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-generation A3 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 as looking deliberately 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 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
The petrol engines start with the 109bhp 1.0-litre 30 TFSI. If you don't tend to travel with the car loaded up and mainly potter around town it's fine. It'll tackle motorways but you need to rev it out and drop gears more often than you would with the 35 TFSI. That's not massively more expensive than the 30 TFSI and, with 1.5 litres and 148bhp, it's gutsier, pulling handsomely from around 2000rpm 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, take a look at our Audi S3 review.
A couple of plug-in hybrids are also available: the 40 TFSIe and 45 TFSIe. We’ve yet to drive the latter but the former is our pick of the range. It's punchy, with the 201bhp from the petrol engine and motor combined equating to 0-62mph in just 7.6sec. Performance is slower but still satisfactory in electric-only mode, and officially it will do up to 40 miles on a charge. In our tests it couldn't manage that but still went farther than the Golf GTE. On that day the Mercedes A250e had the best electric range of the three, travelling a few miles more than the A3.
If you're after a diesel they're both 2.0 litres with different power outputs. The entry-level 114bhp 30 TDI diesel needs to be worked quite hard if you want to make good progress, while the 148bhp 35 TDI is noticeably stronger and proves particularly relaxed on motorway runs.
Suspension and ride comfort
Technik and Sport trims have smaller wheels and softer suspension so, unsurprisingly, they ride the best. They're very forgiving around town and on faster roads, so if ride comfort is your priority, they're our recommendation. It's also worth trying the Mercedes A-Class, which is even more cushioning over potholes but can become bouncier at times; for example, over a series of bumps on an undulating B-road.
S line trim and above have a lower, stiffer set-up and bigger wheels but, even so, remain impressively cushioning most of the time. Indeed, S line is slightly suppler than the equivalent BMW 1 Series M Sport, and when you do hit rough stuff the A3 recovers its composure quickly, with little bobbing or bucking afterwards.
The A3 handles predictably, securely and engagingly. And that goes for the Technik and Sport versions but is most evident if you opt for the S line trim or higher with stiffer, sports suspension. They grip the road really well, with a lovely balance front to rear that leaves the A3, and you, utterly unflustered by quick changes of direction and mid-corner imperfections.
It certainly makes the A3 sportier to drive than the A-Class and only the Ford Focus offers levels of feedback and fun that are higher. The A3's steering is reassuringly weighted and responsive, although if you like really quick-feeling steering, the 1 Series turns in to bends with more zip.
The TFSIe plug-in hybrid versions carry some extra weight, mainly from the battery pack, and aren’t quite as agile. That said, compared with a lot of plug-in hybrids that feel really quite ponderous, the A3 is one of the least affected and one of the best-handling plug-in hybrids on sale.
Noise and vibration
All of the A3’s engines are impressively quiet most of the time. The fact that you need to work the 30 TFSI petrol and 30 TDI diesel harder than the more powerful alternatives makes them a tad noisier, though.
If you go for an automatic gearbox it can flare the engine revs if you’re a bit too enthusiastic with the accelerator but it’s smooth through the gears The six-speed manual is light and easy to use and you can also gauge the biting point of the clutch easily, while all the A3's we've tried have progressive brakes. That includes the plug-in hybrid 40 TFSIe’s regenerative brakes, which are less jerky than the A250e’s. It switches between power sources more smoothly than the A250e, too.
The A3 produces less suspension and wind noise than the A-Class, but road noise can be more intrusive at higher speeds, especially with bigger wheels fitted. It isn't as noisy on the motorway as the 1 Series, though.
At a glance
Stylish alternative to the Golf, but it's nowhere near as roun...
Good to drive, but let down by a fiddly dashboard and below-pa...
Classy, comfortable, safe, good to drive and packed with techn...
Hybrid engines offer exceptionally low running costs and, all-...