Stunning interior. Refined. Sporty. Practical.
The Audi A3 Sportback has the potential to be the ultimate family hatchback, ticking the boxes for quality, refinement, economy, and practicality. So, does it?
The Audi A3 might be a dressed up Volkswagen Golf to many people but there's no denying that this latest generation looks miles better than the VW. In S Line guise, the A3 Sportback sits on 17-inch alloy wheels (18-inch are optional) and benefits from a sportier front and rear bumper. It is also lower than Sport and SE models and this helps to give the A3 Sportback plenty of street credibility and a road hugging stance (but a mixed ride, as you will find out below).
My test car was fitted with LED daytime running lights and these are gorgeous. They make the A3 stand out no matter how light or dark it is outside. Other visual touches I like are the twin exhaust tips and the angled taillights, which kind of sit in-between the Golf's and the Leon's.
There are two versions of the 1.4-litre TFSI engine available - a 140 bhp and 122 bhp version. My test car had the more potent of the two. Strangely, the more powerful version has better CO2 emissions of the two, which is a great way to persuade yourself to go for the powerful one. If you do, you will be thankful you did. The 1.4 TFSI engine is a peach with more than enough power and torque to make all types of driving a pleasure. My car was fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox and this is slick with perfectly separated gear ratios. At start-up, idling, and around town, the engine is whisper quiet and there is no vibration transferred into the cabin (unlike in the 1.6 TDI).
On the move and at speed, the engine is refined still. The majority of A3 sales will be made up of diesels but these TFSI engines put them to shame - they sound better, are faster if you rev and drive them properly, and are much quieter.
One thing I was surprised by was the ride. I have tested a Sport A3 before and I was impressed with the damping and handling; it was the perfect balance. In S Line trim, the ride is harder, and the A3 can sometimes be a little uncomfortable, especially in Sport mode. The steering firms up in this mode and the A3 simply turns into a car that feels much heavier than it actually is.
Even if the A3 S Line's ride is a little hit and miss, it's interior isn't. Audi have done a fantastic job at upgrading the interior from the old car (which, by the way, was still fine when this new A3 came out). If you have sat in a new Seat Leon or VW Golf, prepare yourself for this - the A3 puts them both to shame where quality is concerned, and the differences between them are night and day. That's not to say that those two cars have poor interiors, because on the contrary they're fantastic, but it's just the A3 takes things to the next level. In fact, the quality is better than in a BMW 1-Series.
The quality first hits you when you feel the cabin materials, which are all either soft touch or extremely solid textured plastic or metal. It then hits you again when you use any controls or switchgear, and when you start the engine and pull away. The A3 is exceptionally quiet at any speed and everything simply feels fantastic.
Equipped with a 6-speed manual, the Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI 140 S Line has a CO2 rating of 112 g /km and will return 58.9 miles per gallon combined. Equipped with S-Tronic, it has CO2 rating of 110 g /km and will return 60.1 miles per gallon. S-Tronic cars are however around £1,500 more than manual cars. Those CO2 ratings mean that the manual will cost £30 a year to tax and the S-Tronic £20.
In terms of economy, I averaged 47.8 miles per gallon on a 150-mile round trip. On short 20 miles journeys the A3 never dipped below 38 miles per gallon.
Trim and equipment
There are three trim levels with Audi - SE, Sport, and S Line. S Line is the top trim specification. My car was fitted with lots of equipment, but I was amazed to discover that much of it was optional - in other words, you had to pay extra to get it. Here's some of the equipment you are asked to pay extra for in an A3 Sportback S Line - cruise control, power seats, heated seats, power folding mirrors, satellite navigation. Now, I know that you can get these as 'Packs', but this is a top specification car - mid-range Hyundai's have satellite navigation and cruise control as standard, so why not the Audi?
After discovering that many of the standard features in Japanese cars are optional extras on this premium hatchback, I went off it a little. The reason for this is that it's a top spec car - why should anybody have to pay extra for something on a top spec car?
The Audi A3 Sportback is an excellent family car. The 1.4 TFSI engine is a peach offering economy and refinement and the looks combined with the high quality interior are sure to woo any potential buyers. The biggest problem with the A3 Sportback in S Line trim is that I'm not sure it's good value for money - S Line will benefit from good residuals, but you get barely anything at standard. Bluetooth and a touch screen media unit is your lot. You are asked to pay extra for what are now considered basic features. The ride can also be unsettled. I like this car, but not the spec. I say go for a 1.4 TFSI Sport and spend the money you save on cruise control and the winter pack.