With huge changes in car-buying habits and new models arriving thick and fast across almost every manufacturer’s range, the A3 is a consistent pillar of Audi’s core offering. While its interior technology has moved on, its familiar styling has survived with only minor tweaks. The A3 is still a family favourite for its mix of quality, understated style and relative affordability.
|Body Style: Hatchback||Seats: 5||MRP from £21,805 - £36,465|
Did you know? The Audi A3 is no longer available as a three-door - a five-door Sportback is the only hatchback option.
The compact hatchback class is taking an ever-more distant back seat to a growing wave of small SUVs and crossovers, but the A3 offers a reminder of why this type of car was so popular for so long. It’s pricey at the top end of the range, but feels worth it thanks to excellent refinement, strong, efficient engines and an interior design that, curious air vents aside, is very easy to live with. It’s beaten by rivals for driving enjoyment, but musters a combination of talents that is very hard to beat.
Feels solidly built
Reassuring, precise road manners
Great engine range
We Don't Like
Big wheels hurt ride quality
Trim on cheapest models
Fiddly air vents
Audi is a brand whose image needs little work, thanks to a reputation for quality and desirability that has lasted untarnished among its fans for decades. Many people think of the brand’s cars as aspirational purchases, giving it a head-start when it comes to buyers forming an opinion.
It’s fair to say that the media were disappointed with the lack of invention in re-making the A3’s styling, but Audi insists that customers like it just the way it is. Subtly sharper panel creases and new headlights are there if you look hard, but for an all-new car the changes are surprisingly minimal. Still, it looks clean and smart, and handsome for it. There’s a fundamental rightness about the car’s styling, and its looks will date very slowly, if at all.
The rating for the A3’s interior varies wildly from the bottom of the range to the top. If you cover the Audi badges, cheaper examples don’t give away many clues to suggest the car’s premium brand origins. Some might even say it’s disappointing.
But in Sport and S Line trim grades the story changes, with much more impressive materials and more evidence of technology. S Line cars really feel a cut above the rest thanks to standard leather-trimmed sports seats, and choosing this spec makes a huge improvement to the overall impression the car gives. At least all trim variants are solid to the touch and feel higher quality than they might look.
The A3 is yours in saloon, convertible or five-door hatchback forms, the latter of which is called the Sportback. The saloon provides greater boot length, but the most practical of the family is the Sportback, which has a 380-litre boot and an easy-to-lift tailgate.
The rear seats don’t fold totally flat but the boot lip is low and total available space rises to 1,220 litres. Being lower than a comparable SUV, it’s easier to get heavy loads in and out, and this is one of the more practical hatches - although a Skoda Octavia or Peugeot 308 offer more boot space. The A3 E-tron range-extender does lose some of its boot space to the batteries beneath its boot floor, but anybody after the pure electric range in an otherwise practical petrol-powered hatchback is unlikely to be overly bothered by that small compromise.
A slight gripe comes with the placement of the central cupholders in the cabin. Being ahead of the gear stick, when the lever is in first, third or fifth gears it can be awkward to fish your coffee out of the cupholder. That said, at least tall take-away cups seem to fit without fouling the centre console.
|Min: 380 litres|
|Max: 1,220 litres|
One of the reasons the A3 remains so popular is that its technology balances forward-thinking with familiarity and ease of use. A digital dashboard in lieu of traditional dials is an optional extra with many modes and a busy overall readout, but it mirrors functionality found in much more expensive Audis when installed, and it is great that you can see a widescreen nav map with the digital speedo and rev counter overlayed, if you wish. Or you can simplify things and just have trip info etc.
Every A3 gets sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all of which is shown on a colour screen that rises from the dashboard - a neat trick that keeps the dash looking tidy and means you can retract the screen easily at night if you want to. It's also controlled via a rotary dial and is one of the easiest infotainment systems to use, if occasionally a bit more long-winded than the touchscreen you get in a VW Golf. It's better than the overly complicated system in the Merc A-Class, if not quite as intuitive to use as the system in the BMW 1-Series.
Bluetooth, DAB radio, USB input, voice control, a CD player and eight speakers complete the standard kit list. A lot of buyers will choose to add the Tech Pack, which brings the Virtual Cockpit (digital dials etc), more advanced sat-nav, a touchpad controller, online functionality that doesn't depend on your phone, and wireless phone charging, all of which costs just under £1400.
