A new bolder design, more refinement and improved driving dynamics make the latest Audi A3 really stand out from the crowd. Choose the new A3 as your next Motability car and you'll find a completely digitalised interior alongside cutting-edge infotainment and a host of new innovative safety systems that come together in the shape of the A3 hatchback (or Sportback as Audi likes to call it) or the 4 door A3 Saloon. It's certainly a desirable car that, in the right spec, is a great alternative to rivals from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
Audi A3 prices are unchanged, and the range starts at £1799 Advance Payment. The A3 TFSI e with the plug-in hybrid engine starts from £5499 (section updated October 2023).
The Audi A3 firmly established the premium compact class in 1996. Now, more than a quarter of a century further on, the fourth generation of this highly successful model is ready to make its mark. These days of course, this Audi faces strong competition, but back in 1996 when we first saw the A3 model line, the idea of being able to move a car up-market in class and appeal without increasing its size was new and rather different.
Cynics dismissed it as a way of dressing up ordinary family hatches and charging a lot more for them. Customers though, loved the idea and by the time the second generation A3 arrived in 2003, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and other rivals had also arrived to swell the market. Initially, those brands struggled to produce products good enough to overtake Audi and the result was that nearly a quarter of a million second generation A3s were pounding global roads by the time the third generation model arrived in the Autumn of 2012. It sold for nearly eight years until this more cutting-edge model arrived.
Everything about this car is designed to deliver on the concept of a Volkswagen Golf with just a touch more polish - and the driving experience it offers is no exception. If you're an A3 regular - or a graduate from a Golf - you'll find that this Audi now has even more of the mature drive dynamics you'll be looking for, helped by a fully digital at-the-wheel experience and the optional embellishment of hybrid power and self-driving tech. Differences with this latest design initially seem quite subtle, primarily centred around slightly sharper steering and handling that's now a little more responsive. That's thanks to a wider track and the introduction of a 'modular dynamic handling control system' that, based on steering movements, predictively co-ordinates interplay between all the car's dynamic systems - like a conductor with an orchestra - so the car can always be one step ahead of the drive inputs you want to make. As before, you'll need to avoid the lowest-powered petrol and diesel variants if you want the brand's suppler, more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up.
Ah yes, engines: they've evolved too: the two volume petrol units - a 110PS 1.0-litre three cylinder and the 150PS 1.5-litre four cylinder powerplant - both get Audi's latest mild hybrid MHEV electrified tech, provided you're able to order them with the 7-speed S tronic auto transmission. That MHEV set-up sees an integrated 48-volt 'BAS' belt alternator starter-generator powers a 12-volt main electrical set-up in which a 48-volt compact lithium-ion battery in the boot stores energy harvested via a 'KERS' kinetic energy recovery system. If you don't care for the mild hybrid tech, you can go for the alternative conventional 30 TDI diesel model - which now develops 116PS using a larger, more efficient 2.0-litre unit with the brand's latest 'Twin Dosing' tech. There's also a 150PS 2.0-litre 35 TDI model option. The better eco-minded alternative though - if it ever gets released onto the Motability Scheme - will be the 40 TFSIe Plug-in Hybrid, which mates a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine to a 6-speed DSG auto gearbox, the combination working with an 85kW electric motor powered by a 13kWh lithium-ion battery which, when fully charged, can offer a WLTP-rated all-electric driving range of up to 41 miles.
Audi's given this new model a more athletic stance and its concave flanks introduce a completely new element into the company's design philosophy. These days, there's no three-door A3 model, so the range is primarily based around the five-door Sportback body shape, which features heavily slanting C-pillars above the rear wheels and measures in at 4.34m in length, around 3cms longer than the previous model. The shoulder line tapers upward from the headlights to the rear lights. The front end is dominated by a wide, hexagonal Singleframe with a honeycomb grille, flanked by full-LED headlights that can be ordered with optional matrix technology.
The biggest changes are reserved for the cockpit, which gains the digitalised 'black panel' technology lately introduced into most of the company's other models. A 10.1-inch centre-dash MMI touch display is standard and can be used to adjust the settings of the media selection, navigation, and extensive connect services. Also standard is the 10.25-inch 'Virtual Cockpit' digital instrument cluster we first saw offered as an option on the previous model. A larger 12.3-inch version of this display is also available.
Audi claims that the slight dimensional exterior size increase benefits passengers directly and, sure enough, they get more elbow room at the front and rear and more shoulder room in the rear. Headroom in the front's better too - though only because the driver's seat has been positioned a little lower for a slightly sportier feel.
