Raising the bar is, unfortunately, one of the most common automotive clichés around. So, when something does come along and actually raises the bar, there's either scepticism or little fanfare due to overuse of the term. Enter the 2022 Audi A3. It doesn't raise the bar much, but instead aggressively kicks the bar off its stand into the face of competitors and walks away like an action hero after a movie explosion.
From the outside, it's hard to say why. Visually, the A3 gets a bit more chiselled for the all-new model. There are sharper lines that make it appear lower, wider and more muscular, rather than head down the softer coupé styling now the rage for sedans. The single frame grille is larger and flanked by Audi's top class LED headlights. It's a nice looking update.
Keyless entry, with Audi logo puddle lamps at night, move entry into the premium realm. However, nothing prepares you for the interior. The dramatic lines of the exterior continue on the inside. They cross creating deep geometric patterns filled by different high-quality materials and textures. Once past that the next shock is the starkness. That's because the old automotive controls tropes, save having a steering wheel, are gone. Other than a few key buttons every surface is flat. What controls are there, require a tap, or a sweep to operate. A few bring up menus in the car's sizeable pair of digital screens.
For example, the Audi Multimedia (MMI) rotary control is gone. Left in its place are voice controls, a 10.25-inch main infotainment screen, a 12.3-inch virtual cockpit, and a small touchpad. One simply sweeps a finger on the outer edge left or right for volume, while a tap changes tracks. The shifter mechanism is a raised toggle switch to be moved back and forth. Lights, the same deal. Tap the roof light to turn it on, as one does for the headlights that are automatic anyway. So ahead is the Audi, the A3 has moved on to USB-C ports.
Seating is comfortable and adjustable to a range of needs. Cabin refinement is high and at night the ambient lighting sets a mood for luxury motoring. It feels like driving a spacecraft where the unimportant elements fade into the background.
And driving the A3 moves the game along. The Europeans have fully embraced the small displacement turbocharged engine. In days past many would be in uproar to see such a premium car fitted with a 1.4-litre motor. Audi, and their rally heritage have stepped up to the challenge, equipping the car with a fitting power plant. It is flexible in all situations. Powerful and yet efficient, when called upon it can achieve both. Left in the lower modes, 30mpg or more is possible, yet slip the A3's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission into sport mode and the driving experience moves up a rival beating notch.
The whole drivetrain and chassis are able to move from a comfortable daily driver to pure dynamic magic. The suspension is firm, but compliant making the A3 flow over uneven surfaces to maximise the thrust from the engine as the transmission snaps off shifts in rapid fire succession. The amount of cornering grip will leave one searching for a Quattro badge. As well as the Audi goes, so does it stop. The combination of acceleration, braking and lack of body roll during cornering can turn even the dullest drive into something exciting. Even the lights get in on the action, as the appropriate side lamp illuminates to assist at night when the wheel is turned.