One of the great strengths of the Volkswagen Group is that it always seems to have a broad range of excellent engines. They aren’t always the sharpest or most involving, but they are usually among the most efficient and most refined.
That’s definitely the case here, and Audi soundproofing pushes refinement beyond the reaches of what cheaper hatchbacks can achieve. Turbocharging is now universal across both the petrol and diesel ranges, with the most entertaining being a the 1.5-litre petrol with cylinder deactivation technology, shutting off two cylinders when only a small amount of power is needed. It's a slick performer, that's quiet yet also delivers near hot-hatch pace if you want it. All the engines deliver plenty of torque, making each one feel strong and willing, but you'll have to work the 1.0-litre TFSI petrol quite hard (not that that's always a hardship - it's actually quite fun to rev this little motor).
The 2.0 TDI is still a great option for high mileage users, since it'll still be usefully more economical than the petrol 1.5 TFSI and it's a pleasure to drive - punchy and (by diesel standards) smooth. The 1.6 TDI will be a touch more economical, but it's noisier and a bit harder work generally than the 2.0-litre.
A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is offered on every engine, and is a great auto 'box - one of the best in the class. It also doesn't hurt your emissions, which is a bonus.
You can also have a petrol-electric range extender powertrain, which mates a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine to an electric motor, so that you can do around 20-odd miles on pure electric power, and then the petrol engine will kick in and transform your eco hero into a straightforward family hatchback that you can fill up at the pump. It feels noticeably heavier than the standard A3 models, but ultimately it's a pleasure to drive and asks very few compromises for the electric capability.
The A3 is stable and blessed with huge grip levels and predictable steering. It's a neutral, precise drive that you can enjoy for its sheer ease of use, although it doesn't have much outright driver involvement. A BMW 1 Series is a bit more fun, but the A3 isn't far off it at all, and the implacable character of the A3 is perfect for the family hatch market.
There are two different suspension settings, confusingly named Dynamic and Sport. SE Technik and Sport models get the softer Dynamic setup, but you can add the stiffer Dynamic suspension to Sport models as a no-cost option. We'd suggest you stick to the more comfortable standard suspension; while it does bring a bit more body roll, the A3 can be a bit choppy and brittle-feeling around town on the stiffer Sport suspension, especially when you start to add on bigger wheels.
S Line and Black Edition cars have the firmer setup whether you like it or not, so expect to feel a bit jostled about over potholes and scruffy surfaces.
You can add adaptive dampers, which do bring the best possible balance of handling precision and ride comfort, but it's a pricey £995 option. We'd stick to Sport trim on Dynamic suspension for the best balance of cost and driver reward.
Recommended engine: 2.0 TDI 150
While it’s impossible to fault the A3’s five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating, most of the advanced and active safety equipment that can be specified is optional. It’s good to see automatic lights and wipers standardised across the range, along with cruise control and a suite of stability and braking aids, but that’s old news.
Pre-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, hill-hold assist, automated parking and much more are all optional, and in many cases costly. Adding them can start to make the A3 look expensive, even for the class. Most cars in this class have autonomous emergency braking for around town, so the fact that it costs nearly £500 on the Audi is pretty hard to forgive.
There’s a good amount of choice. Brilliant Black and Ibis White are the two free solid colour options, with a third solid, Vegas Yellow, a cost-option. Optional metallic paints include Beluga Brown, Cosmos Blue, Floret Silver, Glacier White, Monsoon Grey, Mythos Black, Nano Grey and Tango Red. There is also Daytona Grey in a pearl effect. The palette is largely muted, which is a shame as the A3 suits a bright colour.
There are four core models and a special halo grade that won’t always be available. SE Technik is the cheapest trim, and gets a decent array of kit including rear parking sensors, that infotainment system with nav, air-con, auto lights and wipers and cruise control. Sport upgrades the interior ambience with higher-quality trim inserts, adds dual-zone climate control and upgrades to 17in wheels. It’s also the lowest grade to feature the adjustable driving modes of Audi Drive Select, and is our favoured trim for balance of comfort, style and value.
S Line is Audi’s traditional flagship trim grade and and uses a unique 18in wheel design under lowered sports suspension. Sports seats are standard in leather, along with a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and you get LED headlights. The interior trim inserts become brushed aluminium for a classier effect, among many other quality touches.
