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Used test: Audi A3 vs Mercedes A-Class

The Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class drape their luxuries over familiar family car shapes, offering used savings of around £14,000 off new. Which should you choose? We have the answer...

Used Audi A3 vs Mercedes-Benz A-Class

The Contenders

Audi A3 2.0 TDI 150 Sport

List price when new £22,730
Price today £8000*
Available from 2012-2018

A classy interior and capable handling adds to the Audi A3 well-roundedness

Mercedes A-Class A200 CDI Sport

List price when new £23,270
Price today £9500*
Available from 2013-2018

It may look upmarket inside and out, but does the stylish Mercedes A-Class feel it?

*Price today is based on a 2013 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

Being a breadwinner isn't a walk in the park. It's a struggle, so reducing excess stress is important. Take the commute, for example. If you can make the journey as smooth, relaxed and comfortable as possible, then why wouldn't you?

A luxury family car could prove the perfect remedy, and the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class are many people's go-to choices in the class. 

These two aren't only popular because of their premium credentials, though. It's also a result of affordable prices, especially when used. Buy one at nine years old and it'll cost you less than any of the UK's cheapest new cars – and that's by a margin of a few thousand pounds, too. 

Used Audi A3 vs Mercedes A-Class

We're testing mid-range diesel examples here, each with a saving of around £14,000 off new. You're getting a bargain if you opt for either one of them, but which posh family hatchback earns our recommendation? Read on to find out.


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

The A3 is the quicker car, which is hardly a surprise given that it weighs less than the A-Class 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 diesel. If you work the A-Class's engine hard, you’ll wish you hadn’t, because it’s coarse and clattery.

Used Audi A3 vs Mercedes A-Class

The A-Class supplied for our test was fitted with a seven-speed semi-automatic gearbox – an option from new. Gearchanges are relatively smooth, but it often shifts down unnecessarily when you just want to accelerate slowly. For that reason, we’d stick with the manual ’box with this engine, although even that doesn't shift as sweetly as the A3's.

Confusingly, sport versions of the A-Class are fitted with ‘comfort’ suspension, but there isn’t anything comfortable about the way the A-Class rides. It crashes over bigger bumps and fidgets nervously on any road that isn’t smooth.

Used test – posh hatches: Audi A3 vs Mercedes-Benz A-Class

With the standard 17in wheels and regular tyres, things are decidedly bumpy. Our test car was optioned from the factory with 18in alloy wheels and run-flat tyres, which amplified the problem.

Such an uncomfortable ride would be easier to forgive if the A-Class rewarded you with agile handling, but it doesn’t. The A-Class 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.

Used test – posh hatches: Audi A3 vs Mercedes-Benz A-Class

The A3 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 A-Class. In fact, only on really lumpy roads will you wish there was a bit more give in the A3's suspension.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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