What Car? says...
If the first thought that enters your head when you gaze upon the latest Audi A3 Sportback is “Lamborghini Countach”, you’re either standing very far away from it or are part of Audi’s design team. You see, they quote the legendarily angular Italian supercar as an inspiration for the looks of this family hatchback.
Taking the marketing spiel with a pinch of salt, it’s clear that the designers generally chose evolution, rather than revolution. However, an evolutionary approach to this car is no bad thing; after all, the previous model was one of the outstanding family cars of the past decade – insurmountably impressive in every area, and winning group tests against newer rivals even at the end of its life.
Thankfully, it’s clear that Audi hasn’t thrown that winning formula out of the window. As well deliberately looking familiar, today’s A3 uses an updated version of its predecessor's underpinnings, which it shares with the latest Seat Leon and Volkswagen Golf.
It offers you a choice of petrol, diesel, mild-hybrid and (shortly) plug-in hybrid versions, plus various different suspension setups and trims. But just how good is the new Audi A3? Can it live up to the exacting standards of its forebear? And is it better than prestige rivals such as the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class?
That's what we'll be looking at in this review. And remember, whichever model ultimately takes your fancy, you'll find a hassle-free deal with our New Car Buying service; we can offer great discounts on the Audi A3 and hundreds of other cars.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Predictably, the entry-level 114bhp 30 TDI diesel needs to be worked quite hard, while the 148bhp 35 TDI is noticeably stronger and proves particularly relaxed on motorway runs.
The 1.5-litre 148bhp 35 TFSI petrol is our pick of the range, though. It’s cheaper than the 35 TDI but still gutsy throughout the rev range, pulling handsomely from around 200rpm and spinning freely all the way to the engine's red line. In our tests, it hit the magic 0-60mph time in a creditable 8.0sec (with a manual gearbox), and it feels livelier than a BMW 118i. For those who want true hot hatch levels of performance, an Audi S3 variant is on the way.
A couple of plug-in hybrids are also available: the 40 TFSIe and 45 TFSIe. We’ve yet to drive the latter, but we’ve sampled the former, with its 201bhp and punchy 7.6sec 0-62mph time. Performance is adequate in its electric-only mode, too, which you can officially use for up to 40 miles on models with 17in wheels. While the automatic gearboxes in some modern Audis can be annoyingly hesitant when you’re trying to accelerate briskly away from a standstill, this isn’t an issue in any A3.
Suspension and ride comfort
The suspension you’ll find under your A3 Sportback depends on its engine and the badge on its back. Lower-powered models (with less than 148bhp and the number 30 in their name) have a less sophisticated rear suspension setup than the more powerful versions (badged with a 35). If you go for S line trim, you also get lowered, firmer suspension by default.
Despite the S line being the stiffer option, with it, the A3 remains impressively cushioning most of the time. It's slightly more forgiving than the equivalent BMW 1 Series M Sport, and, when you do hit rough stuff, the car recovers its composure quickly, with little bobbing or bouncing around afterwards. That's a trait that the Mercedes A-Class suffers from, but overall the A-Class is the softer and comfier car over harsher bumps. The plug-in hybrid models ride in a similar fashion to normal ones; they’re better controlled than the A250e, if a little firmer.
We suspect, though, that the sweetest-riding A3s will be the softer Technik and Sport versions. If you still want the sportier looks of the S line but without the firmer edge, there is a no-cost option to delete the stiffer suspension.
Above all, the Audi A3 Sportback handles predictably and securely in S line form. It grips the road well, with a lovely balance front to rear that leaves it, and you, unflustered by quick changes of direction. With the extra weight of their batteries, the TFSIe plug-in hybrid versions aren’t quite as agile, but they still handle very tidily and certainly have the edge over the Mercedes A250e.
It helps that the steering in all models is reassuringly weighted and responsive, even if it's not as sharp as the BMW 1 Series'. And if you prefer, you can make it feel that bit meatier by engaging the A3's Sport mode.
Don't expect Ford Focus levels of feedback or fun, but, compared with its premium rivals, the A3 impresses in the corners.
Noise and vibration
All of the engines are impressively quiet most of the time, but the fact that you need to work the 30 TDI diesel harder than the more powerful alternatives makes it the first to show signs of strain.
The automatic gearbox can also flare the revs of the 35 TFSI petrol engine at times, but the six-speed manual alternative is light and easy to use. You can also gauge the biting point of the clutch easily, and all the A3's we've tried have progressive brakes – including the plug-in hybrid 40 TFSIe. That model also switches between power sources and changes gear smoothly.
The A3 emits less suspension and wind noise than the Mercedes A-Class, but road noise can be more intrusive at higher speeds than the A-Class, especially with bigger wheels fitted. It isn't as noisy on the motorway as the BMW 1 Series, though.
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