£19,985 - £32,885 Price range
47 - 74 MPG
The Audi A3 Sportback is the most practical version of the German brand’s family hatchback. Sporting five doors for better access compared to the regular model’s three, and a small estate-like boot unlike the A3 Saloon’s ‘three box’ design, the Sportback offers hatch-like styling with enough practicality for most families – in fact it has more space than rivals such as the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class, and is a match for the Volkswagen Golf.
Designers took a typically ‘Audi’ approach to the car’s facelift in 2016 – the grille was reshaped, the headlights subtly updated but ‘if it ain’t broke…’, as they say. The rest of the car is as desirable as the rest of the Audi range with sharp creases defining the bodywork, an imposing hexagonal grille and bold LED lighting signatures.
Inside, buyers will be pleased to find Audi’s hewn-from-granite build quality is present and correct. There’s less of the overtly luxurious feel you might find in a high-end Mercedes A-Class, instead Audi’s gone for a sense of cool sophistication with minimal switchgear and simple, handsome materials and controls. In addition, the fantastic Virtual Cockpit is now offered as an option – although we reckon you’d be mad not to spec it.
The engine range covers all bases from fuel-sipping diesels to powerful petrols and – in the form of the e-tron – a plug-in hybrid that can achieve triple-figure fuel efficiency while offering hot hatch-like performance. Slick-shifting DSG automatic gearboxes feature on the options list along with the firm’s legendary quattro four-wheel drive.
Trims break down into three levels – basic SE, mid-range Sport and top-spec S line. SE models get air conditioning, an infotainment system and DAB digital radio. Sport is the best compromise and adds climate control, lots of aluminium trim inside and out, and sat-nav. S line mainly adds sporty visual upgrades such as a body kit so is only worth it if you want the extra style.
Among its healthy supply of positive points, the A3’s interior nearly steals the show. The first thing that strikes you is the quality of materials used – soft-touch plastics, leather and piano black or aluminium trim adorn every surface you touch and lend the car a very upmarket atmosphere. Build quality is likewise stellar with no discernable squeaks or rattles coming from the dash or cabin trim.
All A3s get Audi’s MMI infotainment system as standard. It’s easy to use thanks to being controlled by a physical knob rather than the fiddly touchscreens fitted to some rivals, and the menus are logically laid out. Step up to mid-range Sport trim and the system gains sat nav but we’d also strongly recommend the £1,395 Technology Pack Advanced, which includes wireless charging and the brilliant Virtual Cockpit replacing the car’s dials with a large configurable display.
Audi A3 Sportback passenger space
Front accommodation is plentiful and, thanks to the extra space between the wheel over the three-door A3, rear passenger room is good too. A six-footer will comfortably be able to sit behind another and things only start to feel a little tight with three across the back seat – the firm central seat and sizeable transmission tunnel put foot room at a bit of a premium.
Audi A3 Sportback boot space
The 380-litre boot is 50 larger than the three-door A3 and about on par for the class. It gains some extra points, however, for its square shape and variable-height boot floor allowing you to reduce the load lip or increase overall space should you need it. You also get a range of hooks, nets and tethering points to make using the space easier and some models offer 40:20:40 seat folding for added practicality.
The A3 is almost the definition of an all-rounder. It doesn’t necessarily excel in any one area but instead strikes a great balance between comfort, stability and agility.
On the road, it feels grippy – even without the quattro four-wheel drive – and takes the edge off big bumps while smoothing little ones out neatly. It’s also refined, making long journeys a very easy undertaking. Sport and S line trims get progressively lower, firmer suspension but you can swap this out for the comfier Dynamic setup for no extra cost – something we’d recommend.
Audi is synonymous with quattro four-wheel drive and more powerful engines in the A3 range get it as an option. In dry conditions you’re unlikely to notice much of a difference but, if you live in a rural area, it can help you avoid getting stuck. Equally, if you’re driving very fast, it adds an extra layer of stability when you tackle a series of bends.
The standard six-speed manual is slick to use and easy to operate but most buyers are likely to want to upgrade to the S Tronic twin-clutch automatic gearbox. Thanks to its intelligent programming, swift shifts and plentiful ratios, there’s no real penalty to performance or efficiency and you can take over gear selection via the paddles behind the steering wheel for that ‘F1 driver’ experience.
Adding the S Tronic ‘box also gives you the option of speccing the Driver Assistance Pack. It’s pricey at £1,950 but includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist, automatic high beam assist, traffic sign recognition and traffic jam assist – the latter will stop, move and steer the car through slow moving traffic for you. It also includes emergency assist which brings the car to a controlled stop if it detects the driver is asleep or unconscious.
Under the bonnet, there’s an option to suit every taste and budget. For the most part, the petrol engines will suit the majority of drivers with their smooth power delivery, quiet operation and lower purchase price compared to the diesels. Drivers who cover very high mileages can choose from the VW Group’s familiar and very respectable range of diesel engines.
Audi A3 Sportback petrol engines
Three turbocharged petrol engines are offered – a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit with 113hp and claiming 62.8mpg kicks off the range and is more than sufficient for town duties and light motorway work. Step up to the 1.4-litre with 148hp and it uses cylinder deactivation technology to match the smaller engine’s economy while delivering near-hot hatch performance.
The fastest ‘regular’ petrol engine is the newly developed 2.0-litre turbocharged unit with 187hp. This delivers strong performance while fuel-saving tech makes sure it still averages 50.4mpg. If you want a truly rapid A3, however, you can consider either the mildly unhinged 296hp S3 Sportback or the truly bananas 362hp RS3 Sportback.
