- We look into the desirable Audi A3 hatchback range
- Also available as a saloon or convertible
- Which version is best for you?
The Audi A3 is a desirable alternative to the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Volvo V40. It’s got a great image and an even better interior to woo buyers looking for something upmarket and with a wide range of engine and trim levels.
It’s just been facelifted, too, with a new front grille, redesigned bumpers, sharper lights and some tweaks to the interior and equipment, including the availability of Audi’s slick all-digital Virtual Cockpit in place of traditional dials.
There’s a bodystyle to suit most buyers, with a choice of three-door hatchback, five-door Sportback, an A3 Saloon and also an A3 Cabriolet – the latter two of which look particularly sleek and stylish.
Audi A3 specification
If you go for the A3 three-door or Sportback, there are four trim levels to choose from – SE, SE Technik, Sport and S Line. The A3 Saloon is available in just Sport and S Line trims, while those after the soft-top have the choice of SE, Sport and S Line models.
If you want something sportier, there’s an S3 available in all bodystyles, but we’ll go into more detail on that model later.
Finally, there’s the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid, with seriously low claimed CO2 and fuel consumption figures. Make no mistake, the Audi A3 range is one of the widest out there - you won't be stuck for choice!
Audi A3 trim levels
The Audi A3 range kicks off with the SE, which comes with the following equipment:
• 16-inch alloy wheels
• Bluetooth phone connectivity
• DAB radio
• Voice control
• Front centre armrest
• Xenon headlights with LED daytime-running lights
• Electric windows
• Electric door mirrors
• Cruise control
• Automatic lights and wipers
• Tyre-pressure warning system
• 60:40 split-folding rear seats
• Space-saver spare wheel
The A3 SE Technik is aimed at company car drivers. It includes the following over the SE:
• Satellite navigation
• Rear parking sensors
As the name suggests, Sport models add some sportier touches, including:
• 17-inch alloy wheels
• Audi Drive Select – these are different driving modes made up of Comfort, Auto and Dynamic
• Front sports seats
• Aluminium interior trim and exterior window surround
• Dual-zone climate control
The S Line will appeal to buyers looking for the sharpest-looking A3. Kit includes:
• 18-inch alloy wheels
• Sportier-looking front and rear bumpers, side sills and rear spoiler
• Lowered and stiffened sports suspension
• Sports seats with S Line logos
• Flat-bottomed steering wheel
• Illuminated door sill trims
• LED interior lighting pack
• Storage pack – various nets and compartments throughout the cabin
• Black headlining
• Stainless steel pedals
• LED headlights and LED rear lights featuring dynamic rear indicators
Audi A3 options
You can add a bewildering array of options to the Audi A3 which can be tempting to do, although the facelifted model has a more generous standard kit list than before.
Try not to get too carried away, though - Audi options lists are extensive and can increase the price of the car by an awful lot – it’s not impossible to spec a top-of-the-range diesel A3 to more than £40,000… You’re unlikely to see this extra outlay reflected in its future value, either.
One of the headline pieces of kit in the updated A3 range is the Virtual Cockpit. It uses a 12.3-inch TFT screen in place of analogue dials that lets the driver configure everything from the sat-nav and multimedia to the trip computer and driver assistance systems.
You can specify it as part of Audi’s £1,395 Technology Pack Advanced that also includes a more advanced version of its MMI navigation system, internet access and wireless phone-charging. Alternatively, you can pay £450 for it on its own.
If you want rear parking sensors, you’ll have to pay £425, or you can go for front and rear sensors with a graphic representation on the car’s screen - this will cost you £300 or £700 depending on the model. If you want the car to do the parking for you, the £875 Park Assist pack is what you’re after.
The sports suspension of S Line models might be a little firm for some, so you can delete this and go for standard suspension free of charge if you still want the sporty looks of the S Line, but with a more cosseting ride.
Audi’s Matrix LED lights are impressively bright and look great, but they cost between £895 and £1,750 as part of different packs depending on the trim level. We’d probably stick with the standard lights unless you really have to have them.
Leather seats cost between £1,200 and £1,870 depending on the model, but it’s worth noting that you’ll need to pay an extra £300 if you want them to be heated.
Audi A3 engines
The smallest engine in the A3 range is also the newest – a 1.0 TFSI three-cylinder petrol with 115hp. It’s only available in SE and Sport trim levels, but it boasts attractively low running costs and is actually pretty nippy around town.
Audi claims it’ll return 62.8mpg and just 104g/km of CO2, but these can increase or decrease if you opt for larger alloy wheels. This applies to most of the A3 range, so we’re quoting the official figures based on the car in standard spec.
Next up is a 1.4 TFSI – available on SE, Sport and S Line models - featuring cylinder-on-demand technology. It produces 150hp and 250Nm of torque, but it shuts down two cylinders when all four aren’t required, for example when you’re just cruising along and the engine is under very little strain. This technology helps bring running costs down, with CO2 emissions of just 105g/km for the manual and 109g/km for the S Tronic automatic, and fuel economy of 62.8mpg (manual) and 60.1mpg (S Tronic).
