What Car? says...
If your first thought when you see the Audi A3 Sportback is “Lamborghini Countach”, you’re either standing very far away from it or are part of Audi’s car design team.
You see, they quote the angular Italian supercar as one of the inspirations for the looks of this family hatchback. Taking the marketing spiel with a pinch of salt, it’s clear that the A3 Sportback's designers generally chose evolution, rather than revolution.
An evolutionary approach to this car is no bad thing, of course. After all, the previous-generation A3 wasn’t just a handsome face – it was so well-rounded that it stood out as one of the most outstanding family cars of the past decade. It was insurmountably impressive in every area, and continually won our 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 Sportback uses an updated version of its predecessor's underpinnings, which it shares with the latest Seat Leon and VW Golf. (The A3 does differ from those two in also offering a four-door saloon variant – see our Audi A3 Saloon review for that.)
It offers you a choice of petrol, diesel, mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) engines, plus various suspension setups and trim options.
That's what we'll be looking at in this review, which will cover performance, interior quality, boot size and much more, as well as comparing the A3 with other family cars you might be considering.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
We recommend the 148bhp 1.5-litre 35 TFSI petrol version of Audi A3 Sportback over the base 109bhp 1.0 30 TFSI. That’s because the 35 TFSI is a highly flexible engine that feels livelier than the equivalent 118i BMW 1 Series (0-62mph takes 8.7sec). It also copes really well with a car load of people when accelerating up to motorway speeds, a scenario which can overwhelm the smaller 30 TFSI.
Company car drivers should be happy with the 40 TFSIe plug-in hybrid (PHEV). With the smaller 17in wheel option, it has an official electric-only range of 40 miles, although 25 miles or so is more likely in real world driving. When not running on electricity and with the 1.4-litre petrol engine in action, you get 201bhp and a spirited 0-62mph time of 7.6sec.
Finally, there's the 148bhp 2.0-litre 35 TDI diesel. It has more torque (pulling power) than the 35 TFSI so actually gets from 0-62mph quicker, taking 8.3sec. It’s a relaxed performer and its additional grunt is great for overtaking on the motorway, but we’d still recommend the 35 TFSI for cost reasons. If you want hot hatch performance, see our Audi S3 review.
Suspension and ride comfort
Technik and Sport trims have smaller wheels and softer suspension than versions higher up the A3 range, so they have the most forgiving and comfortable ride. The Mercedes A-Class is even more cushioning over potholes, but can become bouncier at times (over a series of bumps on an undulating B-road, for example).
In S line trim or higher, the A3 has a stiffer set-up and bigger wheels, but remains 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's handling is predictable, secure and engaging. That goes for the Technik and Sport versions, but is most evident on cars with the stiffer sports suspension that comes with S line trim or higher. They grip the road really well, with a lovely balance front to rear that leaves the A3 utterly unflustered by quick changes of direction and mid-corner imperfections.
It certainly makes the A3 sportier to drive than the A-Class – only the Ford Focus offers levels of feedback and fun that are higher. The A3's steering is reassuringly weighted and responsive. If you like really quick-feeling steering, you might prefer the 1 Series, which feels a little more alert to your inputs.
The TFSIe plug-in hybrids carry some extra weight, mainly from the battery pack, and are not quite as agile as other versions. That said, they're still among the best-handling PHEVs on sale.
Noise and vibration
All the A3’s engines are impressively quiet most of the time, although the 30 TFSI petrol is a tad noisier than other options because you have to work it harder.
The optional automatic gearbox sometimes flares 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 gauge the biting point of the clutch easily. All the A3's we've tried have had progressive brakes, including the 40 TFSIe PHEV, which has smoother regenerative brakes than the Mercedes A250e. 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's quieter on a motorway than the 1 Series, though.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Audi A3 Sportback provides a great driving position, with a standard front armrest and loads of steering wheel and seat adjustment. The only quibble is that, unless you go for the range-topping Edition 1 trim, four-way powered lumbar adjustment is an option. We'd recommend adding it because it can really make a difference on long journeys and is not drastically expensive.
All the controls and screens you use frequently are clear and within easy reach, helped by the central section of the dashboard that's angled towards the driver. The A3 has simple physical switches for the climate controls, making them much easier to adjust than the touch-sensitive controls in the VW Golf.
The Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display comes as standard and shows all your driving information on a crisp, 10.3in screen, with various layouts to select from. Edition 1 trim gets an enhanced Plus version with a 12.3in screen.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Slim pillars and large windows ensure that the A3 provides a good all-round view out, and rear parking sensors are included on all versions. You can add front sensors, a rear-view camera and even a system that can park the car for you by upgrading to a higher trim or ticking some option boxes.
Bright LED headlights come as standard, but on Edition 1 trim they're upgraded to matrix LEDs, which can stay on main beam without dazzling other drivers.
Sat nav and infotainment
The A3's touchscreen infotainment screen is a good size – 10.1in – but you have to look directly at the screen to find and hit the icon you need. That makes it more distracting when you're driving than the systems in the BMW 1 Series (with its rotary dial) and the Mercedes A-Class (a touchpad).