Audi A3 Sportback diesel engines
Two diesel units are offered for drivers who cover very high mileages. The smallest is the 1.6-litre unit already found elsewhere in the VW Group – with 109hp and claiming 74.3mpg, it never feels quick but is strong enough for most buyers needs. It is, however, grumbly both at a cruise and when accelerating so we’d suggest trading up to the 2.0-litre diesel if you can.
That 2.0-litre is used on loads of VW and Audi models and is one of the most refined units in the class. The 148hp version is more than powerful enough for most buyers and its 70.6mpg in non-quattro form is very respectable. If you want yet more diesel performance, a 182hp version of this engine is offered and averages 58.9mpg – though, we don’t think you’ll really need it.
Audi A3 Sportback hybrid
If you regularly commute into the city centre but also need a car that works at higher speeds, the A3 Sportback e-tron might be the perfect option. Blending the 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor means you get a hot hatch-like 204hp when you put your foot down but an astonishing 176.6mpg when you don’t. Careful use of the accelerator and a strict battery charging regime could see you complete your commute on electric power only, slashing your annual fuel bills.
It may not be overly powerful, with outputs from 120 horsepower to around 140 (for models with cylinder deactivation), but performance is still respectable, at under 10 seconds to 60 mph. Testers say there's also less emphasis on keeping the engine perfectly within a set power band to make decent progress, unlike the diesel models.
Unless you do high motorway mileage, the cheaper-to-buy 1.4 TFSI should be a better option than the 1.6 and 2.0 TDIs for most drivers.
Not that the 1.6 TDI doesn’t have other virtues, of course. It may only develop 105 bhp but it does so smoothly and with little drama. Testers praise its torquey nature, even if it doesn’t get down the road like the more powerful 2.0-litre models. 0-62mph takes 10.9 seconds but the headline figure is mpg, not mph - it’ll do 74.3 miles to every gallon (officially), and sit at motorway speeds all day with little fuss.
If you don’t need the extra performance of the 2.0, save a little money and get the 1.6 - you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
One reviewer found themselves a little disappointed by the engine’s pairing with Audi’s dual-clutch gearbox. Unusually, its responses were a little slow, with a delay between selecting a gear with the paddles and actually getting it. With the quattro transmission, it’s the only gearbox available, so bear that in mind. The engine is flexible though, and returns a decent 50.4 mpg combined.
Drivers describe its “hot hatch performance”, which in numeric terms refers to a 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds and a top-end of 144 mph, for the 180-horsepower models. On the other side, you get upwards of 64.1 mpg combined, depending on the model. CO2 is as low as 108 grams per kilometre, for low road tax.
To drive, testers say the engine is “stronger than ever”, with more in-gear urge than the old car. It’s not as refined as the smaller 1.6, but in isolation, few will mind.
The A3 Sportback hasn’t been tested under Euro NCAP’s latest and most stringent rating system, but was tested under the older 2012 rules where it scored five stars. We’re not sure if it’d repeat this performance today but we’re sure it’d still post a respectable score thanks to its comparatively modern chassis and plentiful safety equipment.
All the usual passive aids are present including traction control, stability control and a brace of airbags. Disappointingly active safety aids such as adaptive cruise control, lane assistance, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beams, traffic sign recognition and automatic braking are only optionally available with the pricey Driver Assistance pack.
The A3’s trims are fairly easy to navigate. Things kick off with basic SE models, with SE Technik adding a few choice extras. Mid-range Sport trim cars get a few additional goodies and a slightly sportier look, while top-of-the-range S line versions get the meanest look of all and the most toys. The best pick for most owners is mid-range Sport trim, unless you really want the S line’s extra style.
Audi A3 Sportback SE
Entry-level A3s get reasonable standard equipment including 16-inch alloy wheels, start/stop, xenon headlights, air conditioning, a leather steering wheel and a seven-inch infotainment screen with DAB digital radio, USB and aux inputs.
Audi A3 Sportback SE Technik
SE Technik builds on the SE with sat nav for the infotainment system, different 16-inch alloy wheels and rear parking sensors. This model is primarily aimed at the fleet market but private buyers might find it offers the right blend of price and equipment.
Audi A3 Sportback Sport
Sport gets 17-inch alloy wheels, a sportier-looking bodykit and metal trim for the exhaust, windows and interior. Inside, climate control, driving modes, sat-nav for the infotainment screen and sports seats complete the look. Buyers also get the choice of regular or sports suspension for no extra cost, although it’s worth deciding whether you’d prefer more control or comfort on the move.
Audi A3 Sportback S line
S line is the pinnacle of the A3 range so gets 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and brake lights, and an even sportier S line bodykit. Cabin occupants are treated to extra LED interior lighting, brushed aluminium trim inlays, stainless steel pedals and a luggage compartment for the boot.
The A3 Sportback is simply a car that does everything very well. With reasonable interior space, decent luggage capacity, good refinement, grown-up comfort, smooth performance and an easy-to-drive character, it’s hard to think of a car buyer it wouldn’t suit. That it also hails from one of the most desirable manufacturers currently around is mere icing on the cake.
It bests the Mercedes A-Class in effectively every area and is only slightly outdone by the sportier BMW 1 Series for driver engagement – though the A3 Sportback is more practical and more comfortable in the real world. Frankly, if you just need ‘a car’, have around £20,000 to spend and like the way it looks, you’d be mad not to test drive the A3.
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