Over the years, Audi has perfected the chic, classy styling it has become renowned for. The A3 is a great exponent of its designers’ art.
There’s not a crease wasted, nor a strip of chrome that looks out of place. It’s the sort of car that Anna Wintour would find difficult to criticise.
Early cars still look contemporary, but Audi tweaked the car’s looks with a facelift in 2016 that brought sharper-looking headlights and tail lights, a bigger grille area and different styles of alloy wheel.
Car makers often fall into the trap of making their cars actually look worse after a facelift - not Audi. It simply made the A3 and A3 Sportback look more attractive to a younger range of potential buyers.
You might also want to consider a preowned A3, as used Audi models are usually much cheaper.
Audi has perfected the chic, classy styling it has become renowned for
What’s it like to drive?
Previous versions of the A3 were rightly criticised for offering a level of driving joy equivalent to that of a meeting of accountants. This generation of Audi A3 and A3 Sportback will make you skip that meeting just to go for a drive.
Older A3s had consumed one or two pies, but this A3 has been at the gym. It steers accurately and changes direction nimbly, and because it’s lighter it doesn’t need firm suspension to keep everything in check, so the ride’s better. Win-win. It’s light and nippy in town, too, so ducking and diving in traffic is easy, so is parking.
The engine range is enormous, catering for everyone from families nipping to the shops down the road to those putting in a hot lap around the Nürburgring in the RS3.
In reality, the 123bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol in pre-facelift models is all you’ll need if the bulk of your life consists of commutes, school runs or shopping trips. If your budget stretches to a post-facelift car, the three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo is the sweet spot.
If you tend to spend more time on the motorway, the 110bhp 1.6-litre diesel is a decent bet, while the 150bhp 2.0 TDI covers both the performance and economy bases.
This generation of Audi A3 and A3 Sportback will make you skip that meeting just to go for a drive.
It’s fair to say interiors are Audi’s thing. Those who came up with the A3’s should have been given a bonus. Or a day off at least, because it’s lovely.
It’s simple, but it’s really very classy, with sumptuous-feeling plastics and slick, smooth controls. Even early entry-level A3s come with air-conditioning and Audi’s neat Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system, A rotary knob between the seats controls the system, in conjunction with a screen that rises from the dashboard. Very cool. It contains DAB radio and Bluetooth. These models are too early for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though.
Moving up the range to Sport gets you dual-zone climate control and sports seats, while S Line models have firmer suspension, part-leather trim and a body-kit. Sport is probably the ideal spec, because S Line has quite a firm ride.
Later cars also had the option of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit display, which replaces the traditional dials with a 12.3-inch screen that shows pretty much everything you could need, including driving info and a sat-nav map. It’s undeniably cool.
The three-door A3 is the sort of car that trendy young things about town will enjoy, mainly because they don’t have to worry too much about getting passengers into the back seat very often.
It has loads of room up front, and a huge range of adjustment for the seats and steering wheel. Getting into the back is awkward but there’s decent space once you’re back there.
The same applies for the five-door A3 Sportback, which makes it much easier to access the rear seat. A couple of six-footers will be more than happy back there, and a third person will be fine for shorter trips.
The boot is absolutely on par with those in the BMW 1-Series and Mercedes A-Class, but the Skoda Octavia has them both beat.
Running costs and reliability
The 1.4-litre petrol engine not only does it give the A3 a decent turn of pace, it also does so while resisting regular refuels. It’ll do an average of 46mpg. The 1.0 engine in the facelifted A3 is better still, with an average of 62.8mpg. The diesels are even more economical – the 1.6 will do 74.3mpg and the 2.0 will do 67.3mpg, so you’ll go a long distance between fills.
Insurance groupings range from a pretty cheap group 14 in smaller-engine models, up to group 46 for the fire-breathing RS3.
What we love
The Volkswagen Golf may be versatile, but there’s an argument to say that the A3 is even more so. Audi’s hatchback does all the practical things the Golf does, but with an extra smattering of pizzazz and quality. Every time you get into it, you’ll feel like taking a second to look around and take stock, because it’ll give you that “oh yes” feeling.
Better still, the A3 drives every bit as well as the Golf, and is similarly economical. Can’t really argue with all that.
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No question about it, the Audi A3 is the sort of car that you can buy with your heart, safe in the knowledge that your head has given you its full blessing. Each journey will feel like an event, and every time you set eyes on it you’ll feel like you’ve done rather well for yourself.
Recommended for: sporty singles, young couples, active pensioners
This review was