Audi A3 Sportback review
The A3 Sportback is one of the best cars Audi makes, thanks to excellent practicality, a sharp driving experience and good looks
On this occasion, Audi has stretched the newest-generation A3's wheelbase by 35mm. This means rear occupants are treated to genuinely decent legroom (not a strong point on the old car), and the boot is also bigger. The additional room, though, comes at a premium of around £600 over three-door.
In addition to the entry-level SE model, the mid-range Sport and the upper-level S Line variant, Audi also makes a Black Edition version of the A3 Sportback, which gets black interior trim and exterior details.
A hot S3 version of the Audi A3 Sportback is also available. An even hotter Audi RS3 is also on the cards for the future, and we believe it'll be one of the best hot hatches on sale when it arrives in early 2015.
There’s even a clever plug-in hybrid option – Audi’s first road-going ‘e-tron’ car, which runs silently as an electric car around town and offers combined petrol and electric power when demanded.
The Audi A3 Sportback has also been made more efficient than ever. It's powered by a range of turbocharged petrol engines that extends from a 1.2-litre unit up to the powerful 1.8-litre motor and the 2.0-litre unit in the S3. The 1.8-litre engine is available with Audi's 4x4 quattro system while the S3 gets all-wheel-drive as standard. Cars with the 1.4-litre TFSI engine are also available with Audi's intelligent Cylinder on Demand (CoD) technology, which aids efficiency.
Diesel buyers can choose between a 1.6 or 2.0-litre TDI, with the bigger engine once again available with four-wheel drive. There is also an ultra efficient e-tron hybrid model, which takes technology from Audi's Le Mans winning R18 race-car.
The Audi A3 Sportback also looks better than the three-door, so factor in its well-built, high-tech cabin, efficient engines, grown-up handling and new-found practicality, it's one of the best cars in the current Audi range.
Our choice: A3 Sportback 1.6 TDI Sport
Engines, performance and drive
The MQB architecture helps it feel light and agile and delivers buckets of grip, too. When fitted with the quattro system, it's what you'd expect when you stick it into a corner - it just won't slip.
The A3 Sportback rides nicely and soaks up rough and bumpy roads in a way far better than the three-door can. However, the S Line suspension makes the ride as stiff as a board and doesn't really help the handling in any way.
The plug-in hybrid A3 e-tron combines a 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine with an electric motor, to deliver 203bhp 350Nm. Audi claims the e-tron can run on zero-emission electric power for 31 miles at speeds of up to 80mph. As you'd expect, the silent punch is a real boon in town, but even on the open road the e-tron performs strongly and doesn't feel cumbersome despite the addition of 125kg in batteries.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Audi A3 Sportback is available with a broad range of engines, which start with the turbocharged 1.2-litre TFSI petrol engine. Audi has made a real effort to reduce fuel economy and its hard work shows.
In regular spec the 1.2-litre TFSI will it'll return 57.9mpg, with emissions of 114g/km of CO2. When fitted with Audi's dual-clutch S-tronic gearbox, the numbers increase marginally to 115g/km of CO2 and 56.5mpg.
The next petrol engine in the Audi A3 Sportback range is the 1.4-litre TFSI. On a basic level, it emits 123g/km of CO2 and returns 53.3mpg. When fitted with the S tronic gearbox, its CO2 emissions reduce to 116g/km and its fuel economy improves to 56.5mpg.
The 1.4-litre TFSI unit can also be specced with Audi's CoD technology. This cylinder cut-off tech sees emissions drop to 112g/km of CO2 as well as an improved MPG of 58.9. If the CoD unit is specced with the S tronic 'box, figures improve again to 60.1mpg and 110g/km of CO2.
The remaining petrol engine in the mainstream Audi A3 Sportback range is the rapid 1.8-litre TFSI. With four-wheel drive and the S tronic system fitted, it emits 152g/km of CO2 and returns 42.8mpg. The standard front-wheel drive 1.8-litre car emits 135g/km with 48.7mpg. With the dual-clutch system, it returns 58/9mpg and emits 129g/km of CO2.
Only two diesel engines are available in the Audi A3 Sportback range. A 1.6-litre TDI that emits 99g/km of CO2 (making it exempt from road-tax) plus an mpg rating of 58.9. With the S tronic box, it has emissions of 102g/km of CO2 and manages 72.4mpg.
The 2.0-litre diesel comes with varying levels of power output, and in standard 148bhp guise, it manages 67.3mpg plus CO2 emissions of 108g/km. With the S tronic box, it'll do 62.8mpg and emit 119g/km.
The 181bhp version of the same engine is both very quick and very efficient, and it'll return a very respectable 67.3mpg and emit just 110g/km of CO2.
Audi also makes the 181bhp 2.0-litre A3 Sportback available with quattro. This variant comes with the S tronic gearbox and it returns 57.6mpg with 129g/km of CO2.
Good for a claimed 176mpg and 35g/km of CO2, the A3 e-tron is exempt from road tax and the London congestion charge. Eligibility for the government’s £5000 plug-in car incentive also drops the purchase price below £30,000.
In addition to its efficient engines, the A3 Sportback benefits from strong residuals, meaning you'll get more of your cash back when it's time to sell. It's not all good news, though, because unlike Volkswagen and BMW, Audi doesn't offer any form of pre-paid servicing package.
Interior, design and technology
Unlike the old model, the latest Audi A3 Sportback is more than just a five-door A3. Thanks to the extra 35mm in the wheelbase, it rivals its sister car - the Volkswagen Golf - for space. It's also more practical than a BMW 1 Series.
While some buyers will feel that the Sportback doesn't look as good as the standard three-door A3, there's no denying it has a sporty yet classy design. Sport and S Line models have a suspension that's been lowered by 25mm, making the A3 Sportback look even sportier.
Like the rest of the cars in the Audi line-up, the A3 Sportback's interior is outstanding thanks to excellent build quality and understated design. All versions are also fitted with air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone connection, leather steering wheel
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The extra 35mm Audi has added to the A3 Sportback's wheelbase has massively freed up space in the rear. In the old car, rear space wasn't exactly a strong point.
The extra doors also make fitting in a baby seat a whole lot easier. The extra space means four six-foot adults can fit in the front and rear with no problem.
The A3 Sportback gets 380 litres of bootspace, 50 more than in the standard three-door car. When the rear seats are folded flat, this creates a 1,220-litre loading area. Impressively, those figures are better than a five-door BMW 1 Series, Mercedes A-Class and Volvo V40.
If storage space is your biggest concern, beware the four-wheel drive Quattro A3 (or the e-tron, with its space-eating battery back). Both varaints lose 100 litres of boot space due to the compromises of their respective powertrains.
Look closely, and the stylish interior benefits from plenty of useful storage space, including a large glovebox and deep door bins.
Reliability and Safety
The Audi A3 finished 16th out of 150 cars in our 2014 Driver Power Customer satisfaction survey. The new MQB chassis is also tested in other Volkswagen Group cars, so it should be reliable. The same goes for the engines.
The Audi A3 also scored a full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and there's a whole raft of safety systems to help prevent accidents. These include a lane departure warning system, and a 'Pre-Sense' program that tightens up the seat belts and closes the windows if the car enters a skid.