In-depth reviews

Audi A3 Sportback review - Engines, performance and drive

The Audi A3 Sportback shares its lightweight MQB chassis with other VW Group products. This means it’s decent to drive

The MQB architecture helps the A3 Sportback feel light and agile on the road, and it delivers buckets of grip, too. When fitted with the quattro four-wheel-drive system, there’s plenty of traction when you accelerate out of a corner, as you’d expect.

The A3 Sportback rides nicely, soaking up rough and bumpy roads more effectively than the three-door. However, the S line suspension makes the ride very stiff and doesn’t really help the handling in any way.

The plug-in hybrid A3 e-tron combines a 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine with an electric motor to deliver 201bhp and 350Nm of torque. Audi claims it can run on zero-emission electric power for 31 miles at speeds of up to 81mph. As you’d expect, the silent punch is a real boon in town, but even on the open road the e-tron performs strongly and doesn't feel cumbersome, despite the addition of 125kg in batteries.

If you’re shopping at the top end of the A3 Sportback range, the RS3 doesn’t necessarily hold all the aces. True, it has a more charismatic five-cylinder engine than the S3, with more power and super-aggressive looks, and is undoubtedly quicker in a straight line, on a track or along a twisting country road. But the RS3 can feel a bit aloof when being driven within the legal limit, and when pushed hard it ultimately washes into understeer. So don’t discount the S3; it does almost everything the RS3 can, has a more neutral chassis and costs around £7,500 less if you specify the S tronic box to match.

Sport and S line customers can upgrade the standard suspension found on all A3s to a stiffer sports set-up for no extra cost, although they pay the price in ride comfort. On the same specifications, and also on the S3 and RS3, Audi Magnetic Ride – with variable damper settings – is an option costing about £1,000; on the RS3, it forms one half of the Dynamic Package (around £1,500), which also includes a sports exhaust system. Find another £1,000 or so on top of that for the Dynamic Package plus, and the RS3’s electronic speed limiter is raised from 155mph to 174mph. 

Engines

The engine range powering the A3 Sportback is almost exclusively four-cylinders, as the 1.0-litre TFSI three-cylinder seen in the A1 hasn’t yet been carried over. The only exception is the RS3, which comes with a powerful 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine that evokes Audi’s enviable Quattro rally heritage.

Starting with the petrol options, the excellent 1.2-litre TFSI delivers 108bhp and 175Nm of torque. But despite those seemingly modest numbers, it’s a smooth, rev-happy engine and provides more than enough grunt to propel the Sportback along at a decent speed.

Next up is the 1.4-litre TFSI, which is available with 123bhp and 200Nm of torque, or in 148bhp guise with Cylinder on Demand (CoD) technology; this allows it to run on two cylinders under low loads. The CoD engine delivers its power across the same rev range as the less potent 1.4, and offers 250Nm of torque.

The three performance petrol options range from warm to super-hot. The 1.8 TFSI has healthy figures of 178bhp and 280Nm, and is offered with quattro all-wheel drive. 

So is the superb S3 Sportback, which delivers 296bhp and 380Nm. It’s a very quick car, covering 0-62mph in less than five seconds with the S tronic gearbox, and rivals the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R and SEAT Leon Cupra 290.

But if that’s not enough for you, Audi sells the Sportback with a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine making huge outputs of 362bhp and 465Nm. For a brief period, the second-generation RS3 was the world’s most powerful and fastest hot hatch – until mid-2015, when the Mercedes-AMG A 45 4Matic was uprated to 376bhp and claimed a 4.2-second 0-62mph time. 

However, diesel power makes more sense in a practical car like the A3 Sportback. The 1.6-litre TDI only comes with 108bhp and 250Nm, but is offered in Ultra, regular manual, S tronic and quattro formats, all of which subtly affect economy and emissions.

The 2.0-litre TDI is available with either 148bhp and 340Nm or 181bhp and 380Nm. However, it’s not quite as refined as the 1.6, plus it’s obviously less frugal.

For the ultimate eco fan, the choice has to be the e-tron. Its punchy petrol-electric drivetrain can propel the A3 Sportback to 62mph from rest in 7.6 seconds, with a 138mph top speed in hybrid running.

The three performance versions (RS3, S3 and 1.8 TFSI) can all do 0-62mph in less than seven seconds, and every A3 Sportback can hit a top speed of at least 120mph. The slowest model is the 1.6 TDI quattro, with 0-62mph in 11.2 seconds and that 120mph top speed; most Sportbacks complete the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in less than 10 seconds.

Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    S3 TFSI Vorsprung 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £0

Most Economical

  • Name
    40 e-tron 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £32,085

Fastest

  • Name
    S3 TFSI Vorsprung 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £0

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