Still licking its wounds from a test defeat to the BMW 1 Series, the new Audi A3 has to work hard to regain lost ground. Its conservative approach meant it struggled to impress as a tax-friendly diesel, so how will a sporty S line petrol version stack up against the A-Class and quicker BMW?
The mid-range Sport model in our pictures is a step up from the standard car, with 18-inch wheels and chrome detailing on the window lines, but it doesn’t have the wow factor of the Meredes A-Class. However, the S line version we tested gets more aggressive front and rear bumpers, plus side skirts and a slim spoiler. The Xenon Plus headlights and striking LED running strips are also standard-fit on S line models.
Climb aboard and the standard sports seats don’t offer as much support as the Mercedes’, but the driving position is lower, and the big rear window gives a clearer view behind. As in the A-Class, a large infotainment screen is flanked by jet turbine style air vents, although the display isn’t as sharp as the Mercedes’.
The simple layout and shortcut buttons are a doddle to navigate, however, and the classy chrome switchgear and minimalist dash give the A3 real star quality. It’s not as showy as the ‘carbon’-trimmed Mercedes, nor as focused as the BMW, but it feels built to last.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the three-door A3 matches its five-door rivals for space – it feels less cramped than the A-Class, thanks to larger windows and a narrower transmission tunnel. A five-door A3 Sportback arrives here early next year. The boot is the biggest here by a small margin, while the wide tailgate and low lip make it easy to load awkward items.
We expected the Audi to trail both its rivals at the track, and in our straight-line tests it was half a second slower than the 125i from 0-60mph, with a time of 6.9 seconds. On the road, though, the gap is smaller, and the A3’s smooth power delivery and crisp throttle are more responsive than in the A-Class. The Audi’s steering is more consistent, too, and you can alter its weight via the Drive Select button.
Our test model featured lowered sports suspension and rode harshly over bumps, so if comfort is a priority, we’d opt for the softest suspension set-up – which is a no-cost option.
The Audi is also the cleanest on test, with emissions of 130g/km making it the cheapest choice for company buyers. Go for the six-speed manual gearbox and this figure rises to 137g/km, but the price drops to £25,200 – an £870 saving over the BMW.