Audi A3 review – the original premium hatch reborn
The Audi A3 is now perilously close to losing its premium status in a competitive hatchback market
The premium hatch segment was arguably created by Audi with the original A3 back in 1996 and its subsequent sales success in bringing volume to the has made it a key model in the range, and one that has been emulated across most rival premium brands. Now in its fourth generation, it joins a marketplace flooded with premium rivals, not to mention mainstream alternatives that have used the it as a benchmark in their own development.
The current A3 follows the same successful template, combining solid foundations with a high quality interior, industry-leading tech and a premium edge to the ride and handling in a package that no longer costs ostensibly more than its mainstream rivals, especially when considered as a monthly expenditure where its inherently impressive resale value counteracts its higher purchase price.
But while Audi hasn’t seen the need to fundamentally change its new A3, the car’s platform-mates like the VW Golf and SEAT Leon have closed the gap, diluting its alleged premium-ness. Meanwhile, traditional rivals like the BMW 1 series and Mercedes A-class have been continually improving too, now almost perfectly matching the Audi in packaging, price and poshness.
So has Audi done enough to keep the A3 the default premium hatchback choice, or has the market now closed in? Initial signs in regards to the way the new A3 looks inside and out look worrying; BMW and Mercedes must be licking their lips in anticipation.
Audi A3: in detail
- Engine, gearbox and technical highlights> The A3 range features unstressed petrol, diesel and plug-in powertrains. Transmissions are of the usual manual or dual-clutch variety
- Performance and 0-60 time > Performance is not a priority on non-S and RS models, but standard engines do what they say on the tin
- Ride and handling > Never class leading, the new A3’s hardware works well enough, but its calibration is the enemy here
- MPG and running costs > Efficient and restrained in all matters. Even the top-rung petrol will comfortably keep to 45mpg
- Interior and tech > The last A3 was a masterclass in quiet sophistication, this all-one is not. Tech is fine, but hardly as groundbreaking as it once was
- Design > A flurry of slashes, angles, flicks and LED lights has turned the previously elegant design into a fussy melange
Prices, specs and rivals
Price is arguably the key benchmark for the A3, giving you some insight into how the new model has been designed and engineered. The A3 is available with selection of six pure-combustion powertrains split into five different trim levels, plus two further plug-in hybrid versions, with the S3 and incoming RS3 keeping their roles at the sporty end of things. The previous three-door and convertible body options have been dropped, but the A3 saloon has returned.
For the moment, standard IC models are available in five trim levels including the business-friendly Technik, Sport, S-line, Edition 1 and top-tier Vorsprung. All A3s in the UK will come with a healthy baseline of standard equipment including LED headlights, a standard 10.1-inch MMI touchscreen interface, 10.1-inch Virtual Cockpit, pre-sense with pedestrian detection and alloy wheels, with cars building in specification over the five trim levels.
Sport models build on this with bigger 17-inch wheels, climate control and leather trim. S-line models bump the wheel size up another inch, lower the suspension by 15mm and fit a firmer spring and damper combination along with upgraded LED headlights with scrolling indicators. There’s also the usual S-line styling changes, part-leather sports seats and other subtle interior trim updates.
Edition 1 models go further, bundling 19-inch wheels, full-house Matrix LED headlights, black exterior styling elements, heated leather sports seats, ambient lighting and an upgraded 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit. Prices for each of these trim levels varies by about £6500 from top to bottom, with the range starting at £24,115 for the basic Technik 30TFSi and topping out at £40,180 for a Vorsprung 35TDi with a dual-clutch transmission.
The TFSIe plug-in hybrid models are available in three trims that have corresponding specification to the Sport and S-line petrols, and there's a specific S-line Competition model at the top with a marginally more powerful plug-in powertrain.
Pulling out the A3 S-line 35TFSi with the dual-clutch box for comparison with rivals, it’ll set you back £30,530. For comparison, a lesser powered BMW 118i M Sport costs £30,640, which has an artfully curated equipment list that almost perfectly matches the Audi. A Mercedes A180 AMG Line is about the same at £30,575.
Looking away from the obvious premium rivals, the new SEAT Leon is an impressive jump in quality on the old car, sanding off the last model’s rough edges with a considered and mature design inside and out. When fitted with the same engine as the Audi and a mild-hybrid assistance, the Leon FR has a £2k saving, with the fully-loaded FR Sport still slipping £400 under the A3 S-line’s price point. The equivalent Golf 150TSie DSG R-line, as if by design, sits £200 less than the Audi and £200 more than the SEAT.