What's the used Audi A3 hatchback like?
'Desirability' isn’t a word that looms large when you buy a family hatchback –practicality and reliability are usually the only qualities you can fairly expect.
The first two generations of Audi A3 were indeed practical and reliable, but this third-generation 2013-2020 model added the driving pleasure and comfort levels that make this a premium car that's highly desirable too.
There was even a plug-in hybrid, the A3 Sportback e-tron, which mixed a smooth 1.4-litre petrol engine with electric power. You could also choose the sporty 296bhp 2.0-litre S3 model or the fire-breathing, range-topping, super-sporting 394bhp 2.5-litre turbo version, the Audi RS3.
In 2016 the A3 was facelifted, with a refreshed look, some engine updates and the option of a new digital instrument display. It also received a number of new safety systems, including a semi-autonomous traffic jam assist function. A sweet, lively, 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine was added to the range, effectively replacing the earlier 1.2-litre unit. The facelift also meant the popular 1.4 TFSI 150 petrol engine was replaced by a more efficient 1.5-litre TFSI unit, and the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in the Audi S3 gained an extra 10bhp, taking it to 306bhp.
At its original launch, the A3 was available in a choice of three trims: SE, Sport and S line. An SE Technik trim was added to the range soon afterwards, and in later versions it replaced SE as the entry-level trim. Over the years, there have been a number of limited editions and special trims with various cosmetic and equipment upgrades, most notably the Black Edition.
If you opt for an earlier SE A3, you'll get 16in alloys, xenon headlights, cruise control, rear parking sensors and auto lights and wipers fitted as standard. Inside, there's air conditioning, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and Audi's MMI infotainment system with a 7.0in display, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, plus as smartphone integration. Upgrading to the SE Technik trim added sat-nav and a three-month trial to Audi's online connected services.
You still have to be careful when choosing which one to buy, though, because the S line models have larger wheels and firmer suspension that can make the ride too fidgety (although some will have been specified with the regular Dynamic suspension, which is the more forgiving set-up). The firmer suspension does help the A3 stay even more upright through tight twists and turns, but the handling benefits are small and, because of the degradation in ride quality, we'd stick with the softer Dynamic suspension for the sweetest ride and handling compromise.
Overall, though, this is an impressively refined car that’s also supremely agile and a pleasure to drive, with precise steering and surefooted handling. It'll change direction with more zeal than, say, a Golf or Skoda Octavia, there’s buckets of grip and body roll is kept neatly in check. It's really only the Ford Focus that offers keen drivers more fun, especially in its latest version. There are also four-wheel-drive variants (badged quattro) for added traction in slippery conditions.
Inside, the A3 is spacious and practical, either in three-door or five-door Sportback guise, and it has a beautifully made interior that’s more than practical enough for the needs of most families. The driving position is spot on. There’s more than enough leg and shoulder room for a couple of tall adults up front, and even six-footers should be reasonably happy with the amount of leg and head room available.
The Audi A3’s boot has almost exactly the same amount of space as the Mercedes A-Class, and both can fit up to six carry-on suitcases. While that’s pretty decent for the class, it's miles away from the class champion, the Skoda Octavia, which can take 11. It’s also worth noting that quattro four-wheel-drive models suffer a 40-litre reduction in boot space because of the extra oily bits underneath.