- Rewarding to drive
- Auto demands care around town
What stands out?The Audi A3 is an elegant and luxurious small sedan or hatch with a big range of features and options. It has strong safety credentials and is fun to drive, in town and on the open road. You can choose from three fuel-efficient turbocharged petrol engines, and all-wheel drive is available. Auto braking is standard.
You can also read our review of the A3 that this facelifted car replaced in December 2016.
What might bug me?Stop-start driving with the automatic transmission. The S-tronic dual-clutch auto gearbox supplied with all A3s is great once you’re moving, but many drivers do not find it as smooth and easy in town as a conventional or CVT auto.
Driving at 80km/h on your space-saver spare, until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre.
If you have chosen the least costly A3, the 1.0 TSI Sportback, waiting for the engine to restart after it has stopped automatically in traffic. The turbocharged three-cylinder seems to hesitate momentarily when you’re ready to move off, before coming back to life.
That Audi owners experienced months of uncertainty as parent Volkswagen Group developed its response to the Dieselgate scandal that erupted in September 2015, when it admitted that 11 million of its diesels sold worldwide had been capable of cheating emissions tests. Audi says all engines supplied with the current A3 comply with pollution standards – and in Australia, it no longer offers a diesel A3.
What body styles are there?Four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback (Audi calls its hatchback the Sportback).
(An A3 Cabriolet with a folding roof is also available, but is not covered in this review.)
The Audi A3 drives either its front wheels or all four wheels, depending on the version. It is classed as small car, higher priced.
What features do all Audi A3s have?A sound system with a radio and CD player, Bluetooth connectivity for mobile devices, and eight speakers, controllable from a 7.0-inch colour screen that recedes into the dashboard when the car is parked.
Satellite navigation with voice control – tell it where you want to go, and it will plot a route for you.
Dual-zone climate control (which lets you set different temperatures for each side of the cabin).
Cruise control, which can also operate the brakes to prevent you from exceeding the set speed (on downhills, for example).
A leather-wrapped steering wheel that carries buttons for operating the cruise control, the audio system, and your phone.
A reversing camera, and front and rear parking sensors.
Windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains, and extremely bright Xenon headlights that turn on automatically in low light.
Alloy wheels, which are lighter and more stylish than steel wheels, and a speed-limited, space-saver spare wheel.
A tyre pressure monitor, which warns you if a tyre has lost air (this can give you extra time to get a slow puncture seen to).
Audi Pre-sense City, which provides autonomous emergency braking at speeds up to 65km/h.
Seven airbags. Electronic stability control, which helps you control a skidding car and is mandatory on new cars. (For the placement of airbags, and more on A3 safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
The A3 is backed by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?Three turbocharged petrol engines are offered in an A3, and the most fuel-efficient is the smallest and least powerful – the 1.0 litre three-cylinder supplied with the least costly A3, the 1.0 TFSI. It uses no more than 4.9 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined).
The main reason you would not choose this engine is that you want more performance from your premium small car. The 1.0 emits an endearing thrum, and provides as much thrust as you need for suburban driving and steady freeway cruising. Arguably, it is the engine of choice if your A3 will see city use almost exclusively. But it isn’t exciting.
Another reason could be that you want a sedan: the 1.0 TFSI comes only as a Sportback.
A third reason is that the more broadly capable, four-cylinder, 1.4 TFSI CoD uses barely any more fuel unless you’re working it very hard. (CoD stands for cylinder on demand – the 1.4 engine can automatically and imperceptibly shut down two cylinders during gentle driving, saving petrol.)
Even the very much stronger 2.0-litre four-cylinder in an A3 2.0 TFSI Sport or quattro S Line uses no more than 6.2 litres/100km on the official test. (In the real world, however, you might use 10 litres/100km or more if you exploit its performance.)
All A3s have a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which Audi calls an S-tronic gearbox.
(Power outputs and all other Audi A3 specifications are available from the Cars Covered menu, under the main image on this page.)
