It’s easy to dismiss the Audi A3 as a Volkswagen Golf with a fancier badge. In reality, it doesn’t feel like a Golf.
From its gorgeous interior to its sporty drive, the A3 has a character all of its own. Whether you go for the standard three-door or the five-door Sportback version (an A3 Saloon is also available). And if you look beyond the Golf’s headline-grabbing starting price, you’ll see that model for model the A3 is barely any more expensive.
Company car drivers might do well to consider the plug-in hybrid e-tron model. It combines low running costs with good performance.
Here’s a list of pros and cons.
Space in the Audi A3
There’s plenty of space in the front of the Audi A3, and headroom is good throughout. However, six-footers will wish the three-door version of the car had a bit more rear knee room. This is exactly what you get with the Sportback model, along with two extra doors, so it’s a far more practical choice.
Whichever version of the A3 you choose, the boot is big enough to take a fold-up baby buggy or the weekly food shop. Plus there’s a false boot floor that lets you divide the space in two and raise the load level so that you’re less likely to strain your back when lifting in heavy items. It is worth noting that the e-Tron plug-in hybrid’s boot is 100 litres smaller than other models, due to the packaging of the battery pack and fuel tank.
Like most rivals, the A3 has a couple of cupholders and a good-sized storage bin between its front seats.
Comfort in the Audi A3
The A3’s suspension feels perfectly judged, whether you’re driving in town or on the motorway, as long as you avoid the sportiest setup that’s standard on S-line cars, and stick with 16- or 17-inch wheels. Any larger than that and the ride quality begins to deteriorate, and you hear more noise from the tyres.
It’s certainly a lot more comfortable than the Mercedes A-class, and the A3 also has much quieter engines; the petrol versions, in particular, are some of the best around.
A wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment ensures drivers of all sizes can find a position that suits, and the seats themselves are supportive, so you shouldn’t suffer aches and pains on long journeys.
Dashboard Styling of the Audi A3
Audi is famed for the quality of its interiors, and the A3 shows why because its dashboard wouldn’t look out of place in a car that cost twice as much. Certainly, no rival feels as classy, but the A3’s dash is also simple to use. You operate most functions via a single rotary dial that’s positioned within easy reach and linked to onscreen menus. What’s more, those menus are clearly laid out, and there are shortcut buttons that let you quickly flip between them.
The way the display screen is positioned high on the dash is also welcome because it means you can always keep half an eye on the road. That Audi now offers the A3 with its virtual cockpit display, which replaces the dials with a digital screen that, in addition to speed and revs, can show everything from fuel economy to satnav maps, only adds to the car’s upmarket feel.
Driving Ease of the Audi A3
Rear visibility is better in the three-door A3 than the A3 Sportback, but both versions are easier to see out of than a BMW 1-series or Mercedes A-class.
You shouldn’t have any trouble parking, then, especially if you specify the optional reversing sensors or rear-view camera. And the A3’s steering, gearshift and pedals are all sweetly weighted, so driving it never feels like hard work.
Engines that pull the car with ease also help here, and that includes the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol model. And you can have an automatic gearbox with every engine, although the four-wheel drive is limited to the 2.0-litre models.
As well as being very comfortable, the Audi A3 is also good fun to drive, feeling agile in corners, with lots of grips and precise steering.
The 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6 diesel engines offer perfectly adequate performance, while the 1.4-litre petrol or any of the 2.0-litre engines are genuinely exciting. And the high-performance S3 is an absolute hoot.
Reliability of the Audi A3
Audi doesn’t have the best record for reliability.
It’s also worth noting that Audi’s warranty last for three years or 60,000 miles – whichever comes sooner – whereas Mercedes and BMW both offer three-year, unlimited-mileage warranties.
The battery of the e-Tron plug-in hybrid model is covered by an eight-year warranty.
The most frugal version of the Audi A3 is the 1.6-litre diesel, which returns an official average of 74mpg, and in the real world will top 60mpg if driven sensibly.
The lower-powered 2.0-litre diesel manages similar figures, and while petrol A3s are obviously thirstier, they’re still easier on fuel than direct rivals. The 1.4-litre petrol engine has a system that seamlessly cuts off two of the cylinders when they aren’t needed in order to save fuel, helping it to achieve about 40mpg in normal use. The 1.0-litre petrol, on the other hand, will return closer to 50mpg in normal driving.
Safety in the Audi A3
Audi fits seven airbags, including one beneath the dashboard that cushions any impact with the driver’s knees.
Its scores for adult occupant safety and pedestrian protection were particularly impressive, bettering those of the BMW 1-series, Mercedes A-class and VW Golf, while only the Golf scored higher than the A3 for child occupant safety.
However, you do have to pay extra for a city emergency braking system, which automatically applies the brakes if it looks like you’re going to run into the car in front in stop-start traffic.