"The striking Audi A3 Sportback now has the technology it needs to compete with rivals"
Since its arrival in 1997, the Audi A3 has set the template for affordable upmarket cars, selling to more than 600,000 customers in the UK alone. It goes up against a host of strong rivals, most notably the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class, while the Volkswagen Golf is a slightly more affordable alternative.
For its fourth outing, the notoriously conservative A3 has a bolder, more exciting exterior design that changes quite markedly depending on which trim level you choose. The entry-level Technik is relatively sedate, while the S line trim adds a sporty body kit and sharp LED exterior and interior lighting. There isn’t a three-door model anymore, so the five-door Sportback is offered initially and will be joined by a four-door saloon. It's also likely we'll see a coupe-like version of the A3 to rival the Mercedes CLA, and possibly even a crossover model in due course. There's a powerful S3 model in the works and an even faster Audi RS3 is due in 2021.
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The interior is similarly radical, with analogue dials replaced by a standard Virtual Cockpit instrument display and every A3 coming with a 10.1-inch infotainment screen. Rather than sitting atop the dash, this is now integrated into the centre console, and the driver has a more cocoon like seating position than before. Quality is excellent, even in versions using upholstery manufactured from recycled plastic bottles, and technology feels two generations ahead of the outgoing model.
A small increase in width and length means passengers should find there's a little more room to stretch out, but boot space is exactly the same at 380 litres, matching most competitors.
Engines are familiar but updated, and buyers can choose between regular petrol and diesel combustion engines with mild-hybrid technology for slightly lower running costs, or a plug-in hybrid ‘40 TFSI e’ model. We expect the 1.5-litre petrol with 148bhp in the A3 35 TFSI to be a strong seller, offering 0-62mph in under nine seconds and fuel economy of over 45mpg. We even managed to better this figure over several hundred miles of driving. High-mileage drivers should also consider the A3 35 TDI, which has lower tailpipe emissions than older versions and manages up to 61.4mpg, while also feeling punchier than the petrol.
Handling is assured and secure, even in the front-wheel-drive versions we've tried so far. Quattro four-wheel drive will also be available, but our prediction is that it will be unnecessary for most drivers until much more powerful versions arrive.
Audi A3 Sportback hatchback - MPG, running costs & CO2
Efficient petrol and diesel engines, mild hybrid tech and a plug-in hybrid offer plenty of choice
Audi is broadening the choices offered to A3 owners, so while petrol and diesel engines are available, these options are bolstered by mild-hybrid technology and the arrival of a fully fledged plug-in hybrid A3 40 TFSI e. The latter uses a petrol engine, electric motor and battery to provide an electric range of around 41 miles, slashing fuel use and CO2 emissions.
Audi A3 MPG & CO2
Sticking with petrol first, the 148bhp 1.5-litre '35 TFSI' petrol engine has the option of mild-hybrid technology, incrementally increasing fuel-efficiency and cutting CO2 emissions. This will arrive shortly after launch, but until then the standard engine is hardly a gas guzzler, managing up to 48.7mpg with a manual gearbox. With emissions from 132g/km, it's also affordable for company-car drivers thanks to a reasonable BiK band.
During hundreds of miles of mixed driving, we found the 1.5-litre petrol even more economical than advertised, managing exactly 50mpg. This is impressive for a petrol family car, and helps make the A3 a great all-rounder.
The smaller 1.0-litre petrol engine is badged as ‘30 TFSI’ and is capable of up to 51.4mpg when the car has 16-inch alloy wheels fitted. Its emissions figure of 124g/km places it in a relatively high BiK band.
Topping the economy charts is the 40 TFSI e plug-in hybrid, which is officially capable of around 41 miles of pure-electric running and economy of up to 282.5mpg. Emissions of 25-30g/km give the A3 PHEV a low BiK banding, meaning it’s the model that will appeal most to company-car drivers. The 13kWh battery can be charged in around four hours using a home wallbox.
