Although it looks very similar to the previous A3, the new one is slightly longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, and it has a longer wheelbase.
Weight-saving is the current trend across the motor industry, and the new Audi A3 in no exception. Now in its third generation, fresh on the scene in autumn 2012, the latest A3 weighs on average a whopping 80 kg – 176 lbs - less than its predecessor. That is the equivalent weight of an adult person skimmed out of the car. This has been achieved through lightweight engineering and more use of aluminium in the bodywork, including the bonnet and front wings. Elsewhere weight has been shaved by use of lighter high-strength steel, re-design of the engines and front axle, and even by making the seats thinner.
The original A3 first appeared in 1996 and it was a pioneer of the ‘premium compact’ hatchback, a similar sized car to a Golf or Ford Focus, but with a more up-market bias and posher image.
This new model is the first car to be built on the Volkswagen Group’s new MQB platform, so it has similar under-structure to the next generation VW Golf that is on sale in the UK from early 2013.
Although it looks very similar to the previous A3, the new one is slightly longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, and it has a longer wheelbase. It is a substantially new car all round. The body shape has been sharpened from some aspects and made curvier from others, with sleeker new headlights, LED running lights and other edgier details that differentiate it from the old car.
Initially the engine choice is 1.4 (120 bhp) or 1.8 litre (178 bhp) petrol and two-litre (148 bhp) diesel. The transmission choice is six-speed manual or seven-speed twin-clutch auto. Prices start from £19,205 for a 1.4 petrol SE with manual gearbox, and rise to £26,560 for a 1.8 litre petrol S line with the S tronic auto.
A 1.6 litre diesel joins the range from November 2012. Coming in 2013 are a 1.4 petrol model with cylinder-on-demand technology, four-wheel-drive A3 quattro models, a sporty S3 quattro, and a five-door A3 Sportback.
The expected best-seller among the first of the new A3 models is the two-litre diesel with 148 bhp power output, so that is the one we test here, in popular SE trim. Considering the car's strong performance, with 134 mph top speed and 8.6 seconds from 0-62 mph, the CO2 output is quite modest at 106 g/km. That qualifies it for band B on the annual road tax chart, and it rates at 15 per cent for Benefit-in-kind company car taxation. Disc brakes all round give the car strong, progressive braking to haul back the performance quickly and cleanly.