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Used test: Audi A3 vs Mercedes-Benz A-Class
These two premium-brand offerings are a cut above your usual used 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 £6827*
Available from 2012-2018
Audi’s posh hatch is an absolute gem. It’s brilliant to drive, classy inside and remarkably cheap to run.
Mercedes-Benz A200 CDI Sport
List price when new £23,270
Price today £9070*
Available from 2016-present
The Mercedes A-Class has sporty, youthful looks and a great interior – but is that enough to beat the Audi A3?
*Price today is based on a 2013 model with average mileage and full service history in excellent condition and bought from a dealer according to the What Car? Valuation tool, correct at time of writing
It's all very admirable going for the value brand when buying your groceries, but most of us would rather have something from the exclusive range. It might be a little bit more money, but it just tastes better, doesn't it?
The same rule can be applied to cars, and in the family car class, you're spoilt for choice. We've lined up two of the more popular choices: the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class. The Mercedes has the benefit of sportier looks, plus that three-pointed star on the grill has stacks of brand appeal, so there’s no doubt it’ll grab the attention. However, it'll have a tough job standing out next to its direct rival, the impressive Audi A3. Read on to find out which premium offering is the most worthy of your hard-earned.
What are they like to drive?
The Audi is the quicker car; that’s hardly a surprise given that it weighs less than the Merc 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. Work the Merc’s engine hard and you’ll wish you hadn’t, because it’s coarse and clattery.
The A-Class supplied for our test was fitted with an optional seven-speed semi-auto 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 ’box with this engine, although even then the Audi’s gearbox has the sweeter shift.
Confusingly, sport versions of the A-Class are fitted with ‘comfort’ suspension, but 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 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, things are 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.
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