Audi has just launched its new and improved A3. And while it may look a lot like the previous model, the car features many revisions under the skin!Audi has just launched its new and improved A3. And while it may look a lot like the previous model, the car features many revisions under the skin!

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor should be easy enough, though. Since its launch in 1996, the first generation A3 proved to be extremely popular, with almost 875 000 sold worldwide.

The previous A3 enjoyed great appeal among young and upwardly mobile buyers, and an attempt has been made to mimic this with the new design. And while the new car is still identifiable as an A3, its distinctive soft contours have given way to bolder and more muscular lines.

The completely new A3 range will be introduced in stages, starting with the 103-kW 2,0 TDI which retails R234 500 and comes standard with the top-of-the-range "Ambition" package. Throughout 2004, Audi will introduce its four- and six cylinder engines into the South African market.

The extensive choice of engines for the A3 includes three new options. The Audi engineers have increased the size of the highly popular TDI engine to two litres with four valves per cylinder. Other engines planned for release in South Africa are the petrol-engined 2,0 FSI, producing 110kW, as well as the striking 3,2-litre V6 quattro.

Audi will also introduce the new Direct Shift Gear technology with its manual and automatic applications on the 2,0 TDI early in next year, followed by the 2,0 FSI. The monstrous 3,2 V6 with 184kW will be available towards the end of next year with a choice of either a DSG or 6-speed manual gearbox. Inspired by motor racing technology, this transmission has twin automated clutches that permit rapid gear changes with no break in the flow of power from the engine.

You'll also have a choice of changing the gears either sequentially or by using the paddles located on the steering wheel.

The new A3 is a bit bigger too: the wheelbase has been lengthened by 65 millimetres, and the body is now 30 millimetres wider. The car's height has been reduced by 10 millimetres.

In front, there are clear glass headlamps, tapering flanks and characteristic double grille. The body tapers towards the rear, which features refreshingly clear and uncluttered styling.

Designed for sportiness and agility, it features a refined McPherson strut layout and four-link independent suspension at the rear.

The FSI and TDI come standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, while 17-inchers and sports suspension are standard on the V6 and all models include visually appealing exposed exhaust pipes. Speed-dependant power steering is a new feature for the A3.

Only the 2,0-litre FSI will feature the basic "Attraction" trim level, though the sportier "Ambition" package is optional. Standard items include height adjustable and heated seats, a rear-window sun screen, electronic climate control and a front-loading CD player.

Options include a CD shuttle housed in the cubby for convenience, a navigation system, Xenon headlamps, a glass electric sunroof and a choice of 14 paint finishes. The car also includes a light sensor with automatic headlamp control for increased visibility. Barring the 2,0-litre FSI, fog lamps are standard on all models.

The acoustic parking system eases the parking process by sounding signals that change depending on how far the car is from an obstacle.