Review: Audi A3

An exceptional car with a driving experience to match

25 May 15 Tim Barnes-Clay

Pros

  • The A3 holds it's value

  • Stress-free and sporty ride

  • Very reliable

Cons

  • Firm suspension

  • Expensive to buy

  • Limited rear head room

Our expert rating

The first Audi A3 was launched in 1996 and blew everyone away. Since then, the A3 has come to characterise the small luxury car class with its subtle lines, unparalleled build quality and a variety of engines, trims, and body styles.

A secondhand compact car doesn't get much more robust than this.

Outside of Audi A3

Performance

The second-generation A3 arrived in 2003 and was face-lifted in 2008. An Audi this age makes a great used buy. The two most popular engines are the 150 2.0-litre FSI petrol engine and 140 2.0 TDI diesel.

These offer the kind of performance you'd expect from the German car maker, with lots of pull, as well as economy.

Ride and handling

The Audi A3 is an exceptional car with a driving experience to match. It offers a stress-free and sporty ride, with the 2.0-litre TDI diesel offering a particularly good blend of both.

Rear of Audi A3

It corners smoothly and the steering is quick to respond. The only downside is the suspension. It’s on the firm side and you can feel it when you hit a pothole.

Interior space

Space in the back of standard Audi A3 hatchback can be a bit tight. The seats are higher compared with those in the front, resulting in a lack of passenger headroom. Legroom isn’t too bad in the back, and it’s more than reasonable in the front.

Interior of the Audi A3

The boot features a respectable size of 350 litres, and it’s certainly big enough to fit a baby buggy in. In comparison, the five-door A3 Sportback is even better.

Clever re-organising of the car's inner dimensions means that it can seat four adults more comfortably than its three-door sibling.

What to know before you buy

It’s a real tribute to the quality of the German made car that there’s little to report with regard to significant problems. Reliability of the second generation A3 is excellent.

When viewing the car, simply check for main Audi dealer service stamps, and ensure there’s no obvious accident damage. It would also be sensible to examine the alloy wheels for major kerbing scuffs, and make certain the locking wheel nuts are with the car.

It’s not a deal breaker if they’re not there, but it’ll be a real hassle to get the wheels changed without them.

Side of Audi A3

Alternative cars

Although the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sport Coupe came on the scene to go bumper to bumper with the A3 as the finest compact executive hatchback, neither can equal the Audi.

The closely related Volkswagen Golf is the nearest you can get – that’s if you don’t mind a VW badge instead of Audi’s prestigious four rings.

Alternative car to the Audi A3 - BMW Series 1 Series

Overall verdict

Even though it’s based on a Volkswagen Golf platform, the second generation Audi A3 is as well-liked as ever. This is due in part to image, but also because of the A3’s discerning interior, brought together with outstanding engineering.

Even though that reputation comes at a price, the A3 is a really good used car which can last for a long time. The Audi holds its value well, so it’s not cheap by any means. You will get a lesser, much newer car, for the amount of cash you’ll fork out for a secondhand A3.

Expert rating

Performance

Reliability

Space & comfort

Running costs

Value for money

Overall