Used car tests

Used Audi A3 (Mk3, 2012-2020) review

The Audi A3 is a popular premium hatch that’s efficient, good to drive and has a classy feel

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

  • Fantastic interior quality
  • Range of efficient engines
  • Comfortable ride
  • Expensive
  • VW Golf more practical
  • Feels a little dated

Verdict

The A3 was crowned World Car of the Year in 2014, while our sister website Carbuyer named it Best Luxury Small Car at its annual awards in 2015. Carbuyer said the A3 came out on top in its class because of its ability to “demonstrate everything that makes an Audi special” and commended it for offering “a selection of engines that ranges from the very frugal to the very fast”. It also praised the A3 Sportback for being “practical, affordable to run and hugely desirable”. While strong residuals mean the A3 can be costly to buy used, we reckon it’s worth the premium for its blend of refinement, a strong image, build quality and efficiency.

Which one should I buy?

  • Best Audi A3 for low costs: 30 TFSI 116 SE Technik 5dr
  • Best Audi A3 for fuel economy: 35 TDI Technik 5dr
  • Best Audi A3 for performance: 40 TFSI Quattro S Line 5 dr S Tronic

As all A3 engines are turbocharged, they have plenty of pulling power, while the S tronic twin-clutch automatic gearboxes are just as good as the six-speed manuals.

The A3 originally came in SE, Sport and S line trim, when entry-level cars featured 16-inch alloys, a 5.8-inch display, eight-speaker hi-fi, Bluetooth, Isofix, remote central locking and electrically adjustable mirrors. Also included are heated windscreen washer jets, a multifunction steering wheel, electric front windows (and rears on the Sportback), plus air-con. Sport adds 17-inch wheels, sports seats and suspension (lowered by 15mm) and dual-zone climate control. S line cars come with 18-inch alloys, part-leather, xenon headlights plus sportier design details inside and out.

We’d recommend a post-2016 Audi A3. Facelifted cars went on sale in May of that year, with a nip and tuck for the exterior styling, a new 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the Audi A1, a new 2.0-litre petrol engine, the option of a Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display, with the further option of navigation or Navigation Plus for the standard-fit seven-inch retractable media display. Trim levels kicked off with the SE, but many buyers opted to upgrade to SE Technik, Sport, S line or Black Edition.

What are the alternatives?

The BMW 1 Series is the Audi’s closest rival in terms of price, size and image. It’s also available with a wide choice of engines and bodystyles, and while prices can be high, supply is plentiful. The Volkswagen Golf Mk7 is another tough adversary; it’s a bit more affordable, yet mechanically it’s the same, although not all of the A3’s engines were offered in the Golf, plus there was no four-wheel-drive option in the mainstream line-up. More affordable still is the Mazda 3, which features sharp styling and generous equipment, but if a premium badge is key, take a closer look at the Mercedes A-Class.

Mercedes A-Class vs Volkswagen Golf vs Audi A3

Mercedes A-Class vs Volkswagen Golf vs Audi A3

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How much will a used Audi A3 cost?

Although it shares a platform with the SEAT Leon, Skoda Octavia and VW Golf, many buyers were prepared to pay a premium for the Audi A3. This, and the availability of affordable finance, helped the A3 to become one of the most popular cars in Europe, consistently hitting the top 10 in the UK’s monthly sales chart.

This means there are plenty to choose from on the used car market, with prices on a par with premium rivals, such as the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. The good news is that the A3 is one of the most desirable cars on the used car market, so while you’ll pay a little more to buy one, you should find that it will hold on to its value better than more mainstream family hatchbacks.

Prices

There are literally thousands to choose from on the used car market, with prices starting from around £5,000 for a 2012/2013 example. That’s more than an equivalent Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra, but there’s a noticeable upshift in quality and premium appeal.

Entry-level SE and SE Technik models are relatively rare in the UK, as many new car buyers opted to upgrade to the more stylish S line trim. You’ll pay more for an A3 S line, but it should be easier to sell when it’s time to move it on. You can check out the latest used prices for the Audi A3 on our sister site Buyacar or value a specific model using our valuation tool.

