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Audi A3 hatchback (2012-2017) - Engines, drive & performance

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

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Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.0 out of 5

A terrifically involving driving experience is, sadly, not one of the Audi A3’s attributes. By no means is it bad to drive, but you can feel that the focus is on comfort and safety. It doesn’t put the driver in the centre of the action like a BMW 1 Series does. Happily, ride comfort is far better, since Audi has paid attention to the suspension design – it had previously been rather hard, which made motorway journeys less than relaxing.

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Even the sporty S3 model with its 306bhp engine struggles to really let the driver have fun, although there’s no doubting its performance credentials and massive grip thanks to its standard quattro four-wheel drive system. If we were choosing a small hatchback primarily as a source of driving entertainment, we’d go for a Volkswagen Golf R, BMW M140i or even a Ford Focus RS.

The default gearbox for the A3 is a six-speed manual, with a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic available as an option at increased cost. As automatic gearboxes go it’s a very good one, with smooth and quick shifts, and on most applications it actually slightly improves fuel economy. It’s a fairly costly option, but your extra outlay is likely to be reflected in higher values when it comes to sell the car on.

Audi A3 petrol engines

We’re big fans of the the smallest A3 engine. It’s a 1.0-litre TFSI petrol that’s also used in the Volkswagen Golf, but it feels right at home in the A3. Despite its diminutive size, it produces 114bhp, enough to take the car from 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds.

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However, although we maintain any car that can manage 0-62mph in less than 10 seconds is reasonably fast, the very clever and remarkably economical 1.5-litre TFSI is even nicer. It generates 148bhp, giving you plenty of power in reserve, as well as the ability to storm from 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds if you need to merge with fast-moving traffic quickly.

Although the 187bhp 2.0-litre TFSI offers very strong performance indeed, with 0-62mph taking less than seven seconds, we don’t think this makes enough of a difference in daily use to justify the higher purchase and running costs. And while the S3’s pace is astonishing, it doesn’t translate to increased driving enjoyment. We wouldn’t choose it over less expensive rivals, or even less expensive cars in the A3 range.

Diesel engines

Diesel has become the default choice for those who spend their lives on the motorway and those in the A3 are very good. The 1.6-litre TDI has 114bhp and feels strong to drive, but it’s the only engine in the range that can’t get the A3 from rest to 62mph in less than 10 seconds.

For a modest extra outlay, we much prefer the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI. It’s genuinely quick – 0-62mph takes 8.6 seconds – while only a little less economical than its smaller sister. The extra power really does make itself felt in daily driving and you’re far less likely to find yourself in the wrong gear for the maneuver you’re trying to make.

Hybrid engines

Audi also offers the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid, with an electric motor and battery pack complementing its petrol engine. This boosts its efficiency considerably – and we’ve reviewed the A3 e-tron separately.

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Richard is a former editor of Carbuyer, as well as sister site DrivingElectric.com, and he's now Deputy Editor at Auto Express. Having spent a decade working in the automotive industry, he understands exactly what makes new car buyers tick.

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