.8TFSi from the A5. Its 178bhp might not sound like much, but thanks to that low kerbweight, it offers similar performance to a Mk5 Golf GTi, but with 50mpg capability. Diesel fans get the choice of 105bhp 1.6 and the venerable 2.0, now boosted by 10bhp to 148bhp. Quattro and five-door Sport back versions arrive in 2013.
So what’s it like to drive?
Refined. Road and tyre noise is muted, and the ride is pleasantly pliant except on some really badly scarred low-speed roads. That’s on the standard suspension, as fitted to every car on the launch, including the S-line trim, where it’s now a no-cost alternative to the sport (-15mm) and S-line (-25mm) setups. In this guise, the body control is good for normal driving, but slightly underdamped for those real red-mist moments. It’s safe, secure and even fun to a certain extent, changing direction with the enthusiasm reserved for cars carrying little mass, but it’s no Renaultsport Megane. At least not yet.
It’s an A3. Do Prada’s customers complain that their bags aren’t made from Gore Tex? Talking of posh bags, what do the image-conscious middle-aged ladies (and young men, of course) who’ll buy this thing have in store once inside?
Another brilliantly executed Audi cabin, that’s what. The jet-themed air vents clearly link it to the little A1, as does the exterior styling, but the A3 feels lower and wider from the driver’s seat. The pared-down console is remarkably clutter-free, most functions being operated by the standard MMi rotary controller, whose commands are viewed on the wafer thin retractable dash-top screen. Among vaguely affordable cars, there is no finer cabin.
The new A3 delivers everything you’d expect from a small Audi – crisp styling, a beautifully appointed cockpit and some useful tech, in the form of that cylinder-on-demand engine. All that stands between it and a five-star rating is a bit more zing in the driving experience.