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's a great range of engines on offer with the A3. Petrol, diesel, and plug-in hybrid variants are all present, aiming to entice different types of people with varying degrees of power. All A3s are front-wheel drive, except for the S3 which has Quattro all-wheel drive, which could be useful if you live in the countryside or a place where extra traction might come in handy.

Audi A3 Sportback (2020) driving

Petrol power

30 TFSI

The least powerful A3 on offer. The 30 TFSI is a 1.0-litre 116hp engine with a 0-62mph time of 9.9 seconds.

35 TFSI

This is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with 150hp and 250Nm of torque. The 0-62mph time is dealt with in 8.4seconds, and it feels more than fast enough for most situations. It feels a bit quicker than the 0-62mph time would suggest and is just the ticket for people who can't warrant a diesel, but still want something that won't leave them embarrassed on a ring road.

We're running a 35 TFSI as a long-term test car - find out more

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, but it’s a handy way to save fuel.

It's 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 this case it uses 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 works seamlessly - the only way you can notice the cylinders cutting out on a cruise on the motorway is the car's driver display showing it to you.

Diesel engines

30 TDI

The 30 TDI uses a 2.0-litre diesel engine like the 35 TDI below, but it's less powerful, with 116hp on tap. When mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, it's more economical and has lower emissions than the 35 TDI. Which should benefit company car drivers and those that cover high mileages. 

35 TDI

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. 

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 responsive and 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.

Plug-in hybrid

Audi A3 electric mode

40 TFSI e

On paper, the plug-in hybrid 40 TFSI e is the most economical, cleanest, and second-fastest A3 available. This plug-in hybrid combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor to make 201hp. Peak torque is 350Nm, and it's only available as an auto.

The 0-62mph sprint is completed 7.6 seconds, around 0.8 seconds quicker than the regular 35 TFSI petrol auto.

Efficiency is of course king, but stick it in the Dynamic driving mode and it feels quick. There's a low gut punch of torque as the electric motor kicks in, really propelling the car down the road.

Of course, there are different EV modes and a designated EV button. Default mode is electric - which tries to just use the battery. While there's also a hybrid mode that will allow the car to figure out how to use the petrol/electric depending on the situation. The hold function is simple and works well - allowing you to hold onto some juice in anticipation for low emission zones or cruising silently in your street.

There will soon be a 45 TFSI e with 245hp too.

More power from the S3 Sportback

The range-topping S3 is a popular version of the A3 hatchback range, accounting for one in five sales in Great Britain. It's not surprising when you think about it, given the substantial increase in performance and Quattro all-wheel drive for superior year round grip.

You also get the traditional Audi quality in spades, with an attractive, classy design 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 appealing.

The 2020 Audi S3 is a devastatingly fast car - 310hp and 400Nm of torque means a 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds. That's enough to give Porsche drivers a seriously hard time away from the lights.

But what will appeal to S3 fans and previous buyers alike (and put off those looking for a more raw experience) is the relatively unflustered way it goes about deploying the power. No wheelspin, no deafening engine, no vibrations buzzing through the seat or wheel. It just slingshots away with so little drama that you need to keep a keen eye on the speedo.

How does the A3 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.

Audi A3 Sportback (2020 cornering

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-assisted steering 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 get a more advanced multi-link rear suspension.

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. Admittedly, the S3 is aimed at enthusiasts. Most drivers wanting an A3 with better traction would be better suited to a regular model and all-weather tyres.

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 breathes - 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.