Out back, the boot on the Sportback is much as before, offering a capacity of between 380 and 1,200-litres. The loading floor can be adjusted to different heights (which many motorists with a disability will appreciate), and the rear shelf can be stored underneath it to save space.
'Sport', 'S line' and 'Black Edition' specifications are available. You will at least be getting plenty for your cash. The 'MIB 3'-generation MMI infotainment system has ten times more computing power than this set-up did in the previous model. MMI co-operates closely with the separate communication box, which performs all tasks relating to connectivity, including telephony and the LTE-compatible 'Audi connect services' package, plus of course it integrates a WiFi hotspot. Individual settings can be stored in up to six user profiles. They range from the seat position to the air conditioning settings, frequently selected navigation destinations, and frequently used media. Handwriting recognition (you can trace commands with your fingertip) and an advanced natural language voice control system also both feature.
Audi has also upgraded its 'MMI navigation plus' sat nav system, which recognises the driver's preferences based on previous journeys, allowing the GPS software to generate suitable route suggestions. In doing so, it takes statistical experience values on time and traffic density into account, as well as real-time data on the traffic situation. Online radio and hybrid radio can also be installed upon request. The former provides access to online stations that are available worldwide, while the latter automatically switches between FM, DAB, and the online stream to ensure optimum reception at all times.
There are two option packs available - 'Technology Pack' and 'technology Pack Pro'.
Audi is continuing is electrification strategy in the premium compact class, hence the emphasis on the MHEV mild hybrid 1.5-litre 35 TFSI petrol model in this MK4 A3 Sportback model range. The figures suggest that in manual or auto forms, this variant manages 49.6mpg, with a CO2 return of 129g/km of CO2. The 35 TDI diesel S tronic auto model manages 61.4mpg and 121g/km.
Most A3 buyers will want the MHEV auto petrol model which uses the same sort of set-up we've already seen on larger Audi models. A 'BAS' belt alternator starter-generator that with this four cylinder engine, powers a 48-volt main electrical set-up in which a compact lithium-ion battery in the boot stores energy harvested via a 'KERS' kinetic energy recovery system. During braking, the 'BAS' package can recover up to 12kW of power and feed it back into the battery.
If the driver takes their foot off the accelerator at speeds between 34 and 99mph, the mild hybrid system will recuperate energy, while the car rolls in idle or coasts with its engine automatically switched off for up to 40 seconds. The belt alternator starter-generator restarts the engine the next time the accelerator is depressed, and does so faster and more gently than a conventional starter. All of this you'll particularly notice at urban speeds where the engine start-stop system is cutting in and out. The start stop range begins at just under 14mph, so you'll often find the car coasting up to the end of a traffic queue, a traffic light or a level crossing.
It's an Audi A3 - but not quite as you know it. The rarer A3 Saloon is essentially a longer, sleeker-looking version of the Audi A3 hatchback with a boot that's not quite as practical. The space in the boot is much the same as before, offering a 425-litre capacity, but its shallower design and more restricted shape means it’s a bit harder to get things in and out.
The new Audi A3 Saloon is a great rival for the other premium-badged compact four-door coupe models, including the Mercedes-Benz CLA and the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe.
In the search for a compact car that's also a premium model, there are probably more charismatic choices than this Audi A3. But we think there are few better ones. Light in bulk, heavy in technology, it's a logical evolution of a breed that's long been one of Britain's favourite company cars.
This improved version might look only a little bit different at first glance, but it'll feel very different once you get to grips with the fresh digitalised cockpit with its two sophisticated screens. Otherwise, things are much as before - which means that there's lots to like. From the outside, it's as at home in Belgravia as it is in Brixton. But the interior is where this latest design really is strides apart. You could be in a luxury car.
And of course, in many ways, you are. By pioneering the premium compact hatch segment with original versions of this model, Audi has in many ways redefined the meaning of automotive luxury, democratising it without the desirability being diluted. Other brands claim to have done the same of course and many have used a few more visual or dynamic fireworks to grab the attention. Audi though, doesn't think this A3 needs them. Cool, class-less and clever, it remains desirably definitive.
People with a disability and carers who choose a new Audi A3 through Motability will receive a brand new car, delivered by a Motability Specialist at a local Audi dealership, complete with insurance, servicing and maintenance, full breakdown assistance, replacement tyre cover, windscreen repair or replacement cover plus a mileage allowance of 60,000 miles over three years.
This month, these Audi A3 Sportback models can be ordered through the Motability Scheme: