The new Audi A3 isn't just a facelift, it's a new car. It rolls in on the new platform that will also see the likes of the VW Golf seventh gen, but retains that Audi A3 look. We've heard it before, with Audi telling us it has "A3 genes" and who's to argue with DNA? When Audi invited us be introduced to the new A3 in the rolling lusciousness of the Royal County of Berkshire, we were down the M3 in a shot.
From the exterior, this is unmistakably an Audi A3. But it's a more aggressive design: soft lines have become sharp, the creased body reflecting the sorts of changes we've seen in the likes of recent BMW models. The headlights now have a sort of focused concentration to them, like the eyes of an angry animal. The line of the doors and smaller wing mirrors give the new Audi A3 a more sporty look than previous models.
In the process the rear window seems to have reduced and, sitting in the driving seat looking in the auto-dimming rear-view mirror (optional), we couldn't help thinking that the view was slightly restricted. We suspect this is because the roof line has been lowered at the rear, but that's just our impression.
The model we test drove and photographed here was the Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sport. This new diesel, offering 150PS and a 6-speed gearbox, is likely to be the most popular model of the Audi A3 range and with good cause, offering the combination of power and fuel efficiency that the majority will be looking for.
The A3 2.0 TDI will see you go from 0-60 in just over 8 seconds, but still give you 68.9mpg (combined) according to Audi's figures. Not only are you looking at an efficient engine, but there have been weight savings made across the A3, so it's 80kg (for the base model) lighter than its predecessor. That's about the weight of an adult passenger, in his mid-30s, ahem.
You'll notice the Sport tag on the end of the name too. This level of trim brings with it 17-inch wheels as standard, but our model had been further upgraded to 18-inchers (£595). The suspension is lower by 15mm to give a firmer ride. In reality, perhaps thanks to the sculpted but comfortable sports seats, the ride isn't that harsh. Sure, you'll feel it when your near-side rear wheel clips that mini roundabout, but this isn't a bone-jarring ride.
The interior is spacious enough, with plenty of headroom and a cockpit design that is clean and uncomplicated. There's a lot crammed on to the sports steering wheel and some duplication of controls between the wheel and the central console, but finding your way around it takes little time at all.
The driver information system will relay a lot on the information that the 5.8-inch pop-up display will give you, but when it comes to the basics, the driver has everything at the fingertips, including sensible things like a clickable volume roller that mutes.
It's perhaps the central console and the MMI system that gadget freaks will find themselves getting excited about. The 5.8-inch display extends out of the dash in the centre, rather than being fixed into the central structure. This gives the impression of a clean and tidy interior, because it's not liberally littered with buttons like the previous A3.
The MMI system incorporates various elements of car "settings", entertainment and navigation, depending on the specification and options you choose. The controls for this lie in the centre of the car. With the mechanical handbrake lever now gone, there's space for a nice big clickable dial and sensible navigation buttons.
An optional extra is the MMI Touch enhancement, which makes the top of the button touch sensitive, so you can use your finger to move across a map on the display, for example. It's clever stuff, as is the iPhone connection in the central cubbyhole behind, which is topped with just enough elbow space for those of us who like to drive with only one hand on the wheel.
The great thing about the central controls and the 5.1 entertainment system is that it's intuitive. No one demonstrated it to us, but with a couple of minutes, we'd cranked up the subwoofer, found a thumping track on the HDD, and paired the HTC One X via Bluetooth.
The inside of the new Audi A3 is a great place to be. To be fair, so was the last A3, but the clean design and seemingly simple appearance belies the technology that the Audi can put at your fingertips, and we've only scratched the surface. The model we tested starts at £22,730 for the 2.0 TDI Sport, but as pictured here will cost you £29,225. That's a lot of added options, but a lot of fun at your fingertips.