Choose the 35 TDI diesel, perhaps if you have a high annual mileage, and you can expect up to 61.4mpg. BiK payments will be higher, with CO2 emissions from 120g/km, depending on which trim level and alloy wheels are selected. A 30 TDI with 114bhp is also available with even better efficiency figures, returning up to 64.2mpg with emissions starting from 115g/km.
Choose a 1.0-litre Audi A3 30 TFSI Technik and insurance groups start from 17, while a more powerful A3 35 TFSI Edition 1 is in group 26 out of 50. That's the same rating as the diesel A 35 TDI in S Line trim.
Audi provides a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is fairly average for the class and can be extended for an extra cost. Increasing it to four years and 75,000 miles costs £300, while a five-year/90,000-mile warranty is just over £600 extra, despite a five-year/100,000-mile warranty coming as standard with a Hyundai i30 or Toyota Corolla.
Audi typically offers customers two servicing plans: one for low-mileage drivers who are likely to take more short trips, and another for motorists who have a higher mileage and tend to take longer motorway trips. The first sees maintenance take place annually, while the latter uses sensors to measure wear and suggest a service - although these will never be more than two years apart.
Audi A3 Sportback hatchback - Engines, drive & performance
Regular versions of the A3 are smooth and controlled but not especially engaging
The Audi A3 has always been a smooth, assured car to drive, without necessarily offering the enjoyment of rivals like the BMW 1 Series. Based on an upgrade of the existing MQB platform, there's little about the latest A3 that tears up the rulebook here, and the A3 has similarly mature and slick manners as before.
Even the front-wheel-drive versions have plenty of grip, with an unflappable feel aided by multi-link rear suspension - a more expensive design than the torsion beam setup found in some cheaper cars, fitted in versions with 148bhp or more. Optional Progressive Steering needs smaller inputs at lower speeds and can be altered in different driving modes. It's a bit light and lacking in feel but switching into 'Dynamic' mode adds some weight. Buyers can also choose adaptive suspension, which works better than before, providing decent ride comfort. The standard suspension setup is also improved, so while adaptive suspension is a tempting feature, it isn't essential.
Audi A3 petrol engines
The entry-level petrol is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo badged 30 TFSI with 109bhp. Despite its low output, it's eager to rev and gets the A3 from 0-62mph in 10.6 seconds. A surprising top speed of 127mph also means it shouldn't feel strained at the national speed limit. Just a six-speed manual gearbox is available, so the 30 TFSI is off the table if you want an automatic.
With 148bhp, the 1.5-litre engine in the A3 35 TFSI can get from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds with a seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox. That should be plenty fast enough for most families, and its 139mph top speed will make motorway cruising at 70mph nicely relaxed too.
It doesn't feel quite as nippy as you may expect but there's enough performance available to make it an acceptable all-rounder and our pick of the range. The six-speed manual gearbox has a light throw but can feel a bit jerky at low speeds. Luckily a high proportion of buyers are expected to opt for the automatic.
The 40 TFSI e plug-in hybrid combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine, a 13kWh battery and an electric motor to produce 201bhp. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox. Performance is brisk, with the plug-in A3 managing 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 141mph.
At launch there was just one 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine badged 35 TDI, which is quieter than in the previous A3. It comes with front-wheel drive and the same automatic gearbox as the petrol at first, with four-wheel drive quattro also on the way for added traction. Power is identical at 148bhp, but extra torque makes the diesel feel punchier than the 35 TFSI in traffic and for overtaking.
This has now been joined by a 30 TDI version, which uses a 114bhp version of the same engine. Designed primarily with economy in mind, it still gets from 0-62mph in a reasonable 10.1 seconds. Like the entry-level petrol, it's also available with just one six-speed manual gearbox.
Audi A3 Sportback hatchback - Interior & comfort
The fourth-generation Audi A3 is more like a computer on wheels than before
Along with its premium badge, the A3's main selling point has always been its upmarket interior. In fact, along with the BMW 1 Series, the A3 was one of the first cars to offer an executive class ownership experience in a smaller package; a trick countless hatchbacks and crossovers now try to pull off.
