Life

First Drive: Audi A3 Sportback – still the posh all-round choice

Audi has given its A3 Sportback a mid-life refresh, but does its premium appeal remain? James Batchelor finds out.

The A3 feels composed and comfortable on the move
The A3 feels composed and comfortable on the move

What is it?

The A3 retains its premium feel
The A3 retains its premium feel

Think of a posh and sophisticated hatchback and you’ll likely think of the Audi A3. It has essentially defined the premium hatchback class for nearly 30 years, and while everyone knows it’s a Volkswagen Golf underneath, its combination of classy looks, a quality interior and refined driving characteristics means it has plenty of appeal.

For 2024, Audi has given its strong seller a little mid-life update to keep it feeling fresh. Here we’re driving the five-door Sportback version for the first time.

What’s new?

Audi’s new logos are used across the A3
Audi’s new logos are used across the A3

The refresh is nothing too bold – after all, there was very little wrong with the current generation A3. The looks have been sharpened with a wider, slimmer ‘frameless’ front grille which also sees Audi’s latest flat, two-dimensional badge hovering between the grille and the bonnet rather than sitting within the grille like before. The front and rear bumpers have been made to look more aggressive, while the front headlight clusters now feature four different LED day-running light designs allowing owners to choose their favourite. There are new colours, new wheels and badging.

Other tweaks are mostly to do with the interior and include a slightly different centre console, new door trims with backlighting, ambient contour lights for the centre console and cupholders, an updated operating system for the touchscreen and a new optional Sonos stereo system replacing the B&O unit in the outgoing car.

What’s under the bonnet?

All versions get large wheels
All versions get large wheels

There’s no change when it comes to engines, although at launch Audi is restricting the amount of choice. So, for the time being, there’s just a 1.5-litre turbocharged mild-hybrid petrol badged ’35 TFSI’ and a ’35 TDI’ 2.0-litre diesel, both with 148bhp and a seven-speed automatic gearbox. A lower-powered petrol called 30 TFSI will arrive later in the year, along with a company-car-friendly 45 TFSI e plug-in hybrid.

Both the 1.5-litre mild-hybrid petrol and 2.0-litre diesel accelerate to 60mph in eight seconds. While the diesel naturally returns better claimed fuel economy (54.2-57.6mpg vs 49.6-53.3mpg), the petrol coughs out less CO2 (121-130g/km vs 128-137g/km).

What’s it like to drive?

The engine choices deliver more than enough performance
The engine choices deliver more than enough performance

While it may share its underpinnings with a whole host of Volkswagen Group cars, the A3 has always managed to add an extra layer of refinement to the way it drives. Audi hasn’t played around with how the A3 gets down the road for this update, so there’s still a lovely balance between comfort and predictable, engaging handling.

It rides better than a Mercedes A-Class, even in sporty S line trim, and the A3 feels agile, while the tried and tested 1.5-litre engine delivers pleasing acceleration and never feels strained – it’s only occasionally let down by the S tronic gearbox which can feel hesitant at times. A separate drive of the 35 TDI showed the diesel is just as refined with minimal vibration, only underlining how suitable it is for high-mileage drivers.

The car tested here had Audi’s ‘Progressive Steering’ which is a variable ratio steering rack, and while it comes as standard on the hot S3 version, it isn’t available on the A3 in the UK. We’d have to try a UK-spec car to give a fuller evaluation of how the A3 steers, but it’s more than likely to be sharp and engaging, just like the outgoing car.

How does it look?

The rear lights feature LED technology
The rear lights feature LED technology

As already mentioned, the A3’s update isn’t the most daring we’ve seen but it’s understandably subtle – Audi doesn’t want to tarnish the car’s sales record, after all. Audi geeks will notice the new front end, which, though undeniably more modern looking, spoils the sharp, classy design of the outgoing car in our eyes.

The new colour palette lifts things, too, but all of this is just personal sentiment – the A3 is still a super stylish choice in the premium hatchback class.

What’s it like inside?

The interior remains finished to a high standard
The interior remains finished to a high standard

While it may look identical to the old car at first glance, the new A3 gets a raft of little tweaks that just add an extra layer of interest to what is a rather serious-looking interior. New backlighting in the door trims and contour lighting around the centre console and cupholders brightens the interior, quite literally, while the centre console has been redesigned with a new gear selector.

Audi has added more textured surfaces to the dashboard, which only improves what was a quality feeling cabin. The infotainment system has been tweaked, but you really wouldn’t know it, and it remains a simple thing to use. Happily, Audi hasn’t ditched the physical controls for the heating and ventilation, either.

What’s the spec like?

A new premium Sonos system is available
A new premium Sonos system is available

There are no surprises when it comes to specification, as the A3 follows most of the Audi range and is offered in Sport, S line and Black Edition trims.

Sport, from £32,035, gets LED front headlights, 17-inch alloys, heated front seats, three-zone climate control, ambient lighting, the 10.1-inch touchscreen, 12.3-inch ‘Virtual Cockpit Plus’ screen ahead of the driver, and a whole host of safety tech. S line, from £34,315, adds sportier body styling, 18-inch wheels with lowered suspension, LED headlights with customisable day-running light designs, LED rear lights with ‘dynamic’ (sweeping) indicators, leather-like sports seats with ‘S’ branding, and selectable ambient lighting. Range-topping Black Edition cars add 19-inch wheels and black detailing, among other things, and start from £36,015.

Verdict

This mid-life update is nothing groundbreaking, and only really serves to make the A3 look and feel just a little more modern. Happily, the old car’s fantastic blend of a classy image, quality interior and enjoyable driving dynamics are untouched, and the A3 offers a more compelling all-round package compared to the BMW 1 Series or a Mercedes A-Class.

All of this means the A3 will likely continue being a firm favourite for those after a posh hatchback.

  • Model: Audi A3
  • Model as tested: Audi A3 Sportback Sport 35 TFSI S tronic
  • Price: £32,035
  • Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged mild-hybrid petrol
  • Power: 148bhp
  • Torque: 250Nm
  • Max speed: 140mph
  • 0-60mph: 8.0 seconds
  • MPG: 50.4
  • Emissions: 127g/km CO2