SINCE 1996, the Audi A3 has been a permanent fixture on our roads and now the all-new fourth generation car, with its sharper styling, really raises the bar in the sector.
The three-door version has been axed so there is just the five-door Sportback body style, but there is a lot more choice when it comes to powertrains with 48-volt mild hybrid technology also being added to the mix.
The A3 uses the same MQB platform that it shares with other VW group models such as the VW Golf, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia, so it's all very tried and tested. But what is new is the more imposing design - the car is slightly longer and wider than its predecessor,but the height and wheelbase remain unchanged.
The new A3 is very easy on the eye with a bolder, more instantly-recognisable appearance. It boasts a wider hexagonal honeycomb grille, sharper creases and lines, LED daytime running lights and our model had lots of S line-specific badging and trimmings. Audi have been rather clever with the design as the new A3 is far more appealing than the model it replaces, but it still maintains its unique A3 identity.
The interior features Audi's impressive 10.25-inch virtual cockpit display behind the steering wheel and a 10.1-inch infotainment screen with full smartphone connectivity, an easy-to-operate navigation system, climate control and a wealth of other features.
The familiar MMI click wheel to navigate the on-board systems has been ditched so the cabin has a clutter-free, minimalist feel. To access various features, simply use the touchscreen, controls on the steering wheel or voice control. There is a neat button to quickly adjust music settings along with switches for the climate control.
Our car, in S line trim with a six-speed manual gearbox, was powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine delivering 150ps and 250Nm. It was priced at £27,275, although a number of optional extras saw this increase to £30,830. Additions included 18-inch alloy wheels, a Matrix LED exterior lighting pack which offers superb illumination at night time, and some additional tech inside the car such as heated seats with four-way lumbar support, extra ambient lighting and a flat bottom steering wheel.
The new A3 Sportback can sprint from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds and tops out at 139mph. According to official figures, under stricter WLTP testing, the car can deliver a combined 45.6mpg with carbon emissions of 142g/km.
When it comes to performance, the latest arrival drives just as you would expect any A3, but better. The road holding is assured and confident, the steering perfectly weighted and the acceleration through the manual transmission nice and crisp with plenty of power on tap for short bursts of speed.
The car is nicely balanced into bends with no sign of body sway and there are drive modes called Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual to alter the mannerisms of the vehicle.
The suspension set-up does a worthy job of smoothing out the rougher road surfaces and the A3 is well insulated so occupants are protected from engine, road surface and wind noise.
There is ample space for four adults to sit comfortably inside the new A3 - or five at a squeeze although the passenger in the middle rear seat will have to straddle quite a large transmission tunnel.
And storage options are good too with a boot capacity that ranges from 380-1,200 litres with the split-folding rear seats dropped flat. There is a lockable glovebox, adjustable cup holders, a compartment tucked away by the driver's right knee, a central cubby box, trays, door pockets, plus nets in the seat backs. For convenience, there are both standard USB and USB-C ports for plugging in phones etc.
Being an Audi, the new A3 is reassuringly loaded with safety systems and driver aids to help protect occupants, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users alike.
All in all, Audi has taken something that wasn't broken in the first place but somehow fixed it. The looks are sharper, the handling more refined and the on-board kit is bang up to date.
£27,275, plus£3,555 extras
: 150ps, 1,498cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox
: 8.4 seconds
: 3yrs/60,000 miles