Audi A3 Sportback

The five-door Audi A3 Sportback adds practicality to the understated style and quality

The Sportback fills in parts of the A3’s repertoire where the three-door falls short. The added versatility of the five-door layout is worth the extra outlay, and while the car could look more inspiring, there’s no faulting its build quality or the finish of the interior. The 1.4 TFSI petrol engine is also a gem, providing a great mix of fuel economy and performance.

If ever a car company was welded to the philosophy of evolution, not revolution, it’s Audi. While it seems intent on filling every niche imaginable, all of its cars are instantly recognisable, thanks to their sharp lines, distinctive lights and gaping grille, with the famous four-ring badge in the centre.

The new A3 Sportback continues this evolutionary trend. As with the three-door, the overall design is very similar to the car it replaces, with the biggest differences being new lights front and rear, while there are sharper creases running along the flanks.

Rather than simply grafting a pair of back doors on to the standard A3, Audi has tweaked the bodyshell and extended the wheelbase by 35mm to 2,636mm, to free up extra space. As a result, the Sportback looks a little more upright than the three-door A3, and has to give second best to the Volvo for style.

Climb inside, and you’re greeted by the same dash layout as in the three-door model. That means you get a simple, minimalist centre console and neat white-on-black dials with a digital display set between them. While the design is more restrained than the V40’s, the simple, no-nonsense layout grows on you and is easy to use.

All A3s now get a retractable screen that pops up from the dash, and its functions are controlled via the MMI wheel and switches on the centre console. Everything works with precision and feels upmarket, while the Sport model tested here adds a sports steering wheel and aluminium detailing. There are also sports seats, which are supportive and help provide a perfect driving position, although the Volvo’s seats are more comfortable.

In the rear, the Sportback’s extended roofline creates more headroom for passengers, and the larger windows mean it doesn’t feel as closed-in as the Volvo. Legroom is similar in both cars, and you get three full-size back seats, headrests and belts in the A3.

Move further back, and the Sportback’s deep 380-litre boot is well ahead of the V40’s 335-litre space, plus it has a wider opening. In fact, the boot is as big as the largest in the class, and the floor can be raised to create a completely flat load area when the 60:40 split back seats are folded.

Under the bonnet, the 120bhp 1.4 TFSI turbo petrol engine trails the Volvo’s 148bhp 1.6, but it delivers similar performance and pulls cleanly, even from low revs. The slick-shifting six-speed gearbox is great to use, too, while the weight of the steering can be adjusted by pressing the Drive Select button on the dashboard. The system is standard on Sport models and above, and will also sharpen up the car’s throttle response.

Another standard feature of our test car was the sports suspension. While this makes the A3 stable in corners and reduces body roll, it does add a firm edge to the ride when you’re taking things easy. However, you can specify the standard suspension settings from the SE for no extra cost, so if comfort is your priority, we’d recommend that switch.

Both cars get climate control, Bluetooth and a USB connection as standard, although the Volvo does have cruise control and keyless start. But the £21,050 A3 1.4 TFSI Sport we tested undercuts the V40 T3 SE by £1,180, and there’s a longer list of options.These are reasonably priced compared to the Volvo’s extras, which tend to be bundled into costly themed packs.

Aside from a stingier fixed-price servicing deal, the rest of the financial picture falls in the Audi’s favour. While road tax is the same, company car bills are slightly lower, insurance is cheaper and you’ll get more for your A3 Sportback when you come to sell it on.

Add in better on-test fuel economy, and the newcomer makes a very strong case for itself.

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