At the top of the standard petrol range is a 2.0 TFSI with 190hp on Sport and S Line models. It’ll go from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds when fitted with the S Tronic gearbox, while the Quattro four-wheel drive version will do the sprint in 6.1 seconds.
CO2 emissions are between 129-134g/km depending on the wheel size, while fuel economy is claimed to be around 47.9 and 50.4mpg.
If you prefer diesel power, there’s a 1.6-litre TDI and three 2.0-litre TDI engines in different power outputs. The 1.6-litre TDI produces 110hp and 250Nm of torque, while fuel economy of 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 99g/km will appeal to company car drivers. This is available in all trim levels.
Next up is a 2.0 TDI, also available across the range. Emitting 105g/km and 116g/km with manual and S Tronic gearboxes respectively, it has a useful boost in power over the 1.6-litre TDI with 150hp and 340Nm of torque. Fuel economy is still impressive at 70.6mpg. This engine is also available with Quattro four-wheel drive.
The most powerful diesel engine is a 184hp 2.0-litre TDI, available exclusively with Quattro four-wheel drive and S Tronic gearbox. It’ll go from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds and onto a top speed of 143mph, but Audi claims it’ll still return 58.9mpg, while emitting 127g/km of CO2.
All Audi A3 models come with fuel-saving stop-start technology to help boost fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions.
The sporty S3 is the one to go for if you want a bit more performance. From the outside, there are just a few clues to suggest it’s not a regular A3, with unique 18-inch alloy wheels, grey exterior trim, aluminium-look door mirrors, quad exhausts and plenty of S3 badges.
Inside, heated leather sports seats are standard, as are sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity, storage pack, LED interior lighting, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and automatic lights and wipers.
The main difference over regular A3s is under the bonnet. The S3 is powered by a 2.0 TFSI turbocharged petrol engine with 310hp and 380Nm of torque. It comes with Quattro four-wheel drive and there’s a choice of manual or S Tronic gearboxes. It’ll go from 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds - 4.5 seconds for the S Tronic – which is slightly faster than the Volkswagen Golf R with which it shares many parts.
As you’d expect, the S3 is the least economical version of the A3, returning 40.4mpg (44.1mpg for the S Tronic) and emitting between 146 and 163g/km of CO2.
Besides the obvious styling differences, there are just one or two spec variations between S3 bodystyles. The S3 Saloon comes with adaptive dampers with three suspension settings and larger 19-inch alloy wheels, while the S3 Cabriolet is only available with the seven-speed S Tronic gearbox.
Audi A3 e-tron
The Audi A3 e-tron is a plug-in hybrid version of the A3. It’s powered by a 150hp 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine mated to an electric motor – they combine to create a total power output of 204hp.
The plug-in hybrid powertrain enables headline-grabbing low running costs, which will appeal in particular to company car drivers, thanks to CO2 emissions of just 37g/km and a claimed 176mpg on the outgoing car.
Even if the figures don’t improve with the facelifted model, the A3 e-tron is exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge, it’s eligible for a £2,500 plug-in hybrid and electric car grant from the government, and company car drivers will like that it sits in the 7 percent company car tax band.
Aesthetically, the A3 e-tron isn’t that different from regular A3 Sportback models. There’s a different grille design with an e-tron badge situated within it, different LED daytime-running lights and a unique alloy wheel design. Even the charging point is hidden behind the Audi badge at the front.
Under the skin there’s a bit more to differentiate the e-tron from other A3s, with a generous list of standard equipment, including:
• Keyless entry and start
• Autonomous braking with pedestrian detection
• EV (electric vehicle) driving modes
• Brake recuperation
• LED headlights with high-beam assist
• Dual-zone climate control
• Audi Connect – internet access and features such as Google Maps and street view for sat-nav
• Lane assist
• Rear parking sensors
• Automatic lights and wipers
Verdict – which Audi A3 should you buy?
Of course, buyers will have their preferences when it comes to bodystyle – the same people aren’t going to consider a convertible and hatchback at the same time, so we’re going to recommend what we think is the best all-rounder in the A3 range.
For starters, we’d go for the A3 Sportback because the extra practicality that the five-door bodystyle offers is great for family buyers – not only is the boot 15 litres larger than the three-door at 380 litres, but it also has more rear legroom thanks to a slight increase in the length of the wheelbase.
For us, it’s a toss-up between the 2.0 TDI 150 and the 1.4 TFSI 150. They have equal power outputs (the diesel has more torque) and the economy figures aren’t actually too far apart, either – 67.3mpg vs 60.1mpg respectively.
The sticking point, though, is that the petrol costs nearly £1,500 less to buy in the first place, and it’ll take a while to recoup the costs in fuel if you pay more for the diesel. For this reason, we’d opt for the A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI Sport.
While entry-level SE models are well-specified, Sport adds some desirable extras such as dual-zone climate control, larger alloy wheels, sat-nav and Audi Drive Select that will reduce the temptation to dip into the options list.
If you’re buying used, trim specifications will be slightly different to buying new because of the recent 2016 facelift. Sport would still be our choice, but popular optional extras with buyers included sat-nav, heated seats, electric folding mirrors and a Comfort Pack which included automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and cruise control. This means there will probably be a lot of cars on the market with a few of these options fitted.