The Audi A3 1.4 TFSI has a 'drive me' character the old A3 never had

Audi's new A3 looks just like its dad – but there the similarity ends...

Price: From £19,205
Engine: 1,395cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbocharged, 122bhp
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 126mph, 0-62 in 9.3 sec, 54.3mpg, CO2 120g/km

Here is the new Audi A3, the third generation to bear that name. "Are you sure?" you might wonder. "Haven't you used a picture of the old one by mistake?"

Audi has long been strong on family resemblances, and you could argue that it makes the designer's job easier. At best this new car is a facelift of the old one, with current Audi motifs such as the rounded corners on the radiator grille, the headlights with their slender inner sections, and wider rear lights continuing into the tailgate. Or so it seems at first.

Actually, apart from the engines (themselves modified), this is an entirely new car, because underpinning it is the Volkswagen Group's new MQB platform, a modular construction able to be made in various sizes to suit a supermini here, a saloon or mid-size hatchback there.

This saves money, because it's easy to standardise components. And these savings can be used to improve those components, in particular to make them lighter by using aluminium or high-strength steels. Typically a new A3 weighs up to 80kg less than a similarly engined previous one.

The new car sits on a slightly longer wheelbase but the overall length has not changed. There is more room inside, and a dashboard which manages to break away from the standard Audi layout while retaining an aura of quality. Bright-coloured inserts for seats and doors can be had in "velvet leather" with a suede-like feel, and the air vents are four round works of art. They look like miniature jet engines, and the bright-metal outer rings are shaped for a better grip.

The only bad point is that the new, improved "multimedia interface" requires enough space on the console behind the gear lever to leave no room for a proper handbrake, so we have to suffer an electric parking brake instead.

If there is a worry as to whether the new A3 will be fun to drive, given the first one was dull and the second little less so, it is soon clear that this model is a revelation. The MQB platform retains the multiple-link rear suspension of the Golf and previous A3, and although copied from a Ford Focus it's a very good system. Here, it is calibrated beautifully, making the car feel fluently precise through corners while soaking up bumps with a nonchalance few drivers of current Audis would recognise.

And that's true even in the versions with bigger wheels, although the cars I drove at launch all had the "standard" suspension. So don't spoil your new A3 with a sportified suspension option.

Three engines are offered at launch, a 1.4 petrol turbo with 122bhp, a 1.8 petrol turbo with 180bhp (the raciest option but available only with a seven-speed, double-clutch automatic and, in the UK, that sportified suspension) and a 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel with 150bhp.

Others arrive later – as does Quattro four-wheel drive transmission. The two most interesting are a 1.6 TDI with 105bhp, a 99g/km CO2 score and a smoothness which more than makes up for gentler progress than the 2.0 offers, and a version of the 1.4 turbo which switches off two cylinders when driven gently. I love this engine; it has a useful 140bhp yet you can hear brief snatches of a Citroën-2CV-like two-cylinder thrum. It gives the A3 real personality as well as impressive economy and as much performance as you need.

This is the best A3, and is due later this year. But any car from the new range is a desirable object, with a "drive me" character the old A3 never had. Even if the new one does look uncannily like its father.

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