The Pioneer

The new Audi A3 continues to set the standard in the very segment it created 26 years ago.

When the first Audi A3 first appeared on the world scene in 1996 there was nothing quite like it on offer, but now despite numerous pretenders to the throne, the new A3 continues to lead the way in the premium, compact segment it created.

Tough day on the Mountain

Mark Bramley

25 March, 2022

The A3 was a car that changed the way the compact car segment was viewed when it debuted back in 1996

Ask a racing driver if they’d rather lead a race or chase down the opposition and most will tell you it’s harder to lead. The same is true to varying degrees in most endeavours, where setting the pace or the standard requires that extra edge and the ability to keep pushing the envelope to stay out in front.

This is essentially the story of the Audi A3 – recently arrived on Australian shores in its fourth generation Sportback and second gen Sedan – a car that changed the way the compact car segment was viewed when it debuted back in 1996. At that time, the very idea of a compact, premium car was unheard of. Luxury and leading-edge technology and features were the province of large cars and smaller compact models were widely regarded as little more than convenient transportation. That all changed with the Audi A3, which brought premium features and finish to the segment for the first time and has continued to up the ante with each successive A3 model since.

The Audi A3 first touched down in Australia 1997, a year after its international debut. The car was originally a three-door, accentuating its sporty side – another character trait that has stayed with the A3 ever since. The five-door Sportback followed and the initial popularity of the A3 was dwarfed by enthusiasm for the more practical configuration. 

Since then, the A3 range has included cabriolet variants and then the extremely successful arrival of the A3 Sedan, as well as more performance-oriented versions of each in the form of S3 and RS 3 models.

In total, more than 56,000 Audi A3s (across all model variants) have found homes in Australia since its 1997 arrival, making it the most popular, non-SUV for the brand Down Under. The pressure to constantly maintain that place at the forefront of the compact luxury class has only served to hone the A3 with each successive evolution and the newest arrivals again lift the bar in every department from design to lighting, innovative technologies to power and efficiency.

Available as a five-door Sportback and a Sedan, the new A3 line-up will consist of two TFSI engines, available in four model variants – A3 Sportback 35 TFSI ($46,900*), A3 Sportback 40 TFSI quattro S line ($53,500*), A3 Sedan 35 TFSI ($49,400*) and A3 Sedan 40 TFSI quattro S line ($56,000*). 

The most obvious difference in the new A3 models is the styling. There’s certainly no doubting the origins, but the new design is much more aggressive and muscular, the Singleframe grille much wider and lower to accentuate the more purposeful stance and the ‘concave’ treatment along the flanks give the look that the A3 has not only muscled up but then done whatever it is that bodybuilders do to get really ‘cut’. 

The new styling immediately catches the eye – more robust and chiselled, with greater presence than ever before

The A3 remains true to the original concept of offering levels of sophistication and technology from the brand’s larger, luxury models

The result – on both Sportback and Sedan – makes for a strong, sculpted shape, which, with 18-inch alloy wheels as standard and LED headlights and distinctive daytime running light signature, once again give the A3 a personality and road presence all its own.

Despite the differing body styles, drivetrains and price points, across the board the A3 remains true to the original concept of offering levels of sophistication and technology from the brand’s larger, luxury models. The Audi virtual cockpit is standard across across all variants, along with a 10.1-inch touch display that has been integrated into the newly designed layout to become a part of the clean, expansive dash. With controls and screens all oriented towards the driver, the dash and interior layout is quite a departure from the previous model, the minimalist interior promoting the feeling of space. In fact space has always been an attraction with the A3, its compact exterior dimensions making it the perfect choice for urban life and yet its interior has always felt anything but compact. These new models have in fact grown slightly in real terms, the A3 Sportback now 30 millimetres wider (to 1.82 metres excluding wing mirrors) meaning more head and elbow room for front occupants. 

This clean new approach is further accentuated by the new centre console layout, with its minimalist gear shifter flanked by starter button and new touchpad audio volume controls. 

This new minimalist shifter is a product of the drive-by-wire technology which is another first for the new A3s. 

Advanced features like voice control for vehicle functions and handwriting recognition form part of the impressive technology offering, and another first, Audi connect plus, elevates the A3 technology offering to new levels of connectivity, with everything from the latest weather conditions to fuel prices, parking, traffic conditions and Google satellite maps, as well as points of interest along your drive route, local restaurants and in fact just about anything you care to search. Then there’s there are the safety and emergency aspects of the system with the emergency call function, as well as convenience items like service requests and updates, and even remote locking and unlocking.

Of course features such as Audi smartphone interface, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay, Audi phone box light for the ease of wireless phone charging all go without saying. Then there is the DAB+ digital radio and an additional couple of USB outlets to power/charge various other items as well as a three-spoke leather multifunction steering wheel (with hands-on detection), dual-zone climate control and folding rear back rest that splits 40:20:40 for maximum practicality. And that’s just in the entry model 35 TFSI.

The technology and equipment offering is truly impressive in the new A3

The extraordinary figures of there 40 TFSI pale in comparison to the 35 TFSI with its all-new 1.5L TFSI powerplant

Go for the 40 TFSI quattro S line and there is also Audi Drive Select for greater control of vehicle drive functions (think suspension and transmission change points), sport seats up front and ambient lighting package. There is also a head-up display available for the 40 TFSI quattro as part of the Premium package. 

As the name suggests, an S line exterior styling package further differentiates the model while quattro adds an extra dimension to the driving experience in concert with the more powerful engine. That engine is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder TFSI which delivers 140kW and 320Nm of torque, and mated to a seven-speed S tronic transmission and the aforementioned quattro drive, makes for a spirited driving experience whenever the road and conditions allow. But despite that, it still delivers frugal fuel figures of just 6.7 L/100km for the Sportback and 6.6 L/100km for the Sedan. 

Even those extraordinary figures pale in comparison to the 35 TFSI with its all-new 1.5L TFSI powerplant. Equipped as it is with CoD (Cylinder on Demand) technology and mild-hybrid system (MHEV) it delivers an incredible 5.0 L/100km for the Sportback and 4.9 L/100km for the Sedan – even better than the smaller displacement 1.4-litre mill it replaces in the previous model. Yet with its 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque, it lacks nothing in terms of urge whenever required, making it a win win proposition regardless of the driving situation.

Of course, as well as the in-car technology and connectivity that has come from the larger of the Audi fleet, so too the safety and driver assistance systems which include everything from Audi pre-sense city with AEB (which includes pedestrian and cyclist detection) as well as side assist, lane assist and cruise control with speed limiter. Convenience items such as park assist with rear view camera and tyre pressure loss indicator are also standard fair – all items that have come straight from the larger models.

All this adds up to a whole lot of car effectively shoehorned into one of two, striking, yet compact bodies. Drawing on the happy experience of having driven pretty much every new Audi for a great many years, the speed at which all-new technology like Audi connect plus, first seen in the A6 just a couple of years ago, has now found its way in to the A3 range is extraordinary. Likewise the greater engine outputs from smaller displacements coupled with advanced efficiency technology that made its debut in the RS ranks not long ago. But this has always been the appeal and indeed the hallmark of the A3 since the beginning. A truly premium car with all of the trappings, tech and finish of much larger models, in a smaller, more compact form. That’s how the A3 came to create the segment in the first place and it’s with that continuing approach that it manages, two and half decades later, to still be out front and setting the pace.

(*Manufacturer List Pricing [MLP] – excludes dealer delivery and government statutory charges) 

All this adds up to a whole lot of car effectively shoehorned into one of two, striking, yet compact bodies