Used Audi A3 vs Mercedes A-Class
Their badges imply they're a cut above your usual family car. But are the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class really worth the extra cost?...
Audi A3 2.0 TDI 150 Sport
List price when new £22,730
Price today £11,000
Available from 2012-present
The Audi A3 kick-started the posh hatch trend; this latest version is brilliant to drive, classy inside and remarkably cheap to run.
Mercedes-Benz A200 CDI Sport
List price when new £23,270
Price today £13,000
Available from 2012-present
The most recent A-Class did away with the tall, boxy styling of older models and gained a much more appealing look.
Price today is based on a 2013 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
When Audi first launched the A3 in the 1990s, it struck a chord. Here was a car which offered the space and practicality of a family-sized hatchback, combined with the upmarket image and beautifully built interior Audi was fast becoming known for.
The idea caught on and now, over 20 years later, hatchbacks wearing premium badges are a common sight on our roads. And it isn’t hard to see the appeal: these upmarket family cars are available at fairly reasonable prices, yet offer all the high-quality appeal of their pricier saloon brethren, and throw in a helpful slice of extra practicality, too.
Today’s Audi A3 is one of the best. It still has a fantastic interior, but now it’s matched to driving dynamics that’ll entertain even keen drivers, fine ride quality and plenty of space.
However, Mercedes has now turned its A-Class into a small, sporting hatchback, after two generations of trying to make its original idea mini-MPV body style work. As a result, the latest model is considerably more attractive, and as a result, it’s also extremely popular. But which of these posh hatches should you splash your cash on? That’s what we’re here to help you decide.
What are they like to drive?
The Audi is the quicker car; that’s hardly a surprise, given that it weighs less than the Mercedes and has a more powerful engine.
More impressive than outright pace, though, is the way the A3 delivers its power. It pulls harder than the A-Class from low revs and revs smoothly and quietly beyond 5000rpm – unusual for a diesel. Work the Merc’s engine hard, and you’ll wish you hadn’t, because it’s coarse and clattery.
The A-Class we’ve tested here was fitted with the optional seven-speed automatic gearbox. Gearchanges are relatively smooth, but the ’box often shifts down unnecessarily when you just want to accelerate slowly. For that reason, we’d stick with the manual gearbox with this engine, although even then the Audi’s gearbox has the sweeter shift.
Confusingly, Sport versions of the A-Class, like this one, came fitted with ‘comfort’ suspension – but even then, there isn’t anything comfortable about the way the Mercedes rides. It crashes over bigger bumps and fidgets nervously on any road that isn’t perfectly smooth.
Our test car was fitted with the optional 18-inch alloy wheels and run-flat tyres which only amplified the problem. However, even with the standard 17-inch wheels and regular tyres, a drive in an A-Class is decidedly bumpy.
Such an uncomfortable ride would be easier to forgive if the A-Class rewarded you with agile handling, but it doesn’t. The Merc feels heavy and clumsy through corners, and its body rolls by a surprising amount. It’s a shame, because the steering weights up nicely when you turn in to a corner and there’s a reasonable amount of grip.
The Audi feels much tighter. It stays bolt upright through twists and turns, and reacts the instant you turn the wheel. The steering is super-sharp and accurate, but it could do with a bit more weight around the straight-ahead.
Despite its tight body control, the A3 rides remarkably well. It deals with bumps in one hit, so there’s none of the shimmying that characterises the Merc. In fact, only on really lumpy roads will you wish there was a bit more give in the Audi’s suspension.