Fuel economy and emissions

An A3 diesel is the most sensible choice if efficiency is your main priority. The 148bhp 2.0-litre 35 TDI in SE Technik trim and with a manual gearbox manages a claimed 56.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 131g/km. The 181bhp 40 TDI (in S line trim and with a manual ’box) is less efficient thanks to its increased performance, with 44.8mpg and 165g/km. Note that these figures are for the Sportback model; other bodystyles and trim levels have marginal fluctuations as a result of weight, wheel size and drivetrain differences.

Petrol engines are usually a lot less frugal, but the 1.0-litre unit in the 30 TFSI (with a manual gearbox) is nearly as economical as the lower-powered diesel and is nicer to drive; combined fuel economy of 49.6mpg is claimed in entry trim, along with 128g/km.

Our real-world choice is the 1.6-litre 30 TDI with a manual gearbox, which returns a claimed 51.4mpg and 143g/km. It's less refined than the 1.0-litre petrol, but for many the economy figures alone will be enough to make the difference.

The Audi A3 e tron plug-in hybrid is covered in a separate review.

Running costs

All A3 Mk3s come with variable servicing that allows up to 19,000 miles or two years between checks. Expect each service to cost around £295, or £200 for a 10,000-mile oil change if you prefer annual maintenance. At three years old, an A3’s minor service will drop in price to £159.

All diesels plus the S3 have a timing belt that needs to be replaced every five years or 75,000 miles. Expect this work to cost £455, or £599 if the water pump is replaced.

Fresh brake fluid is needed after three years then every two years (at £59), while the air-con should be serviced every two years; dealers charge £79 for this to be done.

An equivalent BMW 1 Series or VW Golf will be cheaper to insure, as the Audi A3 falls into at least insurance group 16. Surprisingly, though, the RS 3 doesn’t sit in the highest insurance group in the A3 range; that dubious honour goes to the S3 Cabriolet (group 42). The RS 3 sits in insurance group 40.

Whether you go for one of the performance models or a lower-spec diesel, Audi offers a wealth of electronic safety assist systems and quattro all-wheel drive on the A3, much of which will help lower insurance premiums.

The Audi A3 is quite a bit more expensive to buy than a Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf, but decent standard equipment, the brand’s perceived quality and strong residual values help to counter the higher initial outlay.

What do owners think?

After making its debut in 2014’s Auto Express Driver Power satisfaction survey in 16th place, the Mk3 A3 dropped to 27th in 2015, beaten by the Peugeot 308 and SEAT Leon. Sixth for build quality is no surprise, while in-car tech (22nd), performance (26th), handling (33rd) and reliability (36th) are further highlights.

Reliability

Audi finished a disappointing 23rd out of 29 brands in the Driver Power 2021 manufacturer’s survey, with a score of 84.91 per cent. All of the Japanese and Korean manufacturers finished ahead of Audi, with only Vauxhall, Ford, Fiat Dacia, Citroen and MG finishing behind the German company. This makes Audi the lowest ranked premium brand in the 2021 survey.

How practical is it?

The Mk3 Audi A3 hatchback is the same length as 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.

With four models to choose from, there should be a model for everyone. The most practical is the five-door Sportback, but the three-door hatch isn't much smaller, while the Saloon also offers a big boot. The Convertible is the least versatile, but that's to be expected.

Dimensions, cabin and boot space

Although broadly similar in most dimensions, the Sportback is more than just a three-door A3 with two extra doors grafted in at the back. While the cars have the same front-end styling, the Sportback gets its own rear light clusters and is longer than the three-door A3, at 4,310mm compared with 4,237mm. It also has a longer wheelbase and is slightly higher.

The Saloon is longer again, at 4,456mm, but its wheelbase is the same as the Sportback’s, while the cabriolet is marginally shorter than the four-door it is based on, at 4,421mm.

