Audi A3 Sportback review
The A3 Sportback is one of the best cars Audi makes, with decent practicality, a sharp drive and good looks
This time round, Audi has stretched the wheelbase by 35mm. This means rear passengers benefit from decent legroom (not a strong point on the old car) and the boot is also bigger. The trouble is, this additional room comes at a premium of around £600 over the three-door A3.
Still, with a classy, high-quality cabin, stylish looks inside and out and a range of superb engines – including a plug-in hybrid with a theoretical 580-mile range – there’s an A3 Sportback to suit everyone. Plus, all models, from the 1.2 TFSI up to the high-performance RS3 flagship, claim highly competitive fuel consumption and emissions figures for this class.
So as long as you like the looks – and it’s not quite as sleek as other versions of the A3 – this premium five-door should quickly prove why it’s one of Audi’s best all-rounders.
Despite the fact that the Audi A3 has been in the UK since 1996, and that a five-door model has been available from 1999 onwards, the Sportback name only appeared in 2004 during the lifecycle of the second-generation A3.
On the original Mk1 A3, the five-door looked barely any different to the three-door, but for the second generation, Audi made sure the Sportback was easily identifiable by giving it different rear light clusters. And it has carried that theme over to the latest Sportback, which is longer than the three-door and has a stretched wheelbase. This leads to a different glasshouse arrangement around the C-pillar, as well as slimmer rear light clusters, making the five-door a doddle to spot on the road.
Even though it hasn’t been in production for as long as the regular hatch, the Sportback currently has the widest model range of any Audi A3. Not only can buyers take their pick from the full range of petrol and diesel engines as found in the three-door, Saloon and Cabriolet variants, as well as a high-performance S3 version, the five-door is exclusively available with the ultra-frugal e-tron hybrid drivetrain, too. Plus, the top-of-the-range RS3 mega hatch is solely offered in the Sportback bodystyle.
Trim levels still run SE, SE Technik, Sport and S line, but an equipment overhaul of the range for the 2016 model year saw 2D satellite navigation introduced as standard on every model bar the SE – and that includes the S3 and RS3 Sportbacks.
Sat-nav used to be a cost option on all A3 five-doors apart from the SE Technik, so it’s a welcome addition, although of course, the move has brought an increase in price. Just bear in mind that the set-up isn’t the classy MMI Navigation plus with the beautiful 3D mapping; that remains an expensive upgrade as part of the £1,100-plus Technology Pack (around £1,500 on the SE). Only the Sportback e-tron gets MMI Navigation plus as standard.
Nearly every version is available with a choice of six-speed manual or S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmissions, with the automated set-up an option at around £1,500 where it’s available. Some versions of the Sportback are only available with the S tronic auto, like the 1.8 TFSI quattro, the RS3 and the e-tron. Confusingly, the S tronic box offered in the 1.2, both 1.4s and the RS3, as well as the 1.6-litre TDI, is a seven-speed set-up, while the version available in the 1.8 TFSI, S3, e-tron and both the 2.0 TDIs has six ratios.
Sportbacks are mainly front-wheel drive, but quattro four-wheel drive is an option on the 1.6 and 2.0 TDI models, while it’s standard on the 1.8 TFSI, S3 and RS3. Where it can be specified as an upgrade, expect to pay around £1,500 for the peace of mind all-wheel traction provides.
A highlight of the range is the 1.6-litre TDI Ultra model. It’s 55kg lighter than the regular 108bhp diesel, features longer gearing and comes fitted with low-rolling-resistance tyres, and is the eco champion of the A3 line-up for those who aren’t prepared to take the plunge with the hybrid e-tron. The tweaks allow the Ultra to deliver claimed economy of 83.1mpg and CO2 emissions of just 89g/km, which mean it qualifies for 16 per cent Benefit in Kind company car taxation. As it requires 16-inch wheels for the specialised tyres, the Ultra is only available in SE or SE Technik spec.
Slotting into Audi’s line-up between the A1 hatch and all-new A4, the A3 Sportback rivals established premium five-doors such as the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class, as well as the Volvo V40, Lexus CT and Infiniti Q30. As it’s based on the VW Group’s advanced MQB platform, potential A3 Sportback buyers would also be well advised to consider the cheaper ‘in-house’ alternatives, in the shape of the Volkswagen Golf, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe A3 Sportback is one of the best cars Audi makes, with decent practicality, a sharp drive and good looks
- 2Engines, performance and driveThe Audi A3 Sportback shares its lightweight MQB chassis with other VW Group products. This means it’s decent to drive
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsThe Audi A3 Sportback won't break the bank to run; even the S3 and RS3 models claim commendable fuel economy
- 4Interior, design and technologyLatest exterior styling isn't as pert as the A3 hatchback's, but the Sportback has a superb, spacious cabin
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe Sportback has the biggest boot of any A3 with the rear seats folded, plus the most passenger space
- 6Reliability and SafetyA five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating and excellent Driver Power showing make the A3 Sportback an attractive proposition