Audi A3 hatchback
Price £19,365 - £33,840
- Big choice of engines
- Very refined
- Classy cabin
- Expensive to buy
- BMW 1 Series is better to drive
- Not much room in the back seats
At a glance
“The Audi A3 is a well-built and technology-rich family hatchback, with a well designed interior that feels like it’s from the class above.”
The Audi A3, originally launched in the 1990s, was the first of the ‘premium’ hatchbacks to go on sale – it took eight years for BMW to launch their rival, the 1-Series, and now the Mercedes A-Class is a competitor, too. Audi certainly haven’t rested on their laurels though, and the A3 range now offers more choice than ever before.
The standard Audi A3 hatchback has three doors and the A3 Sportback version has five. The A3 Saloon competes against the Mercedes CLA, while the A3 Cabriolet offers soft-top thrills. There are also high performance S3 and RS3 versions.
Audi has been forced to work hard to keep the A3 in and around the top spot in its class, but it remains as successful as ever. It still justifies its premium image and price tag against the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, as well as other cars from within the VW empire, namely the Volkswagen Golf, Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia, which all share the same running gear as the Audi.
Upmarket appeal is provided by the Audi A3's crisp, clean, exterior styling, as well as an interior that is not only classy and stylish, but among the best in terms of quality that you’ll find in a car of any price. The car also boasts the most up-to-date technology and safety equipment you can buy.
There's a huge range of engines to choose from, both petrol and diesel, and with a broad spread of power outputs. Petrol engines come in 1.0, 1.4 or 2.0-litre guises, with a turbocharged 2.5-litre fitted in the fire-breathing RS3, which is one of the fastest hatchbacks in the world. Diesel engines are either 1.6 or 2.0-litres.
Gearbox choices are six-speed manual or a dual-clutch automatic that has either six or seven gears depending on the engine. The automatic gearboxes are very good, and they actually improve fuel economy slightly. They’re more expensive to buy, but you’re likely to get a fair amount of that money back when the time comes to sell the car.
Drivers who prize economy above all can choose the 108bhp 1.6-litre TDI diesel. It can return economy of 74.3mpg and costs nothing in road tax. Our favourite, though, is the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel. It still achieves a very impressive 70.6mpg fuel economy, yet its 0-62mph time is reduced to just 8.5 seconds, making it usefully quicker too.
Drivers who cover shorter daily distances, or who spend more time in town, would be wise to choose a petrol A3. Even the smallest 1.0-litre is fairly quick, with a 0-62mph time of 9.7 seconds - it's affordable to run as well thanks to 62.7mpg fuel economy. Our preference, though, is for the 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol. It's even more economical, returning 62.8mpg, thanks to a clever system that can shut down parts of the engine when full power isn’t needed. It's faster, too, with an 8.1-second 0-62mph time. More performance is available from the bigger engines, but it comes at the cost of reduced fuel efficiency, especially in the very fast S3 and extremely rapid RS3 version, which we have reviewed separately.
For absolute economy there is an Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid available as a five-door Sportback, combining a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor. It's intended to rival the BMW i3 range-extender electric car, but is more conventional than the futuristic BMW.
The Audi A3 is a front-wheel-drive car, but you can specify Audi's quattro four-wheel-drive system on certain models. In truth, the majority of drivers are unlikely to need the extra grip often enough to justify the price increase, reduced fuel economy and higher road tax.
Audi uses the same trim-level designations on the A3 as it does on other models. A3 and A3 Sportback can be chosen as SE , Sport or S line models. SE is our favourite, coming with smart alloy wheels, a DAB radio, air-conditioning, cruise control and front electric windows. There's also a seven-inch infotainment screen that retracts into the dashboard; it can be linked with a smartphone to enable the use of navigation and other phone-based apps. SE-Technik adds built-in sat-nav and different alloy wheels.
The Sport trim features the same equipment as SE-Technik, but adds 17-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control and the Drive Select system for adjusting the way the car handles. S-Line models bring a unique sports interior, bigger 18-inch alloy wheels and LED lighting front and rear.
The S-Line model also has lowered sports suspension, with the intent of offering a more involving, rewarding driving experience and it does this very well, making the A3 more fun to drive. It still doesn’t quite match the driver-appeal of some of its latest rivals, though; enthusiastic drivers might prefer the sharp, responsive BMW 1-Series.
Meanwhile, the S3 and RS3 have their own specific packages to match their performance and price tags, although both models still only have sat-nav as an expensive optional extra.
The Audi A3 finished in 47th place in our 2016 Driver Power survey, with build quality, in-car technology, performance and handling all rated very highly by owners. However, reliability, seat comfort and running costs came in for some criticism, although improvements carried out for the 2016 model year may change things. Safety, meanwhile, is excellent and the A3 carries a full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
Overall the Audi A3 stands up well as a high-quality, stylish family car with the latest in technology. If you need a little more space the Volkswagen Golf or SEAT Leon are worth considering, but the Audi remains a solid and very much respected all-rounder.
You'll get excellent fuel economy and low emissions from most Audi A3 models, while insurance and servicing won't break the budget
The Audi A3 is a great cruiser thanks to its predictable handling and comfortable ride. There isn't really a bad engine in the range, either
The Audi A3 has one of the best interiors in this class
While the Audi A3 shares many parts with the SEAT Leon and VW Golf, it’s a little less practical, but it still has reasonable space for four
Audi A3 owners praise their cars' reliability and it’s got a good reputation for safety thanks to a high Euro NCAP crash-test rating