Front headroom is a metre and more in all models, rising from 1,000mm in the Cabriolet to 1,021mm in the Sportback. However, the Saloon and Cabriolet have more limited rear headroom, at slightly more than 920mm each instead of 950mm-plus in the hatchback and Sportback models.

Elbow room is at its widest in the front of the Cabriolet, with 1,468mm on offer, but this version’s cabin is by far the narrowest in the rear of all four models – its 1,203mm is a long way behind the next smallest version, the three-door A3, which provides 1,411mm. This means the A3 Cabriolet is a strict four-seater, where the other A3s should be able to take five average-sized adults.

The A3 Saloon has the biggest boot of all models in the Audi A3 range with the rear seats up, at 425 litres. The Sportback manages 380 litres, the hatch 365 litres and the Convertible 320 litres, although the hatch and Sportback have the largest cargo area with the rear bench folded down, at 1,100 and 1,220 litres respectively. The Saloon manages 880 litres and the Cabriolet 678 litres on this score.

As a side note, specifying quattro all-wheel drive eats into boot space, by around 35 litres on the Saloon/Convertible and 40 litres on the hatch/Sportback. The RS 3 and e-tron models have the smallest ‘regular’ boots of all, losing 100 litres over other Sportbacks – the RS 3 due to the sporty chassis and exhaust back box, and the e-tron thanks to its lithium-ion battery pack. Both cars record 280 litres with the seats up and 1,120 litres when the seats are down.

Equipment and technology

The A3 carries some familiar Audi trademarks, with the style of the lights and the large grille found on everything from the A1 to the A8. However, it’s an attractive design with a quality look, but it's more conservative than the likes of the Mercedes A-Class and Volvo V40.

For us, the most visually appealing model in the range is the Saloon model, which has the sharpest looks of any A3 and is one of the neatest three-box designs in the entire Audi range. The second-generation Cabriolet is based on the Saloon’s underpinnings, which ensures it appears a classier soft-top than its dumpy-looking predecessor.

A3 SE, SE Technik and Sport models look fairly restrained on the outside, but range-topping A3 S line and Black Edition models stand out more with their 18-inch alloys and sporty bodykit. The S3 is set apart by its quad exhausts, plus silver detailing and badging, while the RS 3 has flared wheelarches, two big oval tailpipes and its own logos.

Audi Exclusive allowed new car buyers to choose from any of the firm’s paints or a wide selection of exclusive shades, while the custom option let them pick whatever colour they wanted. Buying one of these cars should ensure you stand out from the crowd, but make sure the likes of Viper Green and Solar Orange aren’t too ‘out there’, because you might have trouble reselling the car.

What the A3 lacks in exterior excitement it makes up for on the inside, with a stylish and simple dashboard design and impressively high-quality materials throughout. It looks a bit dated next to its more modern rivals, however. Things improved with the 2016 facelift, which is why we’re focusing on these models here.

Entry-level SE spec cars get 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and rear parking sensors, with the higher trims adding significant luxury equipment from there. The SE Technik model cost just £395 more than the SE and added navigation and different alloys to the mix.

Every A3 gets a slick, 5.8-inch infotainment screen that pops out from the top of the dash. This is controlled by a rotary wheel on the centre console – which is an excellent feature to find on entry level models.

A Technology Pack includes Audi's Virtual Cockpit system; it's a brilliant upgrade that lets you display anything from the screen in front of you, in between the digital dials. It's easy to use, looks great and makes it safer to glance at the sat-nav, too. Also look out for cars with the desirable Comfort & Sound pack, because this includes a fantastic Bang & Olufsen sound system, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors and hill-hold assist.

Safety

The A3 is an impressively safe car, having scored the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP’s crash tests. Of particular note is its result 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.

What’s it like to drive?

It’s neither as engaging to drive as a BMW 1 Series nor as comfortable as a Mercedes A-Class, but you could argue that the Audi A3 offers the ideal compromise between the two. Fine in standard models, but those in search of driver engagement might need to look elsewhere. The RS 3 and S3 models, while quick, lack the precision of a performance 1 Series.

