Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Predictably, the 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 148bhp 1.5-litre 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 strongly from around 200rpm and spinning freely all the way to the engine's red line. It feels livelier than the BMW 218i Gran Coupé but can't quite live with the pace of the Mercedes A200 Saloon.
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 the A3 Saloon.
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 Saloon remains impressively cushioning most of the time. It's slightly more forgiving than the equivalent BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé 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 Saloon suffers from, but overall the A Class is the softer and comfier car over harsher bumps.
We suspect, though, that the sweetest-riding A3s will be the softer 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.
The Audi A3 Saloon is sharper to drive than Audi’s bigger A4. It corners really predictably and securely in S line form, gripping the road well, with a lovely balance front to rear that leaves it, and you, unflustered by quick changes of direction. In Sport trim, with the slightly softer setup, it rolls a bit more but still feels very tidy to drive.
It helps that the A3's steering is reassuringly weighted and responsive, even if it isn't as sharp as the BMW 2 Series'. If you prefer, you can make it feel that bit meatier by engaging the A3's Sport mode.
Noise and vibration
All of the petrol engines are impressively quiet, as is the 35 TDI, which is much more hushed than the equivalent Mercedes A Class Saloon or BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé diesel. And the only reason the 30 TDI show more signs of strain is that you have to work it harder.
The automatic gearbox can also flare the engine revs 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 A3s we've tried have progressive brakes.
The A3 Saloon emits less suspension and wind noise than the A Class Saloon, but road noise can be more intrusive at higher speeds than the A Class, especially with bigger wheels fitted. The A4 and 3 Series cruise more serenely than both, though.
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