The best of the engines we’ve tried so far is the 1.4 turbo petrol. It’s punchy, smooth and affordable to buy and run. Otherwise, we’ve only driven diesels. The entry-level 103bhp 1.6 obviously isn’t as fast as the bigger engines, but it seldom feels underpowered and it has a smooth power delivery. The 148bhp 2.0-litre is very strong across the rev range, and while the 181bhp version has a more defined surge as the turbo kicks in, it’s still an absolute peach.
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 just a touch of wind noise from around the door mirrors. Don’t go overboard with your choice of wheel size, and road noise is well subdued, too. The manual gearshift is slick, while the positively weighted clutch and brake pedals also help make the Sportback feel like a quality piece of engineering.
Audi has used a combination of aluminium and high-strength steel to help keep weight down, plus every model comes with engine stop-start technology. These measures ensure that fuel economy and CO2 emissions are at worst comparable with the best rivals. Prices aren’t cheap, but the Sportback doesn’t actually cost much more than a Volkswagen Golf. The Audi will hold its value better, too.
The cabin is built from the sort of high-grade 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 as well as front, side and curtain airbags. A pop-up bonnet also helps minimise injuries to pedestrians. 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 Sportback’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 thanks to the huge range of steering wheel and seat adjustment.
The Sportback costs hundreds more than the three-door A3, but as well as two extra doors, you also gain additional interior space and boot capacity. A 35mm increase in the wheelbase means more legroom, allowing four adults to travel in even greater comfort. You get an extra 10 litres of boot space, hiking the figure to 380 litres. The boot is also fitted 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 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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