Our favourite engine is the punchy 148bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol, which can turn off two cylinders at a cruise to save fuel. The 1.0 TFSI three-cylinder is a sweet unit and very well suited to town driving, but you’ll have to work it quite hard for motorway trips. There’s also a powerful but harder to recommend 2.0-litre petrol.
Of the diesels, the entry-level 108bhp 1.6 is smooth, but not very gutsy. The 148bhp 2.0-litre feels stronger, and the 181bhp version is an absolute belter.
The S3 and S3 Sportback feature a more powerful version of the 2.0-litre petrol engine, and four-wheel drive. They both offer acceleration times that can rival a Porsche Cayman's.
If that’s not enough power for you, then the turbocharged five-cylinder engine in the supercar-baiting RS3 is seriously rapid.
The A3 Sportback e-tron is a plug-in hybrid that mixes electric power with the 1.4-litre petrol engine. It’s a first rate hybrid that would be very easy to live with in cities, but it’s not cheap and its electric-only range is limited.
Audi A3 Hatchback ride comfort
The most comfortable A3s are in SE and SE Technik spec, which get 16in wheels and a suspension set-up that blends good bump and pothole absorption with a decent level of body control.
Move up to Sport and you get 17in wheels, and the option of 15mm lower suspension, which can be too firm. This is worse on S line versions, which come with 18in wheels and stiffer suspension. You can specify the SE’s suspension on S line editions at no additional cost. The sporty S3 and RS3 are lower and stiffer again.
Unfortunately, softening off the suspension isn’t an option on the A3 Sportback e-tron, but fortunately the plug-in hybrid model rides well in almost all situations. It gets bouncy only over hard-worn or rougher urban roads.
Audi A3 Hatchback handling
The Audi A3 changes direction eagerly, and there’s more than enough grip and little body roll, even if you choose the standard SE suspension over the more focused Sport and S line options. Audi offers an adaptive Magnetic Ride system as an option on most versions, but the mix of body control and comfort is so good across the A3’s range that we wouldn’t bother ticking that box.
Regardless of which set-up you go for, the A3’s steering doesn’t offer a huge amount of feedback, but it’s precise and has consistent weight.
The A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid is noticeably heavier, and while it’s quick in a straight line the car’s nose is much more inclined to wash wide through fast corners.
With sports suspension and added traction out of corners due to their standard quattro four-wheel drive, both the S3 and RS3 models hold the road well, although they aren’t quite as much fun to drive as rivals, such as the BMW M2.
Audi A3 Hatchback refinement
The A3 is as quiet as anything in the class; the 1.4-litre TFSI 150 petrol engine is particularly smooth, but even the diesel editions are quite hushed. The 1.0-litre TFSI is more refined than the diesels at most speeds, but it does get boomy under heavy acceleration. It’s worth remembering, however, that larger wheels do bring a bit more road noise. The more modest 16in and 17in items aren’t just more comfortable; they’re quieter, too.
The A3 Sportback e-tron, meanwhile, is an extremely accomplished performer. There’s no electric motor whine to speak of, so if you’re running in all-electric mode around town, the only noises you’ll hear will be a bit of road noise and other traffic. Even when the petrol engine kicks in, it’s very hushed.
The A3's manual gearboxes are slick, and, while the automatics change gear smoothly most of the time, they can be a bit jerky at parking speeds.
This three-cylinder entry-level A3 engine has enough punch for use around town, but you’ll find yourself working it harder to keep up with motorway traffic and thrashing it to make quick progress on A-roads. Like all A3s except the auto-only e-tron, it can be combined with a manual or an automatic gearbox.
Our pick 1.4 TFSI 150 ACT
This 1.4-litre petrol engine has a broad spread of shove and is super smooth. It also shuts down half of its cylinders when cruising to save fuel, and helps keep its CO2 emissions down, too. It’s our pick of the bunch.
1.4 TFSI e-tron
This hybrid powertrain is available only in an A3 Sportback. It mixes an electric motor, a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a six-speed automatic gearbox. You can travel for up to 31 miles on electric power alone (a full recharge takes four hours via a domestic plug socket), and super-low CO2 emissions make it an interesting company car choice.
2.0 TFSI 190
The 2.0-litre petrol engine has lots of power and low-rev shove – more than enough, in fact, to make the A3 a fairly swift hatchback. It’s not much faster in the real world than the 1.4, though, and it’s more expensive to buy and run. It is, however, available with four-wheel drive, whereas most A3s are front-wheel drive.
2.0 TFSI 310
Unique to the high-performance, four-wheel-drive S3 and S3 Sportback, this 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor produces more than 300bhp – enough to take the S3 from 0-62mph in around 5.0sec. It has only a little turbo lag and a terrific exhaust note.
1.6 TDI 110
This is one of the best engines in the line-up for CO2 emissions, so it's an appealing choice for company car choosers. It’s also smooth and has enough low-down punch for comfortable motorway cruising.
2.0 TDI 150
We think the 2.0-litre diesel engine (in this 148bhp tune) is worth the premium over the 1.6 because it’s a little smoother and offers punchier performance. It should still return more than 50mpg, too, keeping running costs down.
2.0 TDI 184
This more potent version of the 2.0-litre diesel is offered only in Sport and S line trim levels, so you have to pay a fair bit more for it. It brings a bit more mid-range shove, but it’s not worth the extra cash over the 2.0 TDI 150. Unlike that engine, though, it is also available with four-wheel drive.
2.5 TFSI 367
Unique to the RS3 model, this five-cylinder turbocharged 2.5-litre not only provides near supercar levels of performance, it sounds amazing, too. Only available in five-door Sportback form, it comes with four-wheel drive and a dual-clutch automatic gearbox as standard.