What key features do I get if I spend more?There are two ways of spending more on an Audi A3. One is to enhance any A3 with the long list of options Audi offers, many of them bundled in packs. Another is to choose one of the more powerful engines, each of which brings other enhancements to the car – including the possibility of all-wheel drive.
Available on any A3 is an Assistance package that brings several driver aids, designed to reduce fatigue and help you avoid a crash. It begins with Adaptive cruise control with Stop and Go, which can automatically match your speed to that of a slower car ahead on the highway – controlling the engine and brakes – until you can overtake. It can also hold your position automatically in stop-start traffic. It is complemented by Audi Pre-sense Front, which extends the operating speed of the auto emergency braking to 200km/h. Also included are Lane assist, Side assist, and Cross-traffic assist rear. And there is High beam assist, which automatically toggles your headlights between high beam and low beam at night, so as not to dazzle other drivers. (For more on these systems, please open the Safety section below.)
A Comfort package adds power-adjustable front seats with heaters, an interior mirror that dims automatically so as not to dazzle you with reflected headlights from a following car, and power-folding exterior mirrors with demisters. There’s also smart key entry, which lets you enter and start the car without handling the key: provided you have the key nearby, doors unlock when you touch a door handle.
A Technik package brings you Audi’s virtual cockpit, introducing an expansive, 12.3-inch, high-res colour display, in the instrument binnacle ahead of the driver, that replaces conventional dials. Multi-configurable, it is like a desktop for important vehicle functions, including sat-nav mapping, audio, and climate control. You also get satellite navigation with voice control, digital radio tuning, and a DVD player.
You can add any or all of these to an A3 1.0 TFSI, which also has cloth-covered seats, 16-inch wheels, and the features common to all A3s.
If instead – or as well – you would like one of Audi’s more powerful engines, the first step in price is to the A3 1.4 TFSI CoD. As well as the 1.4-litre four-cylinder, that brings you paddle shifters on the steering wheel, and 17-inch wheels with wider and shallower (lower profile) tyres, for a bit more grip and steering precision. The 1.4 also comes with leather upholstery, metallic finishes on cabin parts such as the air vents and window switches, illuminated front footwells and cupholders, and overhead reading lights.
Spend more again on a 2.0 TFSI Sport and you get the most powerful engine in an A3, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder. In addition to what comes with a 1.4 you get Audi’s smartphone interface, which brings support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (allowing you to plug in your phone and control some apps from the touchscreen). You also get Audi Drive Select, which lets you adjust how lazily or immediately the car responds to your steering and use of the accelerator. The front seats have extra side-support, to hold you in place around corners. And you get blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts.
(You can add Audi’s smartphone interface to a 1.0 or 1.4, and Audi Drive Select to a 1.4.)
If you would like some extra traction when it’s slippery, or when accelerating out of slow corners, you could pay some more for an A3 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line, which uses the same 2.0-litre engine but drives all four wheels. The 2.0 quattro rides 15mm lower than the other A3s, for more stability in turns, and it has 18-inch wheels. As well, its headlights substitute very bright and long-lived LEDs for the other cars’ Xenon bulbs.
Does any upgrade have a down side?The A3 quattro sedan has a smaller boot (390 litres versus 425 litres), because the boot floor sits slightly higher to accommodate the four-wheel drive system.
In any A3 quattro you will notice bumps a bit more, because their lower-profile 18-inch tyres (from the side, they look skinnier) put less air between you and the road. These tyres also cost more to replace.
Black and white are the only standard colours. The other 10 colours cost extra.
How comfortable is the Audi A3?Excellent presentation distinguishes any A3 cabin. A clean, uncluttered design positions major controls in logical positions, each accessed easily by the driver. The circular air vents exemplify the functional elegance, their outer ring rotating to adjust air flow.
Surfaces and textures are of high quality, and reinforce the Audi’s luxury positioning. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach.
The A3’s standard eight-speaker audio system sounds crisp and punchy. An optional 10-speaker system adds a subwoofer for more bass, delivering a richer, fuller sound.
