Audi A3 review: 1.0-litre hatch tested in the UK

The new Audi A3? It looks like the old one.

The A3 has had the lightest of prods from the surgeon’s knife to pep it up four years into its life.

Its consolidated status as one of the top ten best-selling cars in Britain – ahead of many vastly cheaper family hatchbacks with similar performance – suggests that’s a safe play by Audi.

But there’s a new engine?

Yes, a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo, which develops 113bhp and 147lb ft, and whose forged internals mean it’s a proper little bantamweight – just 88kg all in, in fact. For an internal combustion engine, that’s hardly anything at all.

It’s a virtuous circle: light internals means less need for a heavy balancer shaft to smooth out the odd cylinder count’s inherent wobbliness, so the engine stays lighter, and so on.

But no good for tailgating with such measly power?

The A3 1.0 TFSI is not a fast car. Cars tuned to deliver a combined 62.8mpg and 104g/km of CO2 rarely are. But, these three-cylinder turbo engines have a habit of punching well above their (small) weight by being so peppy and keen, and that same trait we like in various 1.0-litre Fords, Vauxhalls and VWs rings true here. Or should that be ‘thrums’.

Officially, it’ll do 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds and 128mph flat out, but the in-gear shove is completely acceptable for dashing along the motorway. The three-pot revs keenly up to 4,500rpm but then starts to sweat and strain. You need to work a bit for your torque here.

Still, it’s a match for the old 1.2-litre engine’s performance (itself a turbo downsized from 1.6s of old) and actually sounds characterful, not dull. That’s a bonus. You’d rather have a fun than flat sounding engine, wouldn’t you?

Should I go for an auto or manual?

Audi’s optional seven-speed S-tronic gearbox is a fine transmission for making the most of the bijou outputs. But the manual is a peach when hooked up to this bubbly engine. It’s a crisp and premium-feeling shift that adds engagement and allows you to make the most of that peppy engine and decent chassis.

Is it fun to drive?

It’s the best A3. Cliché alert: less truly is more. The fact there’s around half the weight lurking behind the wider, more angular front grille than the best-selling diesel versions means the A3 turns in sweetly and then, unlike its TDI sisters, continues to hang on in there rather than shrugging in despair and juddering its brakes to trim your line.

Is it ultimately as sweet as a Ford Focus or Mazda 3? Frankly, no. But in the cheapest, greenest, quietest A3, Audi’s got a lot closer than ever before. However, the A3 trumps them all in overall quality that puts it a division above in the premium ‘ooo, I want one of them!’ stakes. Which, to some people, is enough to justify the extra cost this car carries.

And when I’ve calmed down and just want to lope around?

Settle into a more relaxed pace and it’s an exceedingly quiet motor too. That fits rather nicely with the general Audi-ness of super-tight panel fit and pleasingly knurled edges to all the bits you click and twist in the cabin.

It’s an immaculately put together bit of kit, which must be a major factor in people shunning the cheaper stuff to get a slice of this designer label action.

Unless your company beholds you to a diesel one – hardly flavour of the month right now as politicians sharpen their NOx-tax pencils – this new 1.0 TFSI is a very complete family hatch that works in every situation most UK drivers will subject it to. Not that anyone will spot it’s a new one, mind.