All-rounder makes a subtle step forward

When you are a major international car manufacturer, a glorious range-topping supercar is only ever a small part of the picture.

Audi has that covered of course; witness the R8, but what matters more is the bread-and-butter stuff, which is where the latest A3 comes in.

Since the German firm first entered the premium compact segment in 1996 it has sold a remarkable 2.7 million A3s spread over two generations.

But where there is success there is greater competition, which is why the latest A3 has an even tougher fight on its hands.

It’s not hard to spot that this is an A3, of course. Subtle evolution is the name of the game when it comes to the exterior design. It’s sharper, leaner and slicker with some edgier detailing all over.

Then you climb inside, and where you would expect an Audi to be particularly strong, the new A3 manages to be even better than that.

Compared to the last version the latest A3 has a more pared-back dashboard, with just a thin strip of switches across the centre of the dash sitting above the air conditioning controls.

In pride of place in the centre of the dash is a large and attractive colour monitor. Like much of the new kit in here it gives the impression of being taken from an Audi further up the pecking order. The other tasty inheritance is the touchpad device for the Multi Media Interface.

First seen on the A8 saloon, this allows the driver to trace letters and numbers to input sat-nav destinations or telephone numbers. But this touchpad now sits in the centre of the large control wheel; a clever alteration that cleans up the space around the gearlever and avoids unnecessary clutter.

There’s plenty of substance to go with the elegant wrapping, as the new A3 has a longer wheelbase and is a fraction wider than before yet weighs as much as 80kg less thanks to an aluminium bonnet and front wings.

Underpinning all that is a new chassis that is lighter and stiffer than before, while the impressive mix of petrol and diesel engines are either new to A3 or revised.

And the way the A3 behaves on the road is a reflection of the car as whole; controlled, refined and unflappable.

You could say that the new A3 doesn’t represent a giant leap forward, but it makes significant strides in all the important areas to give an overall package that is very hard to fault.