Audi A3 hatchback
Price £18,865 - £32,710
- 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 is a three-door family hatchback that goes up against other premium models like the Mercedes A-Class, BMW 1 Series and Volvo V40. As such, it's more expensive than similarly sized cars like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, but the A3 is more luxurious than either the Golf or the Focus. In fact, Audi's interiors are so well built and designed that the A3 is arguably nicer inside than anything Mercedes, BMW or Volvo can offer.
If you’re after an A3, there's no shortage of body styles to choose from: the Audi A3 Sportback has five doors over the standard model's three, while the soft-top A3 Cabriolet offers roof-down thrills and the A3 Saloon competes in the executive market. We’ve reviewed all of these models separately.
Audi offers the three-door A3 with four petrol and three diesel engines, enabling you to prioritise economy, performance or a combination of the two. For drivers after a frugal car, the 108bhp 1.6-litre TDI diesel can return 74.3mpg and won’t cost you a penny in road tax. The 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel is our pick of the diesels, though, thanks to impressive 68.9mpg fuel economy and a 0-62mph time of just 8.5 seconds.
If you don’t cover that many miles or mainly use your car for short journeys, you’ll be better off with a petrol-powered A3. The entry-level 1.2-litre is quick enough, with a 0-62mph time of 9.9 seconds, while its 57.6mpg will make it affordable to run. Moving further up the petrol range, there's a 1.4-litre available with either 120 or 138bhp.
We recommend the 138bhp 1.4-litre petrol, partly because it's available with Audi's ‘cylinder-on-demand’ system. This shuts down half the engine when it's not needed and means the more powerful 1.4-litre is actually the most efficient of the petrol range. The clever cylinder-on-demand technology gives the A3 excellent fuel economy of 62.8mpg yet, when you need extra power, it allows the A3 to go from 0-62mph in just 8.1 seconds.
While there are no bad engines in the A3 line-up, the 1.8-litre petrol is expensive at almost £30,000 and – in this company – quite thirsty, managing only 42.8mpg, partly due to this model's standard-fit four-wheel drive. The 1.8-litre petrol's 178bhp is enough to propel the A3 from 0-62mph in just 6.7 seconds, though, making it a seriously swift car. If you want even greater performance, Audi makes a very quick S3 model (which costs about £2,000 more than the 1.8-litre A3), as well as the five-door high-performance RS3, which we’ve reviewed separately.
The A3 is front-wheel drive by default, but Audi also offers its quattro four-wheel-drive system on some models. While this is worth considering if you’re likely to need extra grip, for the majority of drivers quattro is an unnecessary expense. It reduces fuel consumption by about 10mpg, bumps road tax up by a band or two and adds about £1,500 to the purchase price.
The A3 comes as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, but do try the seven-speed S tronic automatic when test-driving an A3, as we feel it suits the car better than the manual. The automatic also improves fuel economy and CO2 emissions slightly and while it costs about £1,500 more than the manual, you should recoup some of this cost when it's time to sell or trade-in your car.
Audi offers the A3 in four trim levels, starting with SE and rising through SE Technik, SE Nav and S line Nav. The entry-level SE gets our recommendation, as it comes with alloy wheels, DAB radio, air-conditioning, front electric windows and an infotainment screen that pops up from the dashboard when you start the car.
If you want more equipment, SE Technik adds larger alloy wheels and sat nav, while the Sport Nav comes with stiffer sports suspension and Audi's Drive Select adjustable handling system. Top-spec S line Nav cars have larger 18-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights and part-leather seats.
Do bear in mind that the SE Nav and S Line Nav trims come as standard with sports suspension, so be sure to ask about this during the buying process. If you find this too stiff and are after comfort rather than sporty handling, Audi will fit the standard suspension to these models at no extra cost.
Owning an A3 should be a painless affair, with a 27th-place finish (out of 200 cars) in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey indicating generally contented drivers. Owners praise the Audi's build quality and performance, while outright practicality was the only real negative. If you need a bit more space, it's worth considering a Volkswagen Golf or SEAT Leon, as both these cars have bigger boots and more space in the back than the A3.
The A3 is a very safe car, scoring the full five stars in its Euro NCAP crash-tests. All models come with seven airbags and electronic stability control as standard.
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