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Twin Test: Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series

  • Heavyweights of the small company car world go head to head 
  • Audi offers a bigger boot while BMW promises a more rewarding drive
  • Find out which one we like best

If it’s a showdown you’re after it doesn’t get much fiercer than the premium heavyweights of the compact executive segment – the BMW 1 Series and the Audi A3.

We’ve pitted them against each other to see which you should spend your money on.

BMW 1 Series has had a facelift

Pick of the range

To start things off we need a level playing field, so we’ve chosen an engine and trim level for both cars that represents the best value for money while still offering plenty of equipment and performance.

Both are available in three- or five-door (Audi calls this a Sportback) body styles, and while we like the three-door look, we think the five-door models offer much more practicality.

That just leaves the spec, and we’ve chosen two diesels, the BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus and the Audi A3 1.6 TDI Ultra SE Technik.

Practicality

The Audi A3 offers plenty of space for passengers and you could conceivably get three adults in the back, although it would be more comfortable for all involved if you stuck to two.

A3 offers bigger boot

Standard boot space is plentiful too, with 380 litres, and this can be expanded to 1,220 litres by collapsing the rear seats, making it one of the most practical cars in the sector.

Supplementing this space are plenty of cubbies dotted around the cabin to keep items in alongside good-sized door pockets and glove box.

The BMW offers less space and you’ll have to squeeze up if you want to get three adults in the back. Although things are better in this generation of car than the last, they still lag behind the Audi.

BMW boot is not as big but still quite big

An extra 30 litres of bootspace means you get 360 litres now, more than a Volkswagen Golf but less than its direct competition, the A3. Fold the seats down to unlock 1,200 litres of space.

You do get a lot of cubbies though so you should be able to live with the slightly smaller boot.

Performance

Although BMW prides itself on building the ultimate driving machine this 116d is more tuned towards economy, so don’t expect it to deliver huge amounts of speed.

That said, it produces 114bhp which is enough to propel it from 0-60 in 10.1 seconds and 270Nm of torque means good in-gear acceleration.

It’s also the only rear-wheel drive car in the segment and this makes it more rewarding to drive on a windy road. An inline engine layout means excellent weight distribution so the 1 Series always feels balanced.

Audi’s fleet-focussed A3 is powered by a 108bhp engine which produces a slightly slower 0-60mph sprint, taking 10.4 seconds.

The wheelbase of the A3 was lengthened to make the Sportback version but this hasn’t detracted from the way it drives, B-road blasts are still fun thanks to high levels of grip and minimal body roll and it’s steering is well-weighted and accurate. Still, the BMW is the driver’s choice.

Audi A3 is a pleasure on the move

Kit

Although neither car is bristling with kit, you get all the essentials you need for business use thanks to a fleet focussed specification. This means you can keep monthly bills down by avoiding costly options.

Buy the Audi if you want air-con, alloy wheels, cloth seat trim, cruise control, parking sensors and sat nav.

The BMW offers largely the same line up but does offer a slightly larger screen and keyless ignition start on top.

BMW has bigger screen

Tax

      BMW     Audi 
P11D Value      £22,505     £22,180
2015/16 Monthly tax*     £60     £59
2016/17 Monthly tax*     £56      £55
2017/18 Monthly tax*      £64     £63

Winner – Audi A3

It's a tightly run thing, with both cars scoring 4.5 stars in our individual tests. If we were picking a performance version then the BMW would have it, but based entirely on practicality, running costs and outright boot space, the Audi A3 Sportback is the one to have.

*based on a 20 per cent tax payer using our Company Car Tax calculator