Based on the S Line level, Black Edition gets a black styling pack incorporating the front grille surround, mirror housings and door trim edgings, which are in silver on lesser A3s. It’s the only grade to get privacy glass as standard, and music fans will be interested to know that a more powerful Audi Sound System is standard.
Finally, Black Edition models receive what are easily the most attractive alloy wheels in the range: an 18in 10-spoke set specific to this car, finished in a matte titanium colour. It costs over £1,400 more than an S Line car, though, making it questionable value.
Size and Dimensions
The A3 is wider than some superminis, helping to give it a broader, more imposing stance and the look of a larger, more potent car from the front and rear, but that doesn’t make it too big to manage in the city. It’s short, visibility out of it is good and it will slot into the average garage with ease.
Max towing weight without brake
From 620kg (1.4 TFSI 150hp) - 750kg (2.0 TDI 184hp)
Apart from the 1.5-litre petrol with its cylinder deactivation technology, the A3’s engines share the same range of technologies, including stop-start and special internal coatings to reduce frictional losses. It's got great official economy, but you do have to really tickle it along to get anywhere near the sort of economy you'd get easily in the 2.0 TDI. We only managed around 35mpg in the 1.5 TFSI on a sedate, if varied run in town and open country roads, so you can reasonably expect over 40mpg quite easily on the motorway. Given the zingy performance of the 1.5, it's hard to see why you'd pay the extra for the 2.0-litre TFSI.
The 1.0 TFSI, similarly, has good official figures but will struggle to achieve anything like the economy that you can get in the diesels. It's a good choice only if you're expecting to spend most of your time in town.
We've seen surprisingly similar economy in the 2.0 TDI and 1.6 TDI in the real world, since you don't have to work the 2.0-litre quite so hard, so unless you're a company car buyer then the 2.0-litre diesel is the better bet.
Road tax is low across the range, with even the least efficient A3 attracting a bill of just £130 per year. There is also a petrol-electric hybrid A3 Sportback, called the E-tron, which offers fully-electric running for a limited range, plus a petrol back-up engine for long-range drives. It’s very expensive to buy, but costs less to run in urban areas than any other A3, and is a great company car option.
Reliability and servicing
The A3 doesn't have quite the reliability record of the Kia Cee'd or Honda Civic, both of which also offer longer warranties, but it does have a generally good reputation for reliability. You can also get flat-rate servicing deals that spread the servicing costs out into monthly payments, and there are extended warranties although you'll pay quite dearly for them.
12 months or 9,000 miles (urban); up to 24 months or 19,000 miles (motorway) – £250 est.
24 months or 19,000 miles – £400 est.
Entry prices are appealingly cheap for the entry-level A3, which comes in at just over £21k, but the reality is that the entry-level models don’t really get you the sense of quality and luxury that you're probably after if you're looking at an A3. Go for a mid-spec trim, with either the 1.5-litre petrol or 2.0-litre TDI and you're looking at around £25k list price, but more importantly you can also get PCP finance to around £300 per month without having to stretch to an unreasonable deposit. We got an estimate for a three-year contract at £340pm after a £3000 deposit, on a 1.5 TFSI SE Technik, for instance. That's around £50 more per month than you'd pay for an equivalent VW Golf (which gets better standard safety kit), mind, so give the VW careful consideration if you're after a classy-feeling Germanic family hatchback.
The A3's engines are among the most efficient in the family hatch class, and that's before you factor in the E-tron range extender, so company car buyers will find this a really affordable option - particularly for a premium brand.
1.0 TFSI Sport SE Technik - the cheapest A3 still looks smart and is fun to drive
Company Car Buyer
The e-tron is a no-brainer for company car users provided your company scheme offers this more expensive model. If not, the 2.0 TDi is worth the small amount of extra tax it commands over the 1.6 TDI.
1.5 TFSI S Tronic Black Edition – all the bells and whistles make this the most pampering A3, and make sure you add adaptive dampers and the Tech Pack.
BMW 1 Series
Accomplished driver’s car is more fun than the Audi and has an equally impressive range of engines
It may be a leftfield choice, but the smallest Infiniti is strikingly different and stuffed with technology
Feels high-quality throughout, and high-spec models have the competition beaten for outright style
Only one petrol-electric hybrid engine choice. Strange interior design, dumpy bodywork and a dull drive, but the CT is cheap to tax and run.
The Golf’s interior quality rivals cars from a class above, and it’s a superb all-round performer