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In-depth reviews

Audi A3 review - Engines, performance and drive

Lots of choice on offer for the pragmatic buyer, but there are also some serious performance versions of the A3.

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 dab of firmness present. Yet even though the car is generally good to drive, the handling is still somewhat uninvolving compared to rivals like the BMW 1 Series.

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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.

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In terms of engine, we’d choose either the 30 TDI diesel or 1.5-litre 30 TFSI petrol for a good mix of economy, cost and performance. Opt for the 1.0-litre if you don't need outright speed, though it'd be unfair to call it slow. The 2.0-litre petrol is quick, but the performance comes at the expense of economy, while the more powerful diesels plenty of pace and efficiency for a more expensive initial outlay.

Engines

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 RS3. The 1.0-litre 30 TFSI makes 113bhp 200Nm of torque, while the 1.5-litre 35 TFSI delivers 148bhp and the 2.0-litre petrol 40 TFSI gets 187bhp.

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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.

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    35 TFSI Edition 1 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £0

Most Economical

  • Name
    35 TFSI Edition 1 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £0

Fastest

  • Name
    40 TFSI Quattro S Line 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £32,055
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