New Audi A3 vs rivals

3 Oct, 2012 11:00am

Audi invented the premium hatch when it launched the original A3 in 1996. Can the new car take it back to top of the class?

Audi appears to launch a new model every week, but this is the car that really matters to the company: the A3.

Over the past 16 years, sales of this model have made up a fifth of Audi’s total revenue – laying the financial foundation for adventurous low-volume cars as diverse as the R8 and A7.

So what does the third-generation A3 have in store? It’s the first car to use the VW Group’s all-new modular MQB chassis, which will underpin everything from the next TT to the MkVII Golf. It also gets a modern interior, with the latest tech.

For now, the A3 is available only as a three-door, so to bridge the price gap to its five-door rivals, we test it here with the 2.0-litre TDI engine in entry-level SE spec.

Can it topple our reigning class champ: the fun and cost-effective BMW 116d EfficientDynamics? The 1 Series is less powerful than the new Audi, but it’s one of the cheapest company cars around, and is surprisingly practical, too.

Completing our trio is the Volvo V40. It lost out to the BMW by a tiny margin in our previous test, and could give the Audi a run for its money. So can the A3 return to the top of the class it created?


Picking a winner from these fierce rivals is no easy task. The depth of talent on display proves that customers searching for a new premium hatch are now spoiled for choice.

All of these cars excel in different areas, so it’s cruel that the Volvo finishes last. Its relaxed character and smart styling provide the sort of charisma that the A3 lacks, but limited practicality and steeper deprecation put it third.

The Audi makes up for a conservative exterior with a first-rate cabin, while its engine strikes a fine balance between performance and economy. Yet despite a new chassis, the handling hasn’t moved on from the old car – the firm ride and numb steering make it capable rather than fun.

So the victor – by a slender margin – is the BMW. It’s not only the cheapest and most practical car here, it also proves that efficiency and fun can go hand-in-hand. Even the extra practicality of the upcoming five-door A3 would not have changed this result.

But with the sleek new Mercedes A-Class around the corner, it may not be long before the BMW loses its top spot.