For its fourth outing, Audi has focused on technology, with a big step-up in processing power for its infotainment system to keep occupants connected, provide real-time navigation updates and media, while also improving safety.
Audi A3 dashboard
There's a different feel to the driver's seat in the latest A3 because an angled dashboard, wide centre console and even the air vents on either side of the instruments, all lend it a focused, cockpit-like atmosphere. Soft-touch materials have been replaced with swathes of aluminium-style trim.
It goes without saying that it's far more modern than its dated predecessor, but retains that car's narrow, wing-like dashboard structure and minimal approach. The infotainment screen no longer sprouts from the dashboard, instead sitting adjacent to your hand on the steering wheel, while Audi's Virtual Cockpit digital instruments are also standard. Unlike the latest Volkswagen Golf with its touch-sensitive slider, many will be glad its climate controls are still physical buttons.
An automatic gearbox with a small toggle-like gear selector means designers have been able to get more creative with their design, making space for a wireless charging smartphone pad below the centre console. There's also a small iPod-style controller for the stereo system but its functions are limited to changing the volume and skipping media tracks.
No less than five trim levels will be offered, called Technik, Sport, S line, Edition 1 and Vorsprung, with Technik and S line likely to be most popular. Technik is similar to the SE trim Audi has used previously, with 16-inch alloy wheels and cloth seats, but standard features like a 10.1-inch touchscreen with sat nav, a 10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit and LED headlights mean it's still well equipped.
Sport brings an aesthetic upgrade with larger wheels and a part-leather interior, along with a choice of driving modes, dual-zone climate control and folding door mirrors. S line alters the A3's looks again with 18-inch wheels, LED rear lights with sweeping indicators, privacy glass, sports seats and ambient interior lighting. It's a desirable makeover, that seems to strike a chord with UK buyers.
Edition 1 and Vorsprung both aim to give the A3 an even more premium feel, adding technology such as Matrix LED headlights, a Bang & Olufsen stereo, Virtual Cockpit Plus and even larger wheels.
Audi has long been prolific when it comes to options, even making it possible to personalise and upgrade its smallest A1 city car to feature almost every feature under the sun. That continues here, but some options like the Comfort and Sound Pack for Technik cars look sensible, adding parking sensors, heated front seats, a rear-view camera and Bang & Olufsen sound system for £1,200. It's also a good idea to include a space-saver spare wheel for £120, although charging £25 for a tool kit and jack is stingy.
Audi A3 Sportback hatchback - Practicality & boot space
A slight size increase brings small gains inside, while the boot is on par with rivals
Shifting trends mean Audi no longer sells a three-door A3, so the five-door Sportback is now the standard car, with a four-door saloon version set to follow later.
Audi A3 interior space & storage
The latest model is slightly longer and wider overall, and the benefit of this is slightly more headroom and legroom front and rear. There's plenty of room with four passengers but the middle seat isn't as comfortable, so is best reserved for short trips only.
While passenger space is boosted slightly, boot space remains unchanged at 380 litres behind the rear seats, expanding to 1,200 litres when they're folded down. Technik trim level comes with 60:40 split and fold rear seats, but these are upgraded to a 40:20:40 design for Sport. This gives the benefit of a load-through for long items such as skis or snowboards, as well as a centre armrest with cup holders.
In the plug-in hybrid 40 TFSI e model, overall boot space is reduced to 280 litres due to the car’s battery; the boot floor is raised to accommodate it.
The A3 remains competitive in the class, with identical luggage space to the BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen Golf, while the 370-litre boot in the Mercedes A-Class is slightly smaller. The A3 also boasts a usefully wide boot opening and there’s no luggage lip to haul bags over.
A removable towbar with a 13-pin socket, that can swivel up behind the bumper when not in use, is available as an official accessory for around £800. The A3 Sportback can make a surprisingly good tow car, with even the 30 TFSI petrol rated to tow a 1,500kg braked trailer, climbing to 1,800kg for the diesel engines.