When Audi launched its original A3 back in 1996 it took the humble hatchback and gave it some panache, 16 years on and it has upped the ante again.
It's remarkable to think that the mark two has been with us for nine years, that's an inordinately long time for a model to continue largely unfettled in this day and age of new cars and/or major facelifts being launched seemingly every five minutes.
The main feature of the new A3 is that it's the first within the Volkswagen-Audi group to use the MQB, or modular transverse matrix platform that will underpin a multitude of front drive cars from the group, ranging from small hatchbacks to large family saloons. Although the engine, front axle and pedal box remain in the same location, the platform has the flexibility to permit different wheelbases, widths, heights and even accommodate all-wheel drive systems.
It also saves weight; the new A3 is a full 176 lbs lighter than its predecessor with the aluminum hood and front wings taking 24 lbs off the front wheels. And while that certainly helps in terms of dynamics with improved turn-in and better steering feel, what has made the big difference here in the UK is a choice of suspension settings.
It has long been a gripe of the British motoring press that, despite Audi's much-vaunted chassis development program spending thousands of miles testing on our roads, they never seem to get it quite right. Resulting rides being harsh and jittery, the firm suspension unable to cope with the UK's pock-marked roads and not really delivering anything superior in dynamic terms in return.
Now we have the option of a Sport suspension, that's 0.6 ins lower, or a standard set up which, wait for it, delivers a composed ride even over the UK's roads. No doubt partially helped by the longer wheelbase, I was soon whisking the car over the Downs at a rate I wouldn't have considered in the old model. And what was even more appreciated was the absence of road-tire noise, all too vocal in a Sport model I later tried, and the general air of sophistication in the cabin.
Simply styled and beautifully executed the interior is a "Honey I shrunk the A8" experience. The trouble is that's about as far as the experience does go because that actual driving character of the car is pretty unforgettable: it's quiet, refined, and comfortable, the Audi Connect system works well, but the car can feel pretty soulless to drive.
I drove both a 1.8 TFSI with S tronic and 177 bhp on Sport suspension and a two-liter diesel with 148 bhp on standard suspension and came away preferring the latter. If the gasoline-engined car had more character to it and the standard suspension, which is an option, then the tables would, probably, have been turned.
Next year we'll get a Sportback, i.e. five-door version with a marginally longer wheelbase, a cabriolet and a 138 bhp 1.4 TFSI with two-cylinder cut off for the ultimate in fuel savings.
No doubt those starting out on the lower rungs of the executive ladder will just love the latest A3 and make it, I was going to write `roaring' but that's one thing this car doesn't do, so it'll have to be a refined success.