Audiophiles who order the optional 14-speaker system from Hi-Fi specialist Bang & Olufsen gain more clarity from high notes and a still more immersive experience.
With the music off, the cabin of an A3 is quiet compared with other small luxury cars, succumbing only to some mild roaring from the tyres on poor bitumen surfaces at freeway speeds.
An A3 rides in a comfortable but well controlled manner, absorbing bumps succinctly. Its suspension is particularly good above 80km/h, recovering quickly and keeping the body in check.
If ride comfort in the city is among your highest priorities, then the 1.0 TFSI is the pick of the A3s, mainly because its higher profile tyres absorb small bumps better at low speeds.
A3s on larger wheels and tyres also ride nicely, however. The firmer Sport suspension that comes standard with a 2.0 quattro (and is optional on other A3s) reduces bump compliance slightly.
What about safety in an Audi A3?The mandatory stability control, seven airbags, very bright Xenon auto-on headlights, LED daytime running lights, auto windscreen wipers, and seatbelt warnings for all five passengers, supply a solid safety foundation in an A3. In addition, all A3s come with auto emergency braking that helps you avoid city-speed rear-end crashes.
There are two airbags directly in front of the driver and front passenger; a driver’s knee airbag; an airbag alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; and a curtain airbag down each side of the car at head level, protecting front and rear occupants from side impacts.
The standard Audi Pre-sense City collision detection system warns you of imminent frontal crashes and is calibrated to recognise pedestrians. If you ignore the warning, it can apply the brakes automatically at speeds up to 65km/h, with the aim of avoiding the crash or mitigating your impact speed.
There is also Attention Assist, which monitors your control inputs and warns you if it concludes you may be falling asleep at the wheel.
The A3 2.0 TFSI Sport and 2.0 quattro add Side assist and Cross-traffic assist rear. Side assist uses rear-facing sensors to scan your rear corners, warning you of adjacent or fast-overtaking cars that might not appear in your mirrors. Cross-traffic assist scans behind and to either side when you are reversing, warning you of approaching vehicles.
On any A3 you can add crash-avoidance aids with the optional Assistance Package. As well as Adaptive cruise control and auto high-beam, this brings you extended auto braking that relies on radar and camera sensors. Audi Pre-sense Front can warn you of hazards ahead at speeds up to 200km/h, applying partial braking automatically if you ignore the warning.
The included Active lane assist helps you avoid drifting dangerously into another lane on the highway, perhaps from distraction or fatigue, monitoring lane markings and applying gentle steering pressure to wake you up and bring the car back if it is wandering.
And the pack adds Side assist and Cross-traffic assist rear to A3s that don’t have these.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Audi A3 its maximum five stars for safety, in May 2013.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?Definitely. The A3 is easy to drive when undertaking daily duties, with light, accurate steering. It is also nicely primed for more challenging roads, with a lightweight body and nimble handling. All A3s grip very well.
One advantage provided by quattro A3s is more stable take-offs if you attempt a quick getaway on wet roads. A front-wheel drive A3 1.4 or 2.0 TFSI has enough go from low speeds to generate some slip from a front tyre in such conditions, before the electronics step in to control it, possibly leading to the tyre bouncing briefly (known as axle tramp). In a quattro the extension of drive to the rear wheels results in smoother and swifter progress.
However, quattros come with the lower and firmer Sport Suspension setup which is optional on the other cars, which means you will feel more bumps. The plus side is sharper steering responses and less leaning of the body through corners. During fast direction changes in particular, the car feels more sure-footed. The benefits are more pronounced during brisk driving.
The 1.0 TFSI Sportback uses a torsion-beam rear suspension system that is cheaper to produce than the superior multi-link setup on other A3s. On smooth roads it drives almost identically, but when cornering at high speeds on bumpy surfaces the other cars feel more stable.
The engines available in an A3 offer a big spread of performance.
The 1.0 TFSI has a characterful snarl to it when driven hard, with useful pull if you give the free-revving turbocharged engine its head. That said, it won’t provide the superior highway performance you might hope for from a prestige small car.
