As you might expect, the A3 isn't exactly cheap, although it doesn’t cost much more than a Volkswagen Golf – and on many PCP and lease deals, the Audi can actually work out cheaper per month. The A3 will hold its value better than nearly all of its rivals, too – including premium offerings such as the BMW 1 Series.
Audi has used aluminium and high-strength steel to help keep weight down. These measures ensure that the A3’s fuel economy and CO2 emissions are comparable with those of its best rivals. The most efficient is the 1.6-litre diesel, pumping out as little as 103g/km of CO2. However, the punchier 2.0 TDI 150 diesel only emits a few grams more of CO2 per kilometre despite its extra power.
The 1.0 TFSI engine is the most efficient petrol engine and comes close to matching the diesel’s claimed fuel economy figures, while the A3 Sportback e-tron brings the cost of running down even further. Its CO2 emissions are just 38g/km, and while you can take the claimed 166mpg with a pinch of salt, it's still reasonable frugal in real-world driving. It can also run on battery power alone for around 18 miles in real-world conditions.
The A3 comes with a reasonable amount of standard equipment but less than you get in some rivals. Entry-level SE gets you air-con, 16in alloys, Bluetooth, xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and cruise control, so it's hardly Spartan, although if you're considering either the 1.6 or 2.0 TDI 150 diesel as a company car, SE Technik trim is a no-brainer – it adds with sat-nav and a different design of alloy wheel for not much more money.
If you're buying privately, though, we'd recommend Sport trim. This also gets sat-nav as standard, plus a host of extra kit, including as dual-zone climate control, sports seats and bigger alloy wheels. Next up is S line, although since it’s focused on sporty styling more than anything else, you’re mostly paying for design touches.
The high-performance S3 gets a bodykit, leather seats, heated front seats and a host of mechanical upgrades. Finally, at the top of the range, the RS3 adds LED headlights, 19in alloys and high-grade Nappa leather seat trim.
The A3s in our latest reliability survey were previous-generation models, but didn’t score particularly well; owners encountered more problems than average, and the A3 was well adrift of the BMW 1 Series and VW Golf for dependability. Audi as a brand fared little better, although it was ahead of BMW.
The A3 comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and three years’ roadside assistance as standard. That’s par for the course, but some way short of the five-year cover offered by Hyundai and Toyota, and way behind the seven-year protection provided by Kia. You can pay extra to cover your A3 for up to five years or 90,000 miles for a reasonable price.
Audi A3 Hatchback safety & security
All A3s come with seven airbags as standard, but it's disappointing that automatic emergency braking costs extra. Called Pre-sense Front, the optional system can automatically apply the brakes and prime the safety kit if it detects an impending collision. It can even recognise pedestrians as well as cars. Other optional safety kit includes blind spot monitoring and cross-traffic rear assist; the latter warns you of passing cars when you're reversing out onto a busy road and will even hit the brakes if it think you haven't spotted something about to cross your projected path.
The A3 received a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP, with a strong 95% score for adult protection and 87% for child protection. The A3 e-tron went through the test in 2014, and was also awarded the maximum five stars, scoring 82% for adult protection and 78% for child protection. For context, a VW Golf scored 94% and 89% respectively.
An alarm and an engine immobiliser are standard on all A3s, and the car received the maximum five stars from security experts Thatcham for resistance to being stolen, and four out of five for guarding against being broken into.
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Entry-level SE trim comes with air-con, 16in alloys, Bluetooth, xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, Apple Carplay, cruise control and Audi's excellent 7.0in infotainment system. It’s well worth considering, although we think SE Technik trim is worth the extra if you're a company car driver.
This takes the solid specification of SE trim and adds sat-nav and a different design of 16in alloy wheel. It’s available only with diesel engines, but it's a no-brainer if you're a company car driver.
Our pick Sport
Upgrading from SE to Sport brings 17in alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, front sports seats, aluminium exterior and interior trim and a sports leather steering wheel as standard. If you're buying privately, we reckon this is the trim to go for.
S line trim is focused on sporty looks; you get even larger wheels (18in), a bodykit, xenon headlights, part-leather upholstery and aluminium interior inlays. You get stiffer sports suspension as standard, although luckily you can revert to regular suspension for no extra charge for a smoother ride.
Available only in five-door Sportback form, the e-tron is a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid. It’s really expensive on paper, although most owners will lease the car or use its incredibly low CO2 emissions to get low benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bills. It comes with a decent standard equipment list for the money: sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, full-LED headlights and Audi Connect online connectivity are all included.