Audi’s importance of being A3 earnest
While Audi might argue that all of its models are important, Iain Robertson is of the opinion that none is more vital to the ‘Four Rings’ brand than the best-selling A3 and its latest, fourth generation line-up aims to prove its point, if it can, from this May.
It would be a hard heart indeed that could not find even a soupcon of sympathy for the motor industry, which is being affected worldwide by the Coronavirus outbreak. Potential new car buyers desire information. They would love to visit their local dealerships. However, as long as ‘social distancing’ and essential hideaways are priorities, you can read about but not touch any of the latest products, one of which is the truly excellent and all-new Audi A3.
Back in 1996, Audi was a brand in the ascendant. It was being separated from its Volkswagen roots by the creation of new retail brand emporia, which pursued a distinctive identity, with wood, glass, aluminium and chromium plating featuring heavily in a raft of new showpiece showrooms. Staff wore designer uniforms and levels of F1 sterility were evident in every nook and cranny. For the previous three years, Audi had been concentrating on its model range and the A3 was a car approximating a ‘result’ at the time.
Using the VW Golf of the period (just as it continues to do so), powered by a lethargic 1.6-litre and a breathless 20v 1.8-litre petrol units (with a subsequent 177bhp turbocharged option three years later), or a 1.9-litre diesel, the Mark One A3, in either three, or five-door forms, not only looked but also performed like an accountant’s checklist. It was a touch leaden on the driving front but its importance was not lost on a critical audience. A3 was snaffled-up by middle-Englanders and leafy suburban housewives were charmed by the potential of its caddish marketing.
Yet, Audi needed a means by which to invest its enormous spend in motorsports (sportscar and Touring Car racing), with a timely expansion of its sportier range of models. The S3 arrived in 1999, armed initially with 207bhp, later with 222bhp (same set-up as the TT Coupe, engine based on the turbo-petrol, 1.8-litre, 20-valve unit) strictly in three-door form. The Mark Two version of 2003 was markedly better in every respect. It oozed confidence from a semi-independent brand that could compete head-on with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The five-door variant was introduced a year later, followed by the drop-top in 2008.
While a 261bhp 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine gifted the S3 with some real clout, the RS3 of 2011 cemented Audi’s role in the superhatch arena, its 5-cylinder, 2.5-litre power unit developed a whopping 335bhp and delivered 0-60mph in just 4.3s. A year later, the Mark Three A3 arrived, complete with fresh saloon variant, as a direct rival to Merc’s expanding A-Class offerings.
It is certain that a saloon version will appear by the end of 2020 but, in the meantime, the five-door hatchback introduces the all-new range. As has become Audi’s precedent, it leads with technology. However, do not be gulled, after all, its VW parent has already stolen much of the march, with the introduction of ‘Golfate’ and the all-electric I.D.3, both of which innovate on the electronics and digitised fronts. Audi is following the trends set by them.
However, there is no concealing the design aspects of the newcomer, which include very clear wheel-arch blisters and a distinctive treatment of the side sill area. Possessing a wedge profile, with a strong line running along the flanks, from head to tail-lamps, the overall design is exceptionally dynamic and manages to blend the airy agility of the firm’s A1, with a youthful vitality unique to A3. The revised frontal aspect introduces a new LED headlamp language and a pair of large air ‘inlets’ in the lower bumper.
If anything, the interior changes are more significant, even if the technology is now familiar fayre. Highly driver-focused, a fully digitised and re-programmable instrument display is flanked by horizontal airvents, in a manner already explored by the most recent A4 model. A 10.25-inch centre stack touchscreen sits above the heating and ventilation control switches, with a secondary bank beneath. The revised centre console provides a parking slot for mobiles, complete with recharging pad (although not with wireless connectivity, strangely), and a choice of manual or DSG (which Audi calls ‘S-Tronic’) automated gearlevers, the latter following a lower-profile pattern also applied to Seat and Skoda models. Head-up display is also fitted to some models.
Unsurprisingly, the new A3 offers the latest in connectivity, boosted by a potent, modular infotainment platform (MIB3), which is a remarkable ten times more powerful than the previous generation. It integrates a Wi-Fi hotspot, telephony and the Audi Connect services to provide instantaneous reactions to user input, as well as handwriting recognition and natural voice control. The sat-nav system links to Google Earth for high-resolution route imagery, while individual requirements can also incorporate online traffic updates, reroutes and even opening/closing times of venues. Using the much-vaunted Car2X cloud-based interconnectivity, as long as similarly equipped vehicles are in the vicinity, hold-ups and incidents can be highlighted and alternative route mapping provided. Bang and Olufsen has worked with Audi once again and, when the Comfort & Sound package is specified, 3D reproduction and 680W of sound flood the cabin from 15 speakers.
Engine power comes initially from conventional 1.5-litre 147bhp TSi petrol, or 2.0-litre 147bhp TDi units. Mild hybrid (48V) versions will arrive in the summer. Speedier versions will arrive by year end, as will two plug-in hybrid alternatives. The VW Group MQB substructure is already well regarded for its compliant ride and handling, which matches Audi’s early requirements, although beefing-up the dampers is on the cards for higher powered variants. A simpler, twisting beam rear suspension replaces the multi-link version reserved for models with 147bhp and more, and wheel diameters range from a standard 16.0-inches diameter, to optional 19.0-inch alternatives.
Conclusion: Prices start at £24,900 in Technik entry-level, rising through Sport, S-Line and Edition 1 to the top Vorsprung level at £43,040 for the immediate launch models, which ensures that £65k+ is probable for a future RS3 version. Buy wisely and a new A3 could be right up your Strasse.