(Pocket-lint) - The Audi A3 has dominated the premium compact segment over the past few decades. Closely related to its sibling VW Golf, it's often been the car to delight drivers looking for a hatch that's a cut above, while providing a little more quality than its rivals.
That's the space that the A3 continues to thrive in, providing all the high-tech and high-spec you expect from Audi, while also giving you something practical that's easy to live with.
A sharper design
With each iteration of Audi, things get a little more chiselled and angular. That's true for this all-new Audi A3, too, now in its fourth generation. The evolution is easy to see across the Audi family, with increasingly aggressive noses and a stance that's taut and sporty. While the VW group cars are all making similar moves, Audi seems to lead the charge with folds and sculpting to the body.
There was a sharp shoulder line previously that now looks more muscular, while previous door detailing now looks like the sort of cheekbones you might find on a model. The hind quarters have seen a remodelling, the pronounced exhaust of the previous model now more integrated.
Much of that aggression is emphasised by the S Line trim - the most popular for UK buyers - which adds a little more bite with enhanced sills and gulping air intakes around the front, which is now almost completely dominated by Audi's hive-style plastic grille. We're wondering if it will look so smart once you've hit a low-flying sparrow.
There's no denying that it's a good-looking car - in a sort of angry way - with the 18-inch wheels noticeably more bling than the 16-inch standard wheels you'll get at the entry Technik level. Lower profile tyres mean you get a little more road noise as a result, in what is otherwise, a quiet and refined car.
One thing you might also notice is that there's now no 3-door version. This is a 5-door, take it or leave it.
A whole new interior
The previous generation of Audi's A3 had one of our favourite interiors. Things just came together to give you access to great media controls, with a good balance of display and controls.
Audi has been on a march to remove physical controls in place of virtual in many of its recent models. That's seen a pairing of two touchscreens on the interior of many of the larger cars - but the A3 escapes this tech overload.
We've found across a number of Audi models that omitting some of the touch controls leads to things being a little less practical. We're technology fans, but not when you're sacrificing the core experience. But here there's a very useful arrangement of a large central display paired with physical controls for things like the climate control just beneath.
While most of the secondary controllers for the Audi MMI system have now been removed - there's previously been a click wheel with a scrawl pad on the top, for example - there is one interesting detail that Audi has retained: the small media controller next to the gear lever. There has in the past been a volume controller in this sort of location, designed to give controls when the screen used to drop into the dash. But here it's really useful for your front seat passenger. Critically, it can provide some media control without having to poke the screen - and we really like this little, practical, detail.
Elsewhere, the S Line interior on this new Audi A3 carries many of the hallmarks of quality you'd expect. There's plentiful use of quality materials in visible areas, with neat stitching suggesting the craft that's gone into creating this car.
But look below the knee line and you'll find there's quite a lot of harder plastics. Some might see that this isn't quite fitting with what they expect, but on the other hand, it's a lot easier to clean scuffs off plastic than it is off softer surfaces or leather. We also spotted switch blank plates which isn't uncommon in cars lower down the scale, but often on an Audi, those spaces are used.
Aside from these minor points, the interior of the new A3 is comfortable, the S Line seats offering all the adjustments and figure-hugging properties that you'd expect of a car wanting to express its sporty style.
The boot offers a reasonable 380 litres of storage, with space for a spare wheel beneath the floor, while the back seats offer space for adults too, with both head and knee room making for a comfortable ride.
MMI adds a touch of class
We've mentioned the tech layout, but let's take a closer look at what you get. Audi has been aggressively pushing technology and connectivity for some time and has, generally speaking, been ahead of the pack in offering many features that are now common.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard via the Audi Smartphone Interface, meaning there's seamless integration of those phone-based driving solutions, but you also get MMI Navigation Plus on the 10.1-inch central display, even on the lowest Technik trim.
The other standard feature is the Virtual Cockpit, a 10.25-inch digital driver display that's customisable, letting you choose what information you see and how large you want the dials to be. Want full-screen mapping? You can have that. Want large dials instead? That's just a button press away.
There are many digital driver displays, but we still think that Audi - which was one of the first to offer such a system - offers the most aesthetically pleasing result. Essentially you can leaf through core functions - drive information, entertainment, navigation or calling - from the steering wheel, with all the information appearing on your display.
That means you don't have to spend your time glancing into the centre of the car or using that touchscreen too often. That central display will let others in the car see what's going on, but also means you can split your displayed information, with mapping for the driver's display and media on the main screen, for example.
The central display will give you access to other features and settings, allowing you to customise, for example, Audi's Drive modes, among other settings and options.
On the road
The A3 comes with a full range of engine choices. On review here is the 35 TFSI - the 35 giving the relative power position in the Audi family and the TSFI letting you know it's petrol, rather than the TDI diesel. The range of petrols includes a 1-litre 110PS (30), 1.5-litre 150PS (35), while the diesel is a 2-litre - with either 116PS (30) or 150PS (35).
Any of the engines can be paired with either the 6-speed manual or 7-speed S tronic automatic gearbox, the latter being slightly more expensive, so the manual should appeal to those wanting to keep the price down and get a little more involved with what's going on.
Most models will be front wheel drive, but more powerful models will get Quattro - Audi's all-wheel drive system.
There's also a plug-in hybrid version of the Audi A3 - the TSFI e - which offers a 1.4-litre engine with a combined 204PS output, earning a 40 badge on the rear. This is S tronic only, while the battery will give 37 miles of electric driving.
Opting for the hybrid will see the base price jump to just under £33k, about a £7k premium over a similar spec petrol model. Naturally, the hybrid has the potential to reduce emissions, save fuel costs thanks to home charging for short journeys, while also being more powerful.
The TFSI 35 on review is a really smooth and quiet engine, paired with that manual gearbox - which also offers an easy drive. While we've not driven the automatic on this model, experience of previous cars would also suggest the automatic would be nice and smooth too, with minimal turbo lag.
The Audi A3 is a quiet car, with very little interior noise from that engine, while wind noise at faster speeds is also minimal. The tyre noise is the most noticeable element, as we mentioned, thanks to those lower profile tyres on those larger wheels.
What's perhaps surprising is that it drives a lot more forgivingly than some Audis of the past. There's enough give to keep you comfortable on broken surfaces or suburban speed bumps, while also keeping the car nice and flat through corners at faster speeds.
That's the thing that you can really take away from the A3: it's a great car to drive, comfortable, in control, and fairly efficient too - with a reported 41mpg average in mixed driving, comparing well with Audi's official figures.
The Audi A3 has always been the compact choice for the discerning customer, proving popular on the UK's roads.
While Audi continues to offer a wide range of options for the A3 - with more performance models expected in the future - even without adding any extras, you still get the essentials covered should you choose the entry-level trim. For those wanting some degree of electric motoring, the TSFI e option brings that too, but you will have to pay a premium for it.
Overall, the Audi A3 is a fun, efficient, and nicely appointed car to drive, with all the creature comforts on offer. We can't help but think it's going to continue to be very popular, because it just gets so much right.
It might not have the prestige, but it's a cracking little car. The Renault Clio is plenty of fun in this hybrid format, but lacks the option to plug it in.
BMW 1 Series
For those wanting a premium compact car, the BMW 1 Series was designed for you.