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Audi A3 hatchback (2012 – ) expert review

By Andy Goodwin, 16th May 2012

The verdict

The latest Audi A3 hatchback is as sharp to drive as it is to look at. Impeccable quality and a range of efficient engines make it the tech connoisseur’s choice.

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Expert rating:

4.2

Pros

  • Clean exterior and cabin design
  • Class-leading interior technology
  • Performance and economy benefits from its low weight

Cons

  • Not as fun to drive as the BMW 1 Series
  • Some customers want a more daring look
  • Can get pricey with options

Full Review

1. Exterior

Everything about the Audi A3 is taut and precise, from the crease along each side, to the sleek, angular headlamps. Some may feel that the styling is too conservative, but there’s no question that the car looks smart and sophisticated. This will still be the classiest hatchback in the car park, even next to the BMW 1 Series and Lexus CT200h. Select the S line model with its beefed-up bumpers and skirts, and it’ll also be one of the sportiest.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

If you could pick three words to sum up the A3’s interior, they would be “quality, simplicity and technology”. The materials are soft to the touch, but solid in their construction, and everything is laid out just as you’d expect. Every A3 has a central screen and an MMI controller between the front seats, allowing menu-driven access to all major functions. The on-screen graphics are pin sharp and smooth, powered by an advanced processor, similar to those fitted in smart phones and tablet computers. These menus allow the ‘wing’ dashboard to be remarkably free from clutter. The four circular air vents are a new design and can diffuse air or channel it into a jet with a push or pull of the central control. All in all, it’s the smartest cabin in the class.

Our rating: 5

3. Practicality

There’s plenty of space for four adults in the A3, but five is a push due to the shoulder room available and the three-door bodystyle means access to the back seats could be easier. If you regularly carry passengers, go for the Sportback. Luggage capacity is 365 litres, or 1,100 litres with the back seats folded flat, and there’s a cargo floor which can be installed at two heights. Practical options include a load-through hatch in the rear seats and a storage package which adds nets to the front seat backrests, central console and boot compartment.

Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

Audi has gone to great lengths in its manufacturing processes to make the A3 as light as possible, and it can really be felt. The car is very quick to change direction, while there’s also lots of grip, taut body control and light, accurate steering. Standard, Sport and S line suspension is available, depending on which trim level you go for, and each step increases the stiffness for a sportier drive. Audi will also allow Sport and S line buyers to delete the firmer suspension in favour of the softer setting if they so wish, and we’d recommend it. Even the standard suspension offers lots of agility, but the more compliant ride gives the car a more relaxed nature, which suits the A3 well. If you’re a hot hatch fan, the S3’s rather benign character will be something of a disappointment.

Our rating: 4

5. Performance

There’s an engine to suit all tastes and budgets in the A3. Even the smallest petrol, the 103bhp 1.2 turbo is smooth, flexible and quick enough, while the 1.4 turbos, with either 120bhp or 138bhp, feel impressively brisk. They’re so strong, in fact, that they make the 178bhp 1.8 turbo utterly pointless. The S3 has a 2.0 turbo with 296bhp, but while it’s undeniably quick, it doesn’t feel as devastating as the numbers suggest. The diesel choices include a 103bhp 1.6 or a 148bhp 2.0, and while the former has enough pace and refinement to get by, the latter seriously ups the ante in both areas.

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

This is another area in which the A3’s lightweight stature pays big dividends. All the engines are up there with their class-leading equivalents for fuel economy and CO2 emissions, so running your car, whether it’s a private buy or a company car, will be affordable. The prices look steep at first glance, but compare them like-for-like with competitors like the VW Golf, and the difference is no more than a couple of hundred quid. The A3’s desirable badge and prestige image will also help ensure some of the strongest resale values in the class.

Our rating: 5

7. Reliability

Audi’s engineers appear to have an obsessive attention to detail, and the build quality of the latest A3 certainly seems top notch. The engines and gearboxes are evolutions of existing products too, so we’d be highly surprised if many faults were to come about.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

The Audi A3 has been awarded a five-star score by Euro NCAP, the official safety gurus. It was given a particularly impressive 95 per cent rating in the adult occupant protection category, 87 per cent for child occupants, 74 per cent for pedestrian safety and 86 per cent for its level of active safety equipment. That includes anti-lock brakes and electronic skid prevention.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

Trim levels are called SE, Sport and S line, with all offering high levels of standard equipment. SE has Bluetooth and a 5.8-inch colour pop-up display as standard. It’s controlled by an MMI joystick, and kit also includes stop and start, 16-inch alloys, front fog lights, air-con, centre armrest and a leather steering wheel. Sport makes the wheels an inch larger and adds lowered suspension, Audi Drive Select, colour trip computer, sports seats, dual-zone air-con and interior and exterior metal trim detailing. The sporting S line model has 18-inch alloys, cloth and leather upholstery, body kit, Xenon headlights and a sports steering wheel.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

Because you want a compact car, but appreciate the finer things in life. This is the ultimate hatchback for gadget and design lovers, thanks to its cutting edge technology.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 4.2stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior5
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance4
  • Running costs5
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

This will still be the classiest hatchback in the car park, even next to the BMW 1 Series and Lexus CT200h