£19,825 - £32,725 Price range
47 - 74 MPG
The Audi A3 is an upmarket small car that is praised for its looks and high-quality interior. However, it faces fierce competition in the face of premium rivals such as the Mercedes A-Class and the BMW 1 Series and also cheaper cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon, both of which use the same parts as the Audi.
In 2016 the car was given a facelift, with revised looks more in keeping with the A4 saloon, a new 1.0-litre petrol engine and extra standard equipment.
The materials used and the build quality of the A3’s interior wouldn’t look out of place in a car a few classes above. The seats are comfortable, but space in the back is tight for tall adults – making the A3 Sportback a better bet for families. The boot is bigger than what premium rivals offer, but also a bit smaller than the ones you find in a Golf or Leon.
Although it’s no BMW 1 Series, the A3 is grippy, composed and keeps body roll in check. Light controls also make for effortless city driving. Some small cars tend to be noisy on the motorway, but the A3 is pretty quiet and the suspension’s comfortable, as long as you avoid big wheels and the company’s S line sports suspension.
The A3’s diesel engines are refined and powerful, while the petrols are modern and surprisingly fuel efficient and there’s even a 300hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol in the S3. Its quick enough to give some sports cars a run for their money. The new 1.0-litre model is one of our favourites – its the cheapest in the range, but offers low running costs and nippy performance.
Equipment levels are high, with a 7.0-inch infotainment system, DAB digital radio, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and air-conditioning all coming as standard. In 2016 standard equipment was increased to include cruise control, xenon headlights, auto lights and wipers, plus a smartphone interface.
An upmarket hatchback needs an equally high-quality cabin, and Audi’s interior designers certainly nailed that brief with the A3. With plenty of plush materials used throughout and exceptionally good build quality all around, the Audi A3’s interior is a very nice place to spend time in.
The seats are also worthy of praise. Not only do they offer plenty of support and comfort, but there are plenty of adjustment options, whether they be reclining the seat backs or adjusting the lumbar support (the latter coming as an optional extra) and there’s a good amount of height adjustment in the driver’s seat.
Audi A3 passenger space
Though the driver and passenger have plenty of space, things aren’t quite as great in the back seats, with some critics complaining of slightly hemmed-in head and legroom.
However, there’s enough space for most people to feel relatively comfortable in on shorter journeys, and the rear seats are perfectly fine for children.
If the rear seats will be regularly used by adults, though, we’d recommend you look at the Audi A3 Sportback model instead: not only does it have an extra pair of doors to make rear access even easier, but there’s also a slight increase in passenger space over the regular A3.
Audi A3 boot space
Despite being based on the same platform that underpins the Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon, the Audi A3 actually has a smaller boot than its two Volkswagen Group stablemates: at 350 litres, it’s some 15 litres less accommodating than its sister cars. The boot’s also some way off from the Volvo V40’s 391-litre boot.
That said, it’s still a good overall size, the boot lip isn’t too high and the space can be extended to 1,100 litres once the rear seat backs are folded down completely flat. There’s also more boot space in the Audi A3 than there are in rivals such as the Mercedes A-Class and BMW 1 Series.
Those wanting the best premium hatchback to drive on a twisty road may want to instead opt for the sharper and more engaging BMW 1 Series, but the Audi A3 is actually a pretty decent car to hustle down your favourite back road. Overall grip levels are good, body roll is well contained, the steering is precise and all the main controls are light and easy to use, making driving the A3 a doddle.
Whilst buyers of the previous Audi A3 in S-line trim had to make do with the stiffer suspension system, it’s now possible to specify the SE spec’s set-up on all models regardless of trim level..
Factor in the impressive noise insulation, and the Audi A3 ends up being a very capable long-distance cruiser that’ll be ideal for people who regularly go on longer journeys or drive frequently on motorways.
Despite having an extensive range of engines to choose from (four petrols and three diesels) it hard to pinpoint a weakness in the A3 range. All of them offer their own respective blend of power and fuel economy, and all are available with either a manual or S-Tronic automatic gearbox.
Audi A3 diesel engines
Two diesel engines are offered: a 108hp 1.6-litre and a 2.0-litre, the latter coming with either 148hp or 181hp.
Most buyers will probably opt for the 1.6, given it’s the more affordable unit to buy and run: Audi claims fuel economy of more than 72mpg is possible, and CO2 emissions of sub-100g/km mean it’s exempt from paying road tax, when fitted with a manual gearbox. Even with the S-tronic automatic fitted, road tax is still highly affordable, costing £30 a year.
The larger diesels bring welcome added performance without sacrificing that much in terms of running costs — the 148hp engine can return 64mpg and the 181hp unit a claimed 60mpg.
Audi A3 petrol engines
Granted, the 1.0-litre and 1.4-litre engines that’ll make up the majority of petrol-engine sales aren’t as exciting as the performance orientated S3’s motor, but they are very good in their own right.
