Audi A3 review – ride and handling

Never class leading, the new A3’s hardware works well enough, but its calibration is the enemy here

Evo rating
  • Able chassis; low kerbweight; basic ergonomics are right
  • Ride, gearshift and refinement all inferior to non-premium rivals; interior quality a big step backwards

Fundamentally the Audi A3 drives well. It’s core underpinnings are the well-trodden MQB component set that’s gone on to spread across most transverse-engined models in the Volkswagen Group. The new A3 makes use of the first big update on this platform, one that the Golf 8, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia have also now benefited from. 

The fundamental building blocks haven’t changed, with the A3 making use of a macpherson strut front suspension design, with either a torsion bar or multilink rear axle. Most UK-market will feature the multilink setup, but while some markets are able to combine the S-line body with standard suspension, UK S-line models are all fitted with the sports suspension setup, which fits taughter dampers and springs that give a 15mm drop in ride height. 

Rather than feeling like a nuanced and considered recalibration of the dampers to better control the bigger wheel size, the A3’s setup lacks much sophistication. Body control is impressive, but the ride has deteriorated to a point that on broken roads it renders the changes detrimental to its actual roadholding. Refinement is also oddly lacking, while wind and powertrain noise is superbly suppressed, the suspension makes a racket from beneath you over bumps.

The steering is remote, but build speed and the weighting goes a little over the top, feeling firm but still dead, which does nothing to build confidence in the corners. Overall grip is impressive so too the underlying balance, but the A3’s setup feels undercooked atop of what are fundamentally impressive underpinnings.

Having such a spread of mechanically identical rivals able to be compared on a like-for-like basis reveals the A3 to be the least impressive so far – a Golf is more refined and relaxed, the Octavia longer-legged and the Leon striking an impressive balance of dynamics and composure. The Audi is the most unresolved, uncomfortable and in all honesty feels the cheaper sibling.

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