Audi A3 (2012-2016) review
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.
Find out more about the Audi A3 (2012-2016)
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.
Those looking for a premium hatchback will not be disappointed by the classy A3
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.
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.
It's outclassed by sharper rivals, but it's by no means bad
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
An upmarket hatchback needs an equally high-quality cabin, and Audi’s interior designers certainly nailed that brief with the A3.