On the plus side, the screen is sharp with good graphics, and the menus respond quickly. It's also packed with features, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, and built-in sat-nav. You get a six-speaker stereo, unless you upgrade to the 15-speaker, 680-watt Bang & Olufsen surround-sound stereo that's available as part of the Comfort and Sound pack.
The materials used in the A3 are fine, but the dashboard’s prominent plastic ledge isn't particularly appealing when you touch it. There are some cheaper-feeling materials around the centre console and lower down on the doors.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Audi A3 Sportback has more than enough leg and shoulder room for tall adults up front, with enough head room even for someone well over six feet tall.
The minimalist dashboard design doesn’t conceal many cubbyholes, but there are storage areas ahead of the gearlever and under the central armrest, plus a couple of cupholders in the centre console. The front door bins are each big enough for a large water bottle.
If you're more than six feet tall, you should have room to get comfy in the back of the A3, but you won't exactly be sprawling out in luxury. You'll find a similar amount of space in the back of the Mercedes A-Class and a little bit more in the BMW 1 Series. The cheaper Ford Focus, Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia are all a lot bigger in the back.
There's not much storage space in the back for odds and ends, although the door pockets can hold a small drinks bottle. You can make your A3 more versatile by adding the optional Storage Pack. It's not drastically expensive and among its tally adds map pockets, rear cup holders and a 12-volt socket.
Seat folding and flexibility
The A3’s rear seatbacks split 60/40 in the entry-level Technik trim, with a more flexible 40/20/20 arrangement standard from Sport trim upwards. The seats don’t move back and forth to allow you to prioritise between passenger and boot space, or recline for added comfort (features you get on some SUVs).
The front passenger seat is manually adjustable, including for height, but four-way powered lumbar adjustment costs extra on all but the range-topping trim.
The A3's tailgate opening is a decent size and the square space it reveals is similar in size to the BMW 1 Series' boot. Both can fit five carry-on suitcases under their parcel shelves. The (non PHEV) Mercedes A-Class can go one better than that with six, but that's still miles off the family car load-lugging champ, the Octavia.
If you fold down the rear seats, they lie at a slight angle, but not enough to cause major issues with loading bulky items. Unless you go for one of the PHEV versions, you get an adjustable boot floor. That can be raised to reduce the load lip at the boot entrance and ensures there’s no step caused by folding down the rear seats.
The PHEVs' boot floors sit at the higher level permanently with the battery pack underneath, so you lose about 10cm of depth compared with the non-hybrid A3's boot. You can still fit five carry-on cases – matching the Mercedes A-Class A250e and VW Golf GTE – but it's more of a squeeze. Once again, the Octavia (in PHEV form) is what you need if you want a hybrid family car with a bigger boot.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Audi A3 Sportback carries a slight price premium over equivalent versions of the BMW 1 Series but it's a little cheaper than the Mercedes A-Class. It should hold on to a much higher percentage of its list price after three years, which means its PCP finance deals tend to be more competitive. Check out our New Car Deals service for the latest offers.
Officially, the A3's engines deliver fuel economy and CO2 emissions in line with its family car rivals. The 35 TFSI petrol (with a manual gearbox) averaged a very respectable 42.5mpg in our real-world test, which is a lot better than the BMW 118i managed. Unsurprisingly, the 35 TDI diesel is more fuel-efficient, and it's also RDE2 compliant, helping to keep company car tax down.
Company car users will find the 40 TFSIe plug-in hybrid even more tempting, though. Its 40-mile electric range and very low CO2 output place it in one of the lowest tax brackets. One word of warning, though: opting for an S line trim with bigger 18in wheels moves it into a higher bracket than the Sport, so it's worth downgrading an S line to 17in rims, which are a no-cost option.
Equipment, options and extras
The A3's entry-level Technik trim represents good value, giving you cruise control, air-conditioning, power-folding door mirrors, 16in alloy wheels, auto lights and wipers, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. It also comes with an infotainment package, parking and safety aids.
Our preferred Sport trim adds dual-zone climate control, a part-leather/part-faux leather interior and 17in wheels. S line brings 18in alloys, privacy glass, dynamic indicators, sportier styling touches and front sports seats, while Edition 1 has every option ticked, but is expensive.
The A3 comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and three years’ roadside assistance, which is the industry norm. You can pay a little extra to extend your A3's cover for up to five years or 90,000 miles.
We’d be tempted to do so, because the A3 finished in last place in the family car class in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey – below the BMW 1 Series in tenth, and the petrol and diesel versions of the Mercedes A-Class in 31st and 32nd. Audi as a brand performed a little better, finishing 21st out of 32 manufacturers.
Safety and security
Every model has automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane-departure warning as standard. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and traffic-sign recognition are optional.
The A3 received a five-star rating from Euro NCAP. The Seat Leon was better at preventing injury to adults up front and children in the rear. Both cars were tested under stricter guidelines than the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class, and it's difficult to compare the results from the older tests with more recent ones.
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The A3 has not been discontinued, but Audi has stopped selling some trim and engine options, including the 45 TFSIe engine and the Competition and Black Edition trim levels.
|RRP price range||£27,585 - £49,600|
|Number of trims (see all)||6|
|Number of engines (see all)||6|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, diesel, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||217.3 - 60.1|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£502 / £3,589|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,004 / £7,179|