Audi A3 Review (2012-2020)
The Audi A3 is a premium compact car that’s comfortable, well-equipped and gives you the choice of hatchback, saloon and convertible models.
Published: 25 January 2023
If you’re looking for a compact car with a premium look and feel, the Audi A3 is well worth checking out. It has substance to match its style and each version gives you a lot of features for your money.
We’re looking at the third-generation A3, sold new in the UK from 2012 to 2020. It’s available as a three-door hatchback, a five-door hatchback (called Sportback), a four-door saloon or a two-door convertible (called Cabriolet). You can choose from a wide range of petrol and diesel engines, or plug-in hybrid power. Manual or automatic gearboxes are available and some models have four-wheel drive.
Audi also makes high-performance versions of the A3 – the S3 and RS3 – but we’re not discussing those here.
- Lots of models to choose from
- High-quality interior
- Very fuel-efficient
- Can be costly to buy
- Firm ride in some models
- Lower powered versions are a bit slow
Dashboard & tech
It’s often said that Audi makes some of the best car interiors and the A3 is evidence of that. It looks very smart and feels upmarket and the stylish design is similar to that of the TT Coupe. But what makes the A3 so good is that all the buttons and knobs are laid out so you can find them almost by instinct when you first get into the car – it’s really very easy to use.
The infotainment display rises out of the dashboard when you turn on the ignition. You scroll through functions using a ‘click wheel’ by the gear lever. The graphics look sharp and the menus are easy to navigate. Some models support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and some have a digital driver’s display (in place of conventional dials) behind the steering wheel that can show all sorts of information from the usual speed and dials to full-screen sat nav maps.
The A3 is a comfortable car. You might find the seats a little firm but they’re unlikely to cause any aches. You’re held firmly in place when going around corners, especially in models with sports seats.
Practically everyone should be able to find a driving position to suit. The driver’s seat and steering wheel are height-adjustable and the steering wheel also adjusts in and out. Some models have adjustable lumbar support for your lower back. You have a good view out from the driver’s seat, which helps when it’s time to park.
Everywhere you look in the A3’s interior you’ll find materials that look a bit more premium than in most other mid-size hatchbacks. Even the most affordable versions feel special and the higher-spec versions have extra features that give the interior an even more luxurious ambience. It all feels solid and durable, too.
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Practicality & boot space
There’s a lot of head, leg and shoulder room in the front of the A3, so you should be able to get comfortable whatever size you are. The space in the back varies from version to version.
Sportback models are the most spacious – a couple of six-foot-tall passengers should fit comfortably. You get more or less the same amount of space in the three-door hatchback, but getting in and out isn’t quite as easy.
The saloon is a little less accommodating because its sloping roof reduces headroom, but access is good and it’s likely to be roomy enough for most needs. You get lots of space in the front of Cabriolet models and there’s more room in the two back seats than you might think (and more than in many convertibles). Unlike some convertibles with four seats, the two in the back have enough space for adults, although you don’t get as much headroom or legroom as in the hatchback or the saloon.
With a boot capacity of 425 litres, the saloon has the biggest of any A3 by a large margin. Sportbacks have 380 litres of space, hatchbacks have 365 litres and Cabriolets have 320 litres. Those are all very competitive figures when compared with similar cars.
In practice, you can easily pack in a week’s food shopping or enough luggage for a weekend away. However, the Saloon’s boot opening is smaller than the Sportback’s, so it could be trickier to load in bulky stuff like a pushchair. If you have young children, the Sportback may be the better option.
Four-wheel-drive and plug-in hybrid models have slightly smaller boots because they have extra components that take up some of the space.
You can fold down the back seats in all A3s to increase load space. The boot lid on hatchback and Sportback models hinge at the roof, giving you a larger boot opening that makes it easier to put in big items. You can also remove the load cover to accommodate bulky items such as bicycles or white goods.
You can fit a few long flatpacks in the back of the Saloon or the Cabriolet but, because their boot lids hinge below the back window, you can’t get anything particularly bulky in them.
The A3 is a very satisfying car to drive – you may well find that you really enjoy getting behind the wheel. The steering feels light and responsive; the car’s compact size makes parking easy; it feels solid as a rock on motorways; and, in general, it gives you a feeling of confidence.
Most models give a very smooth ride although versions with wheels more than 18 inches in diameter can feel quite firm, though not uncomfortably so. Most models are front-wheel drive but some of the higher-powered models have four-wheel drive, which Audi calls Quattro.
The engines available in the A3 give a wide range of performance. The least powerful can get going in a hurry if you need to, but can feel a little sluggish when accelerating along a motorway slip road. At the top of the spectrum, the high-powered petrol and diesel models can accelerate very quickly whatever the circumstances.
The most popular A3 models fall somewhere in the middle, with more than enough get-up-and-go for stress-free overtaking on country roads.
Fuel economy & CO2 emissions
Some A3 models are capable of giving very high fuel economy. According to official average figures, the diesel engines can give fuel economy of 57mpg to 84mpg while the petrol engines range from 42mpg to 62mpg.
Those high mpg numbers translate to low carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – 89g/km to 129g/km for diesels and 104g/km to 153g/km for petrols. That means your annual Vehicle Excise Duty (car tax) is low across the board or even free in some cases.
The most efficient A3 model, though, is the plug-in hybrid. Official figures show it can average 166mpg but to get close to that number you need to keep the battery charged up – the pure-electric range is 29 miles, according to official figures. CO2 emissions of 39g/km means car tax is minimal.
Value for money
Audi is a premium brand whose cars, including the A3, cost more than an equivalent Ford or Vauxhall. But you get the best interior of any mid-size hatchback of this era and a relatively generous quantity of features included as standard, so you may feel it’s worth spending the extra.
Reliability & Warranty
Audi provided a three-year warranty with the A3; the most recent examples of this generation, built in 2020, are covered until 2023 if they’ve driven fewer than 60,000 miles.
Audi as a brand ranked 21st out of 24 manufacturers in the most recent J.D. Power UK Vehicle Dependability Study.
Safety organisation Euro NCAP awarded a full five-star safety rating to the A3, scoring it very high marks for protecting occupants in a crash. Some models have a Driver Assistance Pack which includes advanced driver-safety features such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist.
Trims & Engines
The A3 is available with five trim levels – SE, SE Technik, Sport, S Line and Black Edition. They’re all fairly well equipped with standard features including air con and Bluetooth. Many also have built-in sat nav, cruise control and parking sensors.
In 2018, Audi rejigged the trim levels so that they all have broadly the same features. Instead, they’re marked out by different styling details. For instance, S Line has a sporty-looking bodykit with deeper bumpers and bigger wheels while Black Edition has black trim on the front grille, window surrounds and door mirrors.
The A3 is available with a large selection of ‘TFSI’ petrol or ‘TDI’ diesel engines. In terms of their power, petrol engines cover a range of 103bhp to 187bhp and diesels offer 103bhp to 181bhp. The A3 is also available with plug-in hybrid power.
Every petrol and diesel engine is available with a manual or an automatic gearbox and the more powerful options are available with four-wheel drive.
The A3 E-tron has a petrol engine and a battery-powered electric motor that can drive the car separately or together. It’s only available as an automatic.
Confusingly, in 2018 Audi changed the way it identifies its engines. Before then, they were listed by size – 1.4 litres, 2.0 litres, etc. Now, they have a number that indicates the engine’s power – the 35 TFSI, for example, has around 150bhp and the 40 TFSI has about 190bhp.
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