Engines and performance

All engines in the Audi A3 range are four-cylinder turbocharged units, with the exception of the entry-level 1.0-litre three-cylinder and range-topping 2.5-litre five-cylinder in the RS 3. The 1.0-litre 30 TFSI makes 113bhp and 200Nm of torque, while the 1.5-litre 35 TFSI delivers 148bhp and the 2.0-litre petrol 40 TFSI gets 187bhp.

The diesels make more financial sense, though, and while the 40 TDI has the best power and torque figures, plus reasonable refinement, it’s not as frugal as the 30 TDI, which makes 108bhp at 3,250-4,000rpm and 250Nm of torque from 1,750-3,000rpm. The 2.0-litre diesel in the 35 TDI delivers 148bhp and 340Nm, while a higher-tuned version in the 40 TDI produces 181bhp and 380Nm in its more powerful guise.

The 2.0-litre TFSI engine in the S3 has figures to match the Volkswagen Golf R, with 296bhp and 400Nm of torque. But the RS 3’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder leaves even that in the shade. It serves up 395bhp from 5,850-7,000rpm and a huge 480Nm from 1,950-5,850rpm. The RS 3 has the edge for aural appeal, too, thanks to trick exhausts and that great five-cylinder noise.

Performance is strong across the range, with only a handful of models, mainly 30 TDI models, unable to complete the 0-62mph sprint in less than 10 seconds. With the twin-clutch automatic gearbox, the S3 Sportback can do 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, which isn’t far off the bombastic RS 3’s time of 4.1 seconds.

On the road

This latest A3 bucks the Audi trend of using hard suspension to improve the handling – which ultimately compromised ride comfort in the previous-generation model. The suspension on the current A3 is a vast improvement over the old car's, with only a touch of firmness present. Yet even though the car is generally good to drive, the handling is still somewhat uninvolving compared with rivals such as the BMW 1 Series.

This is particularly true on the RS 3 Sportback. Although it serves up ballistic pace and secure quattro four-wheel-drive grip, it’s ultimately found wanting in the fun department. The S3 is better, possibly because your expectations are set lower to begin with, but it can do 90 per cent of what the RS 3 can do for significantly less cash. We'd still opt for a VW Golf R, however.

All versions of the Audi A3 get a standard suspension setting, but on Sport and S line models buyers can opt for sportier, stiffer suspension at no extra cost. Just beware that with this set-up, the ride is significantly firmer, and road noise is increased enough to make it quite a bit less refined. We'd avoid it unless cornering is an absolute priority.

What should you look out for?

The Audi A3 has a premium feel throughout, with build quality on a par with any of the cars in its class. Excellent paint quality and a robust interior should mean that a used A3 looks and feels as good as a new one. Running costs are higher than those of a mainstream hatchback, but there are some common issues that you need to look out for.

Common used Audi A3 problems

Interior

Inside, the A3’s finish and layout are exemplary. But low-spec cars can be sombre. Space is good, although the Sportback is worth having if you use the rear seats a lot.

Engine rattles

Some early examples of the 1.4 TFSI engine suffered from rattling under acceleration, because of the wastegate actuator rod vibrating.

MMI infotainment system

The screen for the MultiMedia Interface control system slides out of the dashtop, but it can creak. The mechanism needs to be lubricated or even replaced.

Water pump

Some owners have had problems with leaking water pumps, leading to the coolant level dropping. Look out for puddles under the car.

Doors

The long doors of the three-door A3 improve access to the back seats. But they’re also prone to damage down the trailing edge when opened.

Recalls

The Mk1 and Mk2 A3 were recalled 14 times. But in the first three years of the Mk3’s life, Audi  issued just five recalls across its entire range – although most of these affected several models at a time. That was until, of course, the worldwide VW Group recall hit 11 million cars. The Mk3 A3 is one of the models involved in the emissions crisis.

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