Those who want more under their right foot for overtaking will prefer the four-cylinder A3s. The 1.4 is very willing and zippy.
The 2.0-litre A3s offer a lot more pull at all speeds. The 2.0 is a sweet engine that feels feisty around town and on the open road. The Drive Select button on these cars allows you to add a little weight to the steering for highway driving, which feels more reassuring in high speed bends.
The S-tronic transmissions work beautifully once you’re moving, with quick, decisive gearchanges – controllable manually from paddles on the steering wheel in all but the 1.0 TFSI.
How is life in the rear seats?The A3 is a small car and tall adults seated in the back may wish for more leg room. Big feet, too, won’t have much wriggle room under the front seats.
But the outer rear seats are comfortable and there are dedicated rear vents to bring you heating and cooling.
Three adults across the rear will be tight, and that middle occupant will have to deal with a large lump in the middle of the floor.
Headroom is slightly less in the sedans than in the hatches, due to the more pronounced tapering of the sedan roof.
How is it for carrying stuff?The Sportback, or hatch, has a luggage capacity of 340 litres – about the small-car average.
The rear seat split-folds 60-40. You can option a 40-20-40 rear seat if you want greater flexibility for long loads.
The boot on the sedan is 170mm longer, which increases nominal luggage capacity by about 10 per cent.
Where does Audi make the A3?Audi A3 hatchbacks are produced in Germany, and the sedans in Hungary.
What might I miss that similar cars have?Possibly even more power and sportier handling, which is available from the very similar Audi S3.
If you like the idea of roof-down motoring, you can enjoy it in a convertible that Audi calls the A3 Cabriolet. Both the S3 and the A3 Cabriolet share most features with the current A3 Sportback and Sedan.
Audi also makes a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid A3 Sportback called the e-tron. You can charge it from a household power socket (or the fast-charge station Audi subsidises when you buy the car), and it can travel about 40km on a fully charged battery alone – giving you quiet, cheap, city driving with zero exhaust emissions. The Sportback was not upgraded in December 2016 with the other A3s, however, and therefore does not supply auto braking as standard.
If you do a lot of country driving, possibly even better fuel efficiency from a diesel engine – available in the BMW 1-Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and CLA, Volvo V40, Mini five-door hatchback and Infiniti Q30, for example.
Another car worth considering is the Lexus CT200h.
It is also worth looking at the Volkswagen Golf. The A3 shares many components – including engines and gearboxes – with the Golf.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?Our pick is the 2.0 TFSI Sport. Its price premium over the less powerful A3s seems modest given its superior performance and additional features.
As for the choice between sedan and hatch, that will depend on personal preference. The hatch’s extra loading flexibility would make it our choice.
Are there plans to update the A3 soon?The current 8V series A3 arrived in 2013, and the Sportback e-tron was added about August 2015. A high-powered turbo five-cylinder RS3 variant (not covered in this review) joined the local line-up in October of 2015. A reversing camera was fitted standard to all cars for the 2016 model year, from about November of 2015.
The A3 received a significant update in December 2016, dropping its diesel engine option but gaining city-speed auto braking among many other enhancements. The upgrade applied to the S3 and Cabriolet also. A similar upgrade for the Sportback e-tron is expected late in 2017.
All-new A3 is expected late in 2018 or in 2019.
- Rewarding to drive
- Auto demands care around town
How are you finding our new site design? Tell us in the comments below or send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2021 MG ZST Essence review
The MG ZST Essence is the flagship variant of Australia's most popular small SUV, but does its bargain price come at the expense of quality?
Hyundai Ioniq 5 review: First drive
The Ioniq 5 is on its way to revolutionise Hyundai's EV game. It won't be cheap, but our first drive tells us buyers won't be disappointed.
2021 Toyota RAV4 review
The Toyota RAV4 is comfortable mid-sized SUV offering plenty of standard features and technology, plus a choice of efficient petrol and hybrid powertrains.