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In-depth reviews

Audi A3 review: premium family car with low-tax plug-in hybrid power

Subtle exterior design and a tech-laden interior help the Audi A3 maintain its position as a premium family hatchback

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Price
£28,890 to £52,505
  • On-board tech
  • Interior quality
  • Practicality
  • Slightly firm ride of S line trim
  • Expensive options
  • Not particularly fun to drive
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Even though the latest Audi A3 looks familiar, its sharper exterior lines and slightly larger footprint only accentuate the premium look of the stylish family hatchback. 

Where the German manufacturer has made decisive change is with the on-board tech and interior design, offering an up-to-date digital environment with the typical Audi focus on quality materials throughout the cabin. The A3 remains as desirable as ever, but will still have its work cut out to win customers away from the equally capable Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen rivals.

About the Audi A3

The A3 has been around since 1996 when Audi decided to produce a premium hatchback to deal with the oncoming threat of the first-generation Mercedes A-Class. The debut Audi A3 model cleverly used the reliable underpinnings from its Mk4 Volkswagen Golf stablemate, and with its polished good looks, sophisticated style and superb build quality, it quickly established itself as a leader in the premium hatchback class.

Now in its fourth generation, the A3 continues to mix it amongst the best, even though the high-end hatchback sector also includes the likes of the BMW 1 Series. The latest A3 still utilises a shared platform – this time the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform – with the cheaper Golf, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia. The Audi variant differs from the others by offering big-car luxury and a desirable appeal that others still find hard to match. 

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Priced from just over £27,000, Audi offers the A3 as a five-door Sportback or a four-door Saloon model, with no room for a three-door hatch or Cabriolet version in the range.

There are three equipment levels for regular petrol and diesel for both the Sportback and Saloon variants: Sport, S line and Black Edition. If you chose the TFSIe plug-in hybrid, then it only comes in the Sportback body style and the trim levels differ slightly; Sport and S line still feature, but the most powerful 45 TFSIe model comes exclusively in S line Competition form. The hotter S3 comes in Black Edition and Vorsprung trims, while the RS 3 comes in standard, Carbon Black, and Vorsprung trim levels.

Petrol power comes in the form of either a 1.0-litre unit with 109bhp, badged 30 TFSI, or a 1.5-litre engine with 148bhp, labelled 35 TFSI. The diesel range has also been pared back to a single oilburning option: the 148bhp 35 TDI.

Plug-in hybrid power is offered in the form of the Sportback TFSI e model, available with Sport, S line and S line Competition trim levels. A 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor combine to produce either 201bhp in 40 TFSI e specification, or 242bhp in the 45 TFSI e model.

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The performance end of the range is taken care of by the 306bhp S3 and 394bhp RS 3, with both available in either Sportback or Saloon body styles. The S3 generates its power via a 2.0-litre petrol engine, while its brawny RS 3 sibling uses a 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit. Quattro four-wheel-drive is standard for both.

Used and nearly new

In production since 1996, the first-generation A3 hatchback delivered typical Audi build quality and a premium fit and finish that proved to be a winning combination with buyers. Originally only offered as a sporty three-door model, the more practical five-door version arrived in 1999 to equal success.

Moving through four generations over 25 years means there will be a host of used examples on the market, with petrol, diesel and more recently plug-in hybrid power available. Sport and S line cars offer improved equipment and a stronger exterior look, although if you're able to bag a solid car with good history then, whatever model you go for, you'll have a classy, refined family hatchback.

Audi A3 history

Used Audi A3 Mk3 - front static

Audi A3 Mk3: 2012-2020

With the Mk4 A3 model range now fully on sale, later cars from the Mk3 generation could prove to be a smart buy. The A3 generally holds its value pretty well, but sourcing a car from the previous lineup that's perhaps 3-4 years old might be the sweet spot in terms of value for money. 

The Mk3 A3 was facelifted in 2016 and, along with some styling tweaks and a couple of new petrol engines, received the option of a Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display and integrated sat-nav for certain models. Sport and S line trims are, as ever, the most popular specifications. Read our full Mk3 Audi A3 buyer’s guide here…

Used Audi A3 Mk2 - front

Audi A3 Mk2: 2003-2012

Most used examples of the Mk2 Audi A3 range will be looking a bit tired and perhaps won't feel as polished as later cars. That's not to say that this generation won't be able to provide value for money at the cheaper end of the scale, however. It still remains a desirable car, with plenty of kerb appeal and a sophisticated image. Make sure to take care with checking out the car's history and ensure regular servicing has taken place, while it might be worth researching specialists to take care of any ongoing maintenance. Read our full Mk2 Audi A3 buyer’s guide here…

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    30 TFSI Sport 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £28,890

Most Economical

  • Name
    35 TDI Sport 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £33,905

Fastest

  • Name
    S3 TFSI Black Edition Quattro 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £46,695
Executive editor

Paul was employed across automotive agency and manufacturer-side sectors before joining Auto Express in 2020 as our online reviews editor. After a brief sojourn at a national UK newspaper, Paul returned as executive editor where he now works closely with our commercial partners.

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