Everything about this car is designed to deliver on the concept of a Volkswagen Golf with just a touch more polish - and the driving experience it offers is no exception. If you're an A3 regular - or a graduate from a Golf - you'll find that this Audi now has even more of the mature drive dynamics you'll be looking for, helped by a fully digital at-the-wheel experience and the optional embellishment of hybrid power and self-driving tech. Differences with this MK4 design initially seem quite subtle, primarily centred around slightly sharper steering and handling that's now a little more responsive. That's thanks to a wider track and the introduction of a 'modular dynamic handling control system' that, based on steering movements, predictively co-ordinates interplay between all the car's dynamic systems - like a conductor with an orchestra - so the car can always be one step ahead of the drive inputs you want to make. As before, you'll need to avoid the lowest-powered petrol and diesel variants if you want the brand's suppler, more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up.
Ah yes, engines: they've evolved too: the two volume petrol units - a 110PS 1.0-litre three cylinder and the 150PS 1.5-litre four cylinder powerplant we tried - both get Audi's latest mild hybrid MHEV electrified tech, provided you order them with the 7-speed S tronic auto transmission that most A3 folk tend to want. That MHEV set-up sees an integrated 48-volt 'BAS' belt alternator starter-generator powers a 12-volt main electrical set-up in which a 48-volt compact lithium-ion battery in the boot stores energy harvested via a 'KERS' kinetic energy recovery system. If you don't care about Friends of the Earth, you can do better with the alternative conventional 30 TDI diesel model of course - which now develops 116PS using a larger, more efficient 2.0-litre unit with the brand's latest 'Twin Dosing' tech. There's also a 150PS 2.0-litre 35 TDI model option. The better eco-minded alternative though, is the 40 TFSIe Plug-in Hybrid, which mates a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine to a 6-speed DSG auto gearbox, the combination working with an 85kW electric motor powered by a 13kWh lithium-ion battery which, when fully charged, can offer a WLTP-rated all-electric driving range of up to 41 miles. If you purely prioritise performance, you're more likely to be drawn to the S3 quattro hot hatch, which, as before, uses a 310PS 2.0-litre TFSI turbo petrol unit, which is now exclusively mated to S tronic paddleshift auto transmission. At the top of the range is the 400PS RS 3.