Both the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series are quality products that offer buyers understated style, excellent build quality and a prestigious German badge. Audi has recently revealed a facelifted A3 that includes lots of new tech, tweaked styling and revised engines. We compare it against its arch rival – the BMW 1 Series – to see which is the best choice.
Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series – styling
From a distance, it’s a struggle to tell a new A3 from the outgoing model, but nearly every panel has received minor changes. The main difference is from the front – the standard xenon headlights are more angular than before, while the grille has increased in size and also benefits from sharper lines. Elsewhere, the A3 looks as understated and composed as ever, but buyers of the new model will have several vibrant new colours to choose from.
The BMW mirrors the look of its larger siblings with a muscular, sporty demeanour. As a hatchback, however, it isn’t as well proportioned as the Audi and its front end looks somewhat bland. It’s worth bearing in mind that both these cars are available in three-door and five-door form, the five-door A3 being called the Sportback – both cars look sleeker in three-door form at the cost of some practicality.
Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series – interior & practicality
Everything in the A3’s interior is impeccably put together and makes the occupants feel they’re in a much pricier car – just like a premium hatchback should. The firm’s MMI infotainment system comes with all models, but the facelifted model allows you to spec the brilliant Audi Virtual Cockpit – a HD screen that replaces the standard dials, meaning the driver can choose between an analogue display or a map readout behind the wheel.
The BMW’s interior is by no means poor, but the design and dashboard layout can’t match the new A3. There are dozens of trim and upholstery options to choose from, however, allowing a greater degree of personalisation. The BMW’s standard equipment is also impressive – the 6.5-inch iDrive infotainment system features sat-nav as standard, while features including automatic headlights and keyless entry make the 1 Series easy to own.
If you regularly carry rear passengers, you’re better off opting for the five-door versions – you’ll have no problems fitting kids into the three-door but you’ll need five doors to ferry four adults around in comfort. Neither car’s boot space is class leading, but the BMW fractionally outdoes the A3 with 360 litres of capacity – the Audi makes do with 350.
Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series – driving
Behind the wheel, the A3 is a capable car – underneath it shares many components with the ubiquitous Golf, resulting in similarly impressive handling characteristics. Precise controls, well-weighted steering and a comfortable ride mean it’s a lovely car to drive whether you’re in town or up and down the motorway. If you pick S-Line trim, the suspension will be stiffer – this slightly improves handling at the expense of ride quality but can be swapped for a comfier setup as a no-cost option.
Although the A3 is impressive to drive, the 1 Series is the one to go for if you’re after a true driver’s car. Unless you opt for a four-wheel drive xDrive model, the 1 Series gets a sporty, rear-wheel drive setup offering great balance and handling. Critics have noted that, while the suspension offers a responsive drive on twisty roads, the seats aren’t as comfortable as they could be but most people will find the 1 Series’ refinement levels more than adequate on longer journeys.
Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series – engines
The new A3 benefits from an improved petrol engine lineup, but the proven economy of the diesel units can’t be beaten. The smaller 1.6-litre diesel is a little noisy but is the most efficient, offering up to 72mpg and less than 100g/km of CO2, meaning there’s no road tax to pay. The 2.0-litre diesel is offered in two power outputs and, while the extra torque is noticeable, it’s the enhanced refinement over the gruff 1.6-litre that makes these units the better bet.
The biggest change to the A3’s engine lineup is the addition of a three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine – it replaces the larger 1.2-litre unit but, thanks to its newer design, it’s actually more powerful – with 113hp. If you’d prefer a bigger engine, the latest 2.0-litre TFSI has also been added to the range and, with 187hp and around 50mpg on the cards, it makes a much better choice than the older 1.8-litre engine.
Like the A3, the 1 Series benefits from several diesels that manage to blend pokey performance with impressive economy. The smallest diesel is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder borrowed from the Mini Hatchback that can manage up to 83mpg. A 2.0-litre diesel is also offered with power outputs of 150, 190 and 224hp and is perhaps more suited to the motorway than the smaller engine.
Diesel might make sense if you do big miles, but the best match for the 1 Series’ fabulous chassis is one of the punchy petrols. The smaller 1.6-litre can be ordered in two states of tune – 136hp or 170hp. Unless you opt for the fiery M135i model, the most powerful petrol is a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit that produces 218hp – getting from rest to 62mph in an impressive 6.2 seconds.
Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series – value for money
There’s no official price list for the updated A3 yet, but we reckon prices will be similar to the current car. That means an entry-level A3 model fitted with the new 1.0-litre petrol engine could be yours from around £19,000. For this price you’re getting a lot of car – the interior is one of the best on the market while even basic models will be equipped with features such as voice control, a 5.8-inch infotainment system and air conditioning.
The 1 Series is priced from just less than £21,000 – making it the pricier car by some margin. Like the Audi, equipment levels are above rivalling hatchbacks and, although the interior isn’t quite as fresh as the A3’s, overall build quality is impeccable and its German badge reminds you of its well-engineered origins. Whichever of these hatchbacks you prefer though, both can become very pricey – tick a few boxes on the options list and you’ll find yourself paying more than some larger saloons.
Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series – verdict
The Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series both offer buyers all the quality and prestige of a larger, executive saloon packed into a compact hatchback package. While they’re similarly matched on paper, for us the Audi A3 is the more rounded choice – its recent update only serves to sweeten the deal.
If you want the more engaging driver’s car, however, the BMW is the better choice – the front wheel drive Audi can’t match the sporty feel of the 1 Series behind the wheel. Whether this is enough to lure you away from the impressive quality and comfort of the A3 is up to you.
Save money on your new hatchback
Check out our Audi A3 deals page and our BMW 1 Series deals page – carwow can help you save money direct from the UK’s leading dealers. If you’re after something else, our car chooser is a good place to start and our PCP calculator will help you get a better idea of how much a new car could cost per month.