The 121bhp 1.4 is plenty quick enough to keep most drivers entertained, while the 178bhp 1.8 feels genuinely quick. The 148bhp diesel is flexible because it’s happy to pull from below 1500rpm. We’ve also driven two engines that’ll join the range later. The 138bhp 1.4 petrol is brisk and flexible, and offers exceptional running costs thanks to its cylinder shut-off technology. The 104bhp 1.6 diesel isn’t as fast as the 248bhp 2.0 TDI, but it's still flexible enough.
There are three suspension settings: SE, lower Sport and lower-still S line. For us, the SE’s standard suspension provides the best balance, and the good news is that you can specify it at no extra cost with every trim level. It’s still slightly firm, but it’s not uncomfortable and the car changes direction eagerly. There’s plenty of grip, too, and the steering is precise.
All the versions we’ve tried are impressively refined at a steady cruise, with a touch of wind noise from around the door mirrors the only thing disturbing the peace. The dual-clutch S tronic gearbox disappoints, though, delivering jerky shifts when left in automatic mode. It’s much smoother when you take control using the gearlever or the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Audi has used aluminium and high-strength steel to keep the A3’s weight down, plus every model comes with engine stop-start technology. These measures help to ensure that fuel economy and CO2 emissions are comparable with the best rivals. Prices are far from cheap, but it doesn’t cost much more than a Volkswagen Golf. The A3 should hold its value better, too.
The cabin is built from the sort of materials you’d usually expect to find in an executive saloon, while beautifully weighted switchgear and a super-slim infotainment screen add to the impression that no expense has been spared. Audi’s reliability record is less impressive, but it’s far from terrible.
The A3 comes with stability control and front, side and curtain airbags. However, it’s a little disappointing that you have to pay extra for Audi’s Pre Sense system, which automatically primes the safety kit if a collision looks inevitable. That said, the car achieved a five-star crash rating from Euro NCAP. Deadlocks and an alarm are fitted as standard to help guard against theft.
Audi’s Multi Media Interface lets you control most of the A3’s major functions via a central control dial and a small collection of buttons. It’s a pretty simple system, and some of the shortcut keys are raised, allowing you to find the one you want by touch. People of all sizes should be able to find a comfortable driving position in the A3 thanks to the huge range of adjustment.
There’s plenty of room upfront, but the A3 isn’t as spacious in the back as the VW Golf and BMW 1 Series. The boot is large and well shaped. What’s more it comes with an adjustable floor that reduces the load lip and ensures there’s no step up to the rear seats when they’re folded forward.
We’d stick with the entry-level SE spec, which comes with Bluetooth, a USB socket, voice control and manual air-conditioning. Sport models add dual-zone climate control, sports seats and sports suspension (the standard SE suspension is still available as a no-cost option), while sports suspension is also standard on bodykitted S line models, with the SE and S line set-ups available as no-cost options.
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For us, this is the best A3. It delivers all the power and kit you need, all at a reasonable price. The desirable badge and gorgeous cabin make it even more appealing.