Parkers overall rating: 3.9 out of 5 3.9
  • Diesel engine hits the sweet spot
  • Manual gearbox good to use
  • Mild hybrid suffers from poor brake pedal feel

There are a limited choice of engines at launch in the UK, but Parkers understands that more will be added pretty quickly. And in time there will be a decent choice of models with Quattro all-wheel drive, which could be useful if you live in the countryside or a place where extra traction could come in handy.

Audi is offering the A3 initially with 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol and 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engines, both with 150hp. The diesel produces 360Nm of torque compared to the 250Nm from the petrol. Both are as quick as each other off the line, clipping 62mph in 8.4 seconds, and with matching top speeds at 139mph.

Petrol power

The 35 TFSI petrol is also equipped with Audi’s cylinder-on-demand tech that can shut off the two centre cylinders to conserve fuel under reduced engine loads. In the case of the mild hybrid, it uses the same engine, but with a 48-volt electrical system connected with a belt alternator starter that stops and starts the engine more smoothly and enables it to fully switch off while coasting at speeds of up to 100mph.

This engine is an MHEV, which stands for Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle technology; this version harvests some of the energy wasted when braking or coasting to top up a battery which then powers the car at low speeds, saving energy. It’s not a full hybrid system (a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle, or PHEV, comes later), but it’s a handy way to save fuel.

Diesel engines

The 2.0-litre 35 TDI diesel engine is now more refined than previous versions, delivering its power in a smoother and more responsive fashion, especially when equipped with the seven-speed automatic transmission. BMW’s eight-speed auto is nicer, perhaps, though only by a small margin. A less powerful 116hp version of this diesel engine in the A3, mated with a six-speed manual gearbox, is more economical and has lower emissions, which should benefit company car drivers and those that cover high mileages. 

The 35 TDI feels sufficiently quick on A-roads and motorways that you'll rarely feel there's not enough power to cope with a full load or the steepest hills. In Sport mode, the accelerator is reponsive and it the steering is sharp and gives you all the feel you need in bends. If anything it's a little too responsive, and you could quickly tire of its hair-trigger throttle - if you do, put it into Eco mode, and it turns into a much more relaxing car to drive.

More power from the S3 Sportback

The new Audi S3 Sportback arrives in UK dealers later in 2020 and Parkers has been granted an early go in this popular premium hot hatch so we can tell you whether it’s worth the wait. The range-topping S3 is a popular version of the A3 hatchback range, accounting for one in five sales in Great Britain, despite prices expected to rise from its predecessor’s £37,000 to nearer £39,000.

We can see why it’s a popular choice: you get the traditional Audi quality in spades, with an attractive, classy design lurking under that wacky prototype camouflage - and a level of build quality and gadgetry that will bring a warm glow of satisfaction when you park it up at home or the office car park. It’s a cut above more mainstream models.

It’s also a rapid high-performance hatchback - and it’s the way it melds these two qualities, with a Clark Kent-like transformation, that is so compelling. Audi invited Parkers to drive a disguised prototype of the new 2020 Audi S3 Sportback and you can read on for our preview guide.

The 2020 Audi S3 is a devastatingly fast car. No performance figures have been published yet, but we know it features a 310hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine - and that’s a lot of power in a modest hatchback this size. It's also (perhaps disappointingly) exactly the same power output as its predecessor.

We would estimate that it will do the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in a little under five seconds, making it as fast as many Porsches. Suffice to say, you’ll have plenty of acceleration on tap when you need to overtake a caravan or speed up to join a motorway.

How does it handle?

  • Adaptive suspension option adds greater capability
  • Less powerful versions get torsion beam rear axle
  • Electromechanical steering has plenty of feel

First thing's first - and this is a shock for all those who think Audis are only good at motorways - the A3 is a thoroughly good driver's car. It's up there with the BMW 1 Series, and slightly ahead of the much-improved Mercedes-Benz A-Class. But that's with the caveat that we've only tried the more powerful model with independent rear suspension and Drive Select.

With the exception of the base level Sport model, all Audi A3s come equipped with a Drive Select function, enabling drivers to choose between four to five pre-set modes, depending on the engine. These subtly alter the response of the throttle pedal, the power steering assistance and in the case of automatic transmissions, gear changes.

The suspension setup of the A3 varies according to which model you choose. All versions with less than 150hp get a relatively uncomplicated torsion beam rear axle setup, while A3s with 150hp or more will get a more advanced multi-link rear suspension.

With the latter, the A3 gains better stability in bends, particularly during faster driving. As an option, Audi also offers a new adaptive suspension system that provides for greater levels of comfort and equally firmer ride during more dynamic driving (depending on the setting you choose).

It will cost more, but undoubtedly adds to the A3’s ability on the road. However, as the A3 gains an 11mm increase in track width across the range in comparison to its predecessor, whichever version you choose, they’re all good to drive.

From the outset Audi will offer the A3 with front-wheel drive but in time the company will add its quattro all-wheel drive transmissions to some of the engines in the range.

Sharper handling S3 model

There are few rivals that offer such a broad range of ability: the S3’s Quattro all-wheel drive set-up means there is never any scrabbling for grip, as the car automatically sends drive to all four wheels and this is a real boon if you live in the countryside or want to cope better with winter slush and snow.

You might find more outright thrills in a fast Ford such as a Focus ST or RS, and the BMW M135i is perhaps more involving, but we really rate the S3’s handling. In Dynamic mode, everything sharpens up: the suspension tautens, the steering gets a little weightier and the exhaust note takes on a woofling, purposeful burble reminiscent of a proper sports car.

But the Audi’s ace card is how it then relaxes - and breathe - when you select Comfort mode. It has a real spread of abilities that is quite compelling. If you’re not sure what mood you’re in, you can just leave the S3 in Auto mode, where the car makes the decisions for you, depending on your driving style and road conditions.