Audi A3 review
The new Audi A3 combines looks, economy and a good drive to rival the BMW 1 Series and VW Golf
The Audi A3 is a premium hatch that rivals the BMW 1 Series, Volkswagen Golf and Volvo V40. It sports the attractive looks, advanced technology and top-quality interior associated with the rest of the Audi family.
This Audi A3 feels a bigger and more expensive car than previous generations of Audi’s hatchback but it still isn't quite as good as a BMW 1 Series to drive. The Audi A3 shares much of its underpinnings with the Volkswagen Golf and features a wide range of excellent engines. These include a line-up of 1.6-litre diesels and 1.4-litre petrol units,which are the pick of the bunch for combining economy with performance.
Further up the engine scale, Audi offers the A3 with a punchy 182bhp 2.0 TDi that returns combined cycle figures of 68.9mpg and 108g/km.
The Audi A3 comes in a variety of trim levels starting at the SE. The car can also be specified with either the standard six-speed manual or six-speed S tronic automatic gearbox.
The Audi quattro four-wheel drive system is available from mid-range Sport models up, while the range-topping A3 S Line models get 18-inch alloys and a sporty bodykit which alludes to the performance orientated S3. Optional Alcantara sports seats that come with S Line logos are also available as an option.
In addition to the three-door hatch and five-door Sportback models, the Audi A3 is also available as a Cabriolet and a saloon, as well as a 296bhp S3 model. Later in 2014, an extreme 3.2-litre RS3 will go on sale, as will a plug-in hybrid e-tron version, which draws on technology from its Le Mans winning R18 race-car.
The Audi A3 e-tron is supposed to rival the BMW i3, but doesn't feel as revolutionary as its rival from Munich. However, the Audi is significantly easier to live with and considering the amount of choice in the A3 range, there should be a body style for any buyer.
Our choice: A3 1.6 TDI S line
The A3 looks little different to the majority of other Audis, and it shares the same style lights and gaping grille found on almost every other car it makes. However, it's a handsome design with a quality feel to it, so while it may be a tad conservative compared to the likes of a Mercedes A Class, it's certainly attractive enough.
What the A3 may lack in exterior excitement, it makes up for inside thanks to the superb standard of materials Audi has used in the cockpit and its neat dashboard layout.
Entry-level SE spec cars get 16-inch alloy wheels, stop-start technology, air conditioning and Bluetooth tech as standard. What's more, every A3 gets a slick, 5.8-inch screen that pops out from the top of the dash. This is controlled by a rotary wheel on the centre console - an excellent feature for a base model car to have.
The Audi A3 bucks the Ingolstadt based company's trend of using a hard suspension to improve handling at the price of comfort. Thankfully, the new A3 is the opposite of this and the suspension is much better than the previous generation car with only a dab of firmness. Despite being a decent drive in general, the handling on the A3 is a still somewhat un-involving.
All models of Audi A3 get a standard suspension setting, but on Sport and S Line models, buyers can opt for a sportier, stiffer suspension at no extra cost - be aware though, that the ride is significantly firmer with this setting.
In terms of engine, we'd choose either the 1.6-litre TDi or 1.4 petrol engine for a good mix of economy and performance - the petrol model can turn off cylinders when they're not needed to save fuel. Go for the 1.8-litre petrol if you need speed at the expense of economy, or the 2.0 TDI for great power and efficiency at the cost of refinement.
Having scored five-stars in its Euro NCAP crash tests, the Audi A3 is an impressively safe car, especially with its score of 95 per cent in the adult occupant protection category.
Audi decks the A3 with a high level of safety systems that include optional radar-controlled cruise control that maintains a set distance to the car in front, lane-keep assist, hill hold assist and a pre-sense system to prepare the car in the event of an accident. Another optional safety feature is a self-park system that can turn the wheel for you to get into tight spot.
Despite its impressive standard kit and numerous safety systems, the Audi A3 finished 110th out of 150 cars in our 2013 driver survey, meaning its owners aren't completely satisfied with its reliability.
In spite of this, Audi has worked hard to rectify the problems of the second generation A3, which were largely its overly stiff suspension, high-running costs and poor levels of standard equipment.
The newest Audi A3 is the same length as the second-gen car. However, thanks to its longer wheelbase, the interior is even more accommodating for passengers than before. The wider track used by Audi also gives occupants more elbow room.
In terms of practicality, one downside of the Audi A3 is that the rear can be a bit cramped for taller adults, but getting in and out of the three-door shouldn't be much trouble for both.
Thanks to its improved dimensions, the Audi A3 gets more room in the boot and space is now extended to 365 litres with the rear seats in place - when folded, this grows to 1,100 litres. However, the BMW 1 Series is still bigger as it offers 360-litres and 1,200-litres, while the Volkswagen Golf offers 380-litres and 1,270-litres of boot space.
If you need the extra room, opting for the five-door Sportback for an extra £600 makes sense. Boot space increases to 380-litres and 1,220-litres with the seats folded flat.
If economy is your main priority when choosing your Audi A3, then opting for a diesel is the most sensible choice. The 2.0-litre TDI returns a combined cycle of 68.9 mpg and has CO2 emissions of only 106g/km. The smaller 1.6-litre TDI returns CO2 emissions of 99g/km and economy of 74.3mpg.
Petrol engines are usually a lot less economical, but the Audi A3's 1.8 TFSI actually gets 50.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 130g/km - not bad considering the performance on offer. Plus, the clever 1.4-litre petrol features cylinder deactivation to return 54.3mpg and emit only 120g/km of CO2, making it usefully cheap to tax.
However, because it falls into insurance group 16, an equivalent 1 Series or Golf will be cheaper to insure. It's also quite a bit more expensive to buy than a Ford Focus or VW Golf, but standard equipment is excellent. Residual values should be good, too.
The service schedule ranges from 9,000 miles for minor checks to 19,000 miles for a full service. Audi offers a range of fixed-price deals, though, so owning an A3 shouldn’t prove too costly.