The Audi A3 line-up has received a facelift for summer 2016. Exterior lower bumpers have been restyled with sharper design air intakes and the headlights have more aggressive styling. The rear gets a similar update, with a more defined diffuser and tail light graphics. Changes to the exterior and interior remain modest, whilst the technology has been updated more extensively. A 1.0 TFSI three cylinder engine has been added as the budget option to the range, whilst the 2.0 TFSI has been updated with more efficient combustion. The turbodiesel four cylinder units, available as both a 1.6L and 2.0L, have been given a bit more power too.
Audi has concentrated on giving the revised A3 the latest in driver assistance technologies, such as traffic jam assistance, pre-sense front and rear cross traffic assistant. Don’t be tricked into ticking the box for the active lane assist option. It ruins steering-feel and makes unwanted corrections to the steering angle you have put in mid-corner. I have tried to switch the system off altogether, but couldn’t figure out how. Also available with the new A3 is the TT's virtual cockpit. This features a 12.3 inch TFT display which can show the classic dual speedometer/rev counter dials. It can also minimise those and show a full size navigation app, media player, trip computer or telephone app.
Next to that, the A3 also gets the simply beautiful TT steering wheel with the tiny centre airbag.Once started, the diesel machine is immediately noticeable. It creates a stark contrast with the high-end premium feel that the new Audi A3 offers. Everything you touch prior to the aluminium start button is of high quality. The S-Line leather seats hug you like you've just entered an R8, not an A3.
The steering wheel/virtual cockpit combo reminds me of vehicles of the top class, the fit and finish is fit for a Bentley - yet the engine is a tractor. It quiets down once it warms up, but remains a constant source of old school agricultural drone. It's best in “ECO” mode - where the double clutch S-tronic box is in its smoothest setting and the engine is kept to the lower rev range where the mechanical diesel clutter is filtered. However, the problem that “ECO” mode brings is that the power output is completely killed.
Put it in “Dynamic” to get the power back and you get exactly the opposite. Any time your toes look at the pedal on the right, the S-tronic box rams into the lowest possible gear - letting the engine make a lot of noise, but not delivering the torque you would want. Surprisingly, comfort mode does exactly the same. The 6-speed double clutch gearbox has trouble with a hill start too. It let the car leap backward when I let go of the brake. Only after jumping back on the brake and letting go again, the gearbox understood it was time to engage the first gear.
The A3 drives along with incredible smoothness. The suspension is silky, the steering a bit low on feeling, but nice and direct, and the car flows along the road like a higher class vehicle. However, the combination of the TDI engine (which makes the car feel a little nose-heavy) and S-tronic, takes some joy out of the A3.
The 2.0L diesel doesn’t deliver the torque-y punch you'd want. It's sluggish, and feels purposely restraint. The 2.0 TFSI however does not feel sluggish, or underpowered, or noisy, and it doesn’t have an unmatched engine/gearbox combination. It feels lighter in the nose and the power is on another level - especially when the turbo really starts to spool at around 3,000 revs. Despite the grunt, I managed to get within 0.7L/100km of the consumption of the diesel unit, with 5.9L/100km for the diesel, versus 6.5L/100km.
How is this possible? With the increased combustion efficiency of the TFSI block and the fact that a more powerful engine has to do less work for the same result. The consumption figures are stunning, yet logical. The 2.0 TFSI also gets the upgraded 7-speed S-tronic box, which helps keep the fuel consumption low. It’s smoother too, and has less trouble with hill-starts.
Initially I didn’t fully understanding the direction Audi were taking with the revised A3. I didn't much like the look, nor Audi's attempt to make the car even sportier. Does every brand have to be BMW? Should BMW not do the sporty, Mercedes the luxury, and Audi the engineering creativity?
In this instance Audi did stick with the engineering creativity. They jammed the car full of new technologies, systems, and more importantly a new engine: the 1.0L three-cylinder turbo. This was the A3 I tested last - and it was the most surprising.
The three-cylinder doesn't sound as thrilling as you would expect from what is half a straight six, but it’s fantastically elastic in its power delivery in everyday use and is astoundingly frugal. I was rewarded with an average of 5.5L/100km, in the same driving style as with the double sized capacity, bigger brothers. It did not feel inadequate, nor was it too loud. You should see it as a 2,0 TFSI “Diet” version. Especially when just cruising, it actually feels surprisingly grunty. The little engine also takes all weight out of the nose, and you find yourself going along at much faster pace than you'd expect with this power, because you don't really have to slow down for anything.
Of course, the 2.0L TFSI delivers a much bigger punch in the high rev range. It is more rewarding when driving spiritedly - something the A3 makes you want to do - with its pleasant rasp on wide open throttle and smooth but snappy gear changes. Of the new A3 range, it’s the one I’d pick.