2012-2019 Audi A3 Expert Review
The A3 is Audi’s mid-sized hatchback and a rival to cars like the Volkswagen Golf, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class. It aims to bring Audi’s premium image to a smaller car than the German brand’s traditional larger offerings, and comes in a range of styles from the everyday cruiser to the fire-breathing hot hatch.
Three-door hatchback, five-door hatchback, four-door saloon, two-door cabriolet
2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
- Volkswagen Golf
- Mercedes-Benz A-Class
- BMW 1 Series
The Audi A3 has long stood at the top of the to-buy list for anyone after a family car with a premium edge to it, and for good reason. It’s a great all-rounder that mixes style and a very high quality interior with practicality and a decent driving experience with a particular focus on comfort. This third-generation model spans eight years of production, but Audi has kept it fresh with subtle updates every few years, and it’s still a car that we can highly recommend. It’s also available in a variety of different body styles, trims and with a range of engines, which means that there’s an A3 for almost everyone.
Choices in this version of the A3 – codenamed 8V – range from a three-door hatchback and five-door “Sportback” through to a saloon and a cabriolet, although not all body styles have been sold throughout its entire lifetime, with the three-door model being phased out towards the end of its run. Standard models come with several choices of trim, although all are at least reasonably specced when it comes to equipment, reflecting the premium image of Audi. If you want a bit more vim in your driving experience, you could look at the S3 models, which boast more power and sharper handling. Or if you want a proper hot hatch (or hot saloon), then check out the RS3 models, which have serious performance credentials.
The first-generation A3 was first introduced in the mid-1990s, aiming to offer a way into the premium end of the market without needing to buy a larger car than many people needed. Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group, and the latest A3 shares some of its mechanical underpinnings with cars like the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia. A new, fourth-generation A3 was introduced in 2020.
Three Things To Know
- If you go for the five-door hatchback, called the Sportback, you get a slightly bigger boot and more space for rear-seat passengers due to a longer wheelbase. The boot will easily accommodate a buggy and weekly shop, and it’s much easier to get in and out of the back seats than in the three-door model.
- Watch out for S line models if you’re seeking maximum ride comfort. The big wheels and stiffer sports suspension give the handling extra zip but have a big impact on ride comfort. If you’re set on a sportier A3 but don’t want your passengers complaining, keep an eye out for cars with upgraded adaptive suspension.
- The A3 was facelifted in 2016, which freshened up the looks. This change also saw the introduction of a frugal 1.0-litre engine. At the same time, a plug-in hybrid e-tron model joined the range, which is great for someone seeking a starter into electric car ownership. Fuel economy in this model will depend on how you drive it though as it will cover around 20 miles on electric power before a 1.4 litre engine kicks in. You’ll also need somewhere to charge the battery if you want to get the most out of it.
Which One to Buy
- If you want the fastest: The 2.0-litre turbo S3 models give a big hike in horsepower over the standard A3. But if you’re after a really fast car, the fire-breathing 2.5-litre, five-cylinder RS3 is the one to go for, with massive power and neck-straining acceleration.
- If you want to save fuel: The diesel 1.6 TDI is the most efficient engine on paper although the 2.0-litre TDI isn’t far behind, and we think the latter is a better engine overall. If low CO2 emissions are a priority, check out the e-tron plug-in hybrid model, which was available between 2014 and 2018. Assuming you do mostly short journeys and have somewhere to plug it in, you could dramatically slash your petrol usage.
- If you want to avoid diesel: The 1.0-litre TFSI petrol engine is impressively punchy for such a small unit, and if pace and performance aren’t priorities it’s well worth a look for everyday motoring. The 1.4-litre TFSI engine has a bit more grunt to it, but is similarly well-engineered, and should suit most needs very well.
- If you want the best resale value: The public likes a sporty edge, and models in S line trim tend to fetch more in the used market than others.
Generally speaking, diesel models get the best fuel economy, and if you’re doing longer journeys then they’re the ones to focus on. A3 diesels come in either 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre form. While the smaller engines use slightly less fuel, we think the extra performance and improved refinement of the 2.0 litres, particularly the 150PS model, is worth the upgrade. It’ll likely be more desirable when you come to sell it on as well.
There were several versions of the 1.6 engine available over the life of the A3, and the most efficient was the 1.6 TDI Ultra, which had an official fuel economy figure of 83.1mpg. The 2.0-litre TDI’s official figure is between 67 and 69mpg, depending on which version you go for. Quattro models, with all-wheel drive, will be less fuel efficient than front-wheel drive A3s.
The range of petrol engines has evolved over the life of this generation of A3, with 1.0-, 1.2-, 1.4-, 1.5- and 2.0-litre versions available at various times. We’re big fans of the small 1.0-litre TFSI, which maximises fuel economy while still providing enough everyday power. It has an official fuel economy of more than 60mpg and outperforms some of the larger units in both performance and efficiency. The 2.0-litre TFSI also delivers decent fuel economy for its size and power, with an official figure close to 50mpg, but perhaps the happy medium is the 1.4 TFSI, or the 1.5 TFSI that replaced it in 2018. Both of these have good fuel economy – close to 60mpg – and impressive performance, and used examples can often be very close in price to the 1.0-litre models. It’s important to remember that official fuel economy stats are based on lab tests, and you’ll do well to get close to these figures in real life.
The more powerful S3 and RS3 models sacrifice efficiency for performance, and you’ll be lucky to hit 40mpg and 30mpg respectively.
The plug-in hybrid e-tron can, theoretically, give you incredibly good fuel consumption (the official figure is 166mpg), but that will depend on how you use it. If you can plug in the car to charge the battery and cover mainly short journeys, you can do most of your driving on pure electric power, which will be much cheaper than using the petrol engine. But if you’re doing longer journeys or don’t keep the battery topped up, the fuel economy will drop considerably.
You will need to service your A3 depending on how you drive it, with intervals of up to two years and 19,000 miles with a Longlife service. Diesels need a new timing belt every five years or 75,000 miles, at a cost of approximately £500. The mk3 Audi A3 is one of the affected models in the VW emissions scandal so it is best to check Audi’s website to see if any remedial work has been done to a car you are thinking of buying.
Audi offers interest-free finance on servicing work done at its dealer network, for jobs between £60 and £5,000. Audis over three years old can be serviced for a fixed price at Audi service centres. Exact prices vary depending on model, and can be found on Audi’s website, but as a guide, a non-e-tron A3 with an engine smaller than 2.0 litres can get an interim service for £180.
Insurance costs are likely to be slightly higher than less premium cars of similar size, but the prestige of the Audi badge will drive up resale values.
While the big German premium brands make some lovely cars, they don’t always have great reputations for reliability, and Audi is no exception. It regularly sits towards the bottom of independent reliability studies, although so too do rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz. That said, the A3 tends to do relatively well in model-specific surveys, as opposed to whole-brand studies. New Audis get a standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, which pales in comparison to some volume brands, but is fairly common for the premium end of