The 148hp 1.4-litre is an engine we single out for praise. Its cylinder-deactivation technology means half the engine can be rested when full power isn’t needed. As a result it can return fuel economy of 60mpg – slightly down on the 1.0-litre model, but its figure should be easier to achieve in the real world.
The newly developed 2.0-litre petrol ups power to 187hp, but can still return fuel economy of 50mpg. It can also be specified with four-wheel drive (as can the 2.0-litre diesels) – making it very grippy on the UK’s often wet and slippery roads.
Called Active Cylinder Technology, it has the ability to shut down two cylinders on light throttle loads, reducing fuel use. The upshot is 60.1 mpg combined economy, an imperceptible switch between two and four cylinders, and 140 bhp at your disposal.
Testers say the engine (also available in 122 bhp, 54.3 mpg format) is torquey, smooth, and the light weight ensures more agile handling than the heavier diesel models. It even has "real personality" according to one reviewer, noting a "Citroën-2CV-like two-cylinder thrum". It's a real alternative to the diesel options.
Well, that's the on-paper pace anyway. At best, performance is described as "adequate", with "a little on the slow side" and "wholly uninspiring" also cropping up. Refinement is better, with only a little noise at tickover and barely any vibrations. Less-sporty drivers should be more than happy enough, and those after more performance or poke should look to the 1.4 TFSI petrol or the larger 2.0 TDI diesel.
That’s not to say it isn’t terrible, though. On the contrary, quite a few of the testers were fond of the car’s smooth power delivery and civilised nature, whilst the seven-speed S-Tronic gearbox shifts gears smoothly and quickly when in Manual mode.
It’s also fairly efficient, with claimed figures of 42mpg and a £100 road tax bill, courtesy of the 130g/km of CO2 emissions. Not bad, considering this spec of A3 has similar performance stats to the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
However, there are a few niggles. Though there’s tons of grip (especially with the Quattro drivetrain), it’s not the most entertaining car to drive, and one critic wasn’t that fond of the less-than-inspiring engine note. Other slight faults, such as the gearbox’s slightly jerky manner in full-automatic mode, were also mentioned.
Still, if it’s a brisk yet desirable German hatch you’re after, then you may find the package on offer to be an appealing one. However, if it’s fast fun you’re after, we recommend either looking at some other A3 variants and rivals, or waiting a while for the S3 to arrive.
The engine itself is based on the one you could specify in the previous A3, but don’t let that put you off – it was great in that car, and it’s been tweaked here and there to make it even better. Power and torque figures are up a tad, whilst its efficiency has also been improved, with Audi claiming up to 68mpg is possible on the combined cycle and a £20/£30 road tax bill, depending on whether or not you opt for the automatic or stick with the standard manual transmission.
Quite a few testers were also impressed with the levels of refinement, with hardly any audible diesel clatter at a standstill or speed, and some even thought it was surprisingly good fun to drive by diesel engine standards.
Overall, if you’re hooked on the new Audi A3, especially for use as a company car, then we reckon you should prioritise this one over the others in the range. If you’re in no rush, though, we advise waiting for the cheaper, road tax-exempt 1.6 TDI to arrive or the 1.4 petrol with cylinder deactivation tech to arrive.
As expected from a car with a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, the Audi A3 is an incredibly safe family hatchback. The Audi scored well across the board, with quite a lot of praise being given to the protection it offered for adult occupants.
The Audi A3 also scored well when it came to the amount of safety equipment it featured as standard: all models come with stability control, a full range of airbags, cruise control, a tyre pressure loss warning system.
One noteworthy feature that comes as standard on all Audi A3 models is a ‘rest recommendation system’ that – by detecting the pedal and steering wheel inputs – can detect if the driver is feeling fatigued and alert them to the need to take a break.
The A3 range kicks off with the SE trim, which from 2016 onwards comes with cruise control, xenon headlights, auto lights and wipers, plus a sporty three-spoke steering wheel. However, the majority of buyers tend to go for either Sport or S line trim.
Audi A3 Sport
Choosing Sport trim doesn’t transform your A3 into a pin-sharp sports car, but it does get you 17-inch alloy wheels and the option to go for sports suspension free of charge. On the inside sports seats and aluminium interior trim smarten up the interior feel. Equipment upgrades over the basic model include dual-zone climate control and Audi Drive Select, which lets you adjust the weight of the steering and the sensitivity of the throttle.
Audi A3 S Line
S line models offer more of the same. On the outside they get 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, Audi’s cool scrolling indicators, and an S line body kit. The seats are finished in a mixture of cloth and Nappa leather and you also get a smart-looking flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Our Audi A3 options guide shows you which options we think are worthwhile plumping for.
It’s perhaps a shade disappointing that Audi’s taken an ‘evolutionary rather than revolutionary’ approach with the A3, but we can’t scoff much when the end result is a very well rounded family hatchback that’s good to drive, even better to sit in and won’t cost the Earth to run.
There are faults that stop it from being the best in class: rear space is tight, other rivals have bigger boots and it’s expensive even by premium hatch standards. However, there are enough positives here to make the Audi A3 an appealing prospect for those on the lookout for an upmarket hatchback.