Audi A1 vs Audi A3

These desirable hatchbacks both have plenty of strengths, but which is right for you: the cheaper Audi A1 or the larger Audi A3?...

Audi A1 vs Audi A3 header

The contenders

DOWNSIZE: Audi A1 Sportback 35 TFSI Sport S tronic (Tech Pack)

List price £26,140
Target price £25,384

Bigger doesn’t automatically mean better, because the A1 is a very grown-up small car

UPSIZE: Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI Sport S tronic

List price £29,523
Target price £28,523

More expensive than the A1, but it gives you more space. So, is it worth the extra cash?

Differentiating between the members of a double act can be hard – think the Chuckle Brothers or Ant and Dec. However, while the two cars that make up this test's hatchback double act look quite similar, there are actually some significant differences.

The Audi A1 offers many of the features found in the brand’s bigger and more expensive models, yet as a small car with a prestige image it has few direct rivals other than the Mini. By contrast, the Audi A3 is a larger, more family-friendly model, which competes against the likes of the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A Class.

Audi A1 2022 tail

The A3 is also available with a wider range of engines than the A1, including a plug-in hybrid option. But here we’re testing both cars with Audi’s 35 TFSI petrol unit and in Sport trim. So, should you save some money and go for the A1, or is the larger A3 worth the extra cash?


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Audi’s engine names are distinctly confusing, because they’re not directly linked to engine size. For example, these 35 TFSI models actually use a 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit.

Audi A3 2022 tail

Fortunately, this is well suited to the A1, delivering a good balance between performance and fuel economy, whereas the cheaper 25 TFSI model (actually a 94bhp 1.0-litre turbo petrol) can feel underpowered. In fact, the 35 TFSI engine is so gutsy that it also works well in the bigger, heavier A3, making it feel much more lively than an equivalent 1 Series.

The seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox that’s available in both the A1 and A3 also impresses, shifting smoothly and swiftly, even if it can let the engine rev higher than it strictly needs to at times.

Audi A1 2022 side

Choosing Sport trim, meanwhile, gives you the softest suspension available on these cars, so they’re forgiving at all speeds. It helps that you also get relatively small wheels (16in in the A1 and 17in in the A3) that allow tyres with fairly chunky and forgiving sidewalls.

Despite this, though, neither car handles sloppily. Instead, the A1 feels pleasingly stable at speed for a car of its size, and resists body lean reasonably well in corners, while its steering is accurate enough to let you place the nose of the car exactly where you want on a meandering B-road.

Audi A3 2022 side

As for the A3, that’s even better to drive, with steering that’s reassuringly weighted and responsive, and handling that’s not only predictable and secure, but also engaging. It’s only in town that the A3 is at a disadvantage, unsurprisingly feeling slightly less manoeuvrable than the A1, due to its larger size. 

Wind and road noise are pretty well controlled in the A1, even if it’s no quieter than some more mainstream small cars, including the Peugeot 208 and Volkswagen Polo. The A3 has the edge over the A1 in this respect, although you do hear more wind noise than you do in the 1 Series.

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