Audi A3 review
The Audi A3 takes fight to the BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen Golf with good looks, impressive economy and a decent drive
Audi’s A3 is a premium family hatchback that sits above the A1 supermini but below the larger A4 compact executive car in the Audi model range. Designed specifically to take the fight to the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes A-Class, Volvo V40, the A3 remains a shining sales success for the firm.
With a classy, elegant exterior, a well-crafted interior and the latest safety and efficiency technology, the A3 is far from the poor relation in Audi’s range.
Maintaining a premium look and feel inside and out has never been an issue for the A3. The latest model has undoubtedly the best interior in the class, with superb fit and finish and a really attractive design.
Audi has tuned the A3’s chassis specifically, for a sportier feel than any other hatchback in the VW Group. However, it still lacks the composed drive and level of intimacy on the road that the best in the class can offer, namely the sharp and involving BMW 1 Series. But the engine range is strong and extensive, and increasingly more fuel-efficient.
For petrol fans, there are 1.2, 1.4 and 1.8-litre turbocharged TFSI engines producing 103bhp, 120bhp and 177bhp respectively. . A fuel-saving version of the 1.4-litre TFSI with 138bhp, and Audi's Cylinder On Demand engine technology, is also available. Audi even plans to introduce fuel-sipping three-cylinder petrols to the A3 for the first time.
On the diesel side, a 1.6-litre TDI with 103bhp is offered alongside two versions of the VW Group's 2.0-litre TDI unit - coming in 148bhp and 181bhp outputs. The muscular 181bhp boasts impressive economy figures of 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of just 108g/km. Despite this, the 1.6-litre diesel and 1.4-litre petrol units are the pick of the bunch for combining economy and performance.
The Audi A3 comes in a range of trim levels - consisting of SE, Sport, S-Line and performance S3 versions. Audi's quattro four-wheel drive system is available from mid-range Sport models and up, with six-speed manual or six-speed S-tronic automatic gearboxes available across the range.
A3 SE and Sport models look fairly restrained on the outside, but range-topping A3 S-Line models get 18-inch alloys and sporty body kit.
The A3 comes in various body styles too, consisting of a three-door hatch, five-door Sportback, Cabriolet and a four-door saloon. On top of these is the 296bhp S3 that currently sits at the top of the range.
At the start of 2015 an extreme 2.5-litre five-cylinder RS3 is due to appear, which should pump out around 360bhp, and really take the fight to the Mercedes A45 AMG. There’s also an advanced hybrid A3 e-tron model - drawing on technology found in Audi's Le Mans winning R18 race car.
The impressive e-tron model is supposed to challenge the BMW i3, but doesn't feel quite as revolutionary as its fully electric (or range-extending) rival from Munich. However, the Audi is more conventional and easier to live with and considering the amount of choice in the A3 range, there should be a body style to suit every buyer.
Our choice: A3 1.6 TDI S line
The A3 carries the familiar trademarks of a car from Audi’s range, with the same style lights and large grille found on everything from the A1 to the A8. However, it's an attractive design with a quality look, so while it may be conservative when compared to the likes of the Mercedes A-Class, it's certainly a handsome car.
What the A3 lacks in exterior excitement, it makes up for on the interior with a stylish and simple dashboard design and high-quality materials throughout.
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.
Unlike the previous generation A3, the new model bucks the Ingolstadt-based company's trend of using hard suspension to improve the handling - which ultimately compromised ride comfort. The suspension on the new A3 is a vast improvement over the old car, with only a dab of firmness present. Despite being a decent general drive, though, the handling on the A3 is still a somewhat un-involving experience.
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-litre petrol engine for a good mix of economy and performance - the 138bhp versions of 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-litre TDI for great power and efficiency at the cost of refinement.
The A3 is an impressively safe car, having scored the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP's crash tests. Of particular note is its score of 95 per cent in the adult occupant protection category.
Audi has stocked the A3 with impressive levels of big-car safety kit, too. These 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 will help you get into a tight parking space.
The A3 also put in an impressive performance in 2014's Driver Power survey - coming in 16th place out of 150 cars.
The latest Audi A3 is the same length ad the previous-generation car. However, thanks to a stretched wheelbase, the interior is more accommodating for passengers than before. The wider track in the new model 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.
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 £620 makes sense. Boot space increases to 380-litres and 1,220-litres with the seats folded flat.
Choosing an A3 diesel is the most sensible option if economy is your main priority. The 148bhp 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 138bhp 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, an equivalent 1 Series or Golf will be cheaper to insure, as the A3 falls into insurance group 16. It's also quite a bit more expensive to buy than a Ford Focus or VW Golf, but standard equipment and strong residual values help to counter the higher initial outlay.
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.