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Audi A3 hatchback (2003 – 2012) expert review

By Adrian Hearn, 22nd March 2009

The verdict

The Audi A3 offers premium feel with low running costs. It is backed up by Audi’s impressive build quality and reliability but hampered by a lack of character and expensive options.

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Expert rating:

3.7

Pros

  • Class-leading build quality
  • Excellent running costs
  • Used values are strong

Cons

  • Significantly more expensive than rivals
  • Lacking in character
  • Only 4-star Euro NCAP crash test rating

Full Review

1. Exterior

Face-lifted in 2008, the Audi A3 is a pretty hatchback with very smooth, curvy lines all-round. Some trim levels benefit from Audi’s trademark LED daytime-running lights, which increase kerb appeal and safety.  Economy models have bodywork adjustments to make the A3 more aerodynamic.
Our Rating: 4

2. Interior

It’s well known that Audi know how to make an interior and the A3 maintains the car maker’s reputation with the inside a joy to sit in. It’s not flamboyant, just very simple with dark plastics and clear dials, all beautifully manufactured.
Our Rating: 4

3. Practicality

We test drove the three-door model so rear access is always an issue. However, when in the back there is comfortably room for two adults and fairly good all-round vision for the driver. The boot’s 350-litre capacity makes it the same as the Volkswagen Golf but slightly more than the BMW 1 Series.
Our Rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

The A3’s ride is firm, but it irons out creases in roads without too much of an issue. There’s minimal bodyroll through the bends and it grips to the road fairly well. However, we found there isn’t as much grip from the roll resistant tyres fitted to economical versions. Car makers fit these tyres because friction is reduced and it helps improve the mpg and cut down the emissions. If you want an A3 based on it’s handling it’s probably best to choose a car with standard tyres.
Our Rating: 4

5. Performance

The A3 is available with a wide range of petrol and diesel engines. Choose petrol and a 1.2, 1.4, 1.8 and 2-litre engines produce power from 104 to 197bhp, suiting most buyer’s performance needs. Diesel engines are either 1.6 or 2-litres in size, with the smaller motor producing 104bhp while the bigger version is available with either 140 or 170bhp. Whichever petrol or diesel you choose, all offer excellent refinement. The 1.2-litre is a particular surprise, offering impressive performance despite its small size. The 170bhp diesel gives the A3 a real turn of speed.
Our Rating: 3

6. Running costs

Again, there’s a wide choice here, but not A3 should be too dear to run. That’s helped by excellent residual values, which are kept up by high demand for A3’s with private buyers in the used car market. The 1.6-litre diesel averages 74.3mpg and emits only 99g/km of CO2 in its most economical guise, making it free to tax. The 1.2-litre petrol can average 53.3mpg and emit 123g/km of CO2.
Our Rating: 5

7. Reliability

When you sit inside an Audi, you can see the meticulous level of detail put into the car’s interior and the rest of the car follows suit. There’s very little known to go wrong. Only one manufacturer recall has been issued, to remedy a possible fault with A3’s fitted with the DSG semi-automatic gearbox.
Our Rating: 4

8. Safety

Even though it’s a face-lifted model, this generation of Audi A3 has been around since 2003 and only boasts four stars in the Euro NCAP crash test programme. While impressive, it’s lagging behind cars such as the BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf which have the full five stars. However, you are well equipped safety wise with six airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic brake distribution (EBD).
Our Rating: 3

9. Equipment

As standard the A3 is fitted with alloy wheels, radio/CD player, heated door mirrors, leather steering wheel and gear lever, electric windows, manual air-con, Halogen headlights and an alarm. SE adds 16-inch alloys, front fog lights, front centre armrest and a trip computer. In addition, the Sport trim level gets 17-inch alloys, sports suspension, Aux socket, uprated stereo speakers, front sports seats, three-spoke steering wheel, aluminium trim, dual-zone climate control and a rear sun-blind.
Our Rating: 2

10. Why buy?

The Audi A3 is the original premium hatchback, and despite stiff competition from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and BMW 1 Series, it can still hold its head high.
Our Rating: 4

Expert review 3.7stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance3
  • Running costs5
  • Reliability4
  • Safety3
  • Equipment2
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:
A3 1.2 TFSI SE
Entry-level model is economical and well-equipped
Best-seller:
A3 1.4 TFSI SE
Sweet engine and good spec for the most popular A3
Blow the budget:
A3 2.0 TFSI S line
More power and S line kit make it the money-no-object choice

The A3 maintains the car maker’s high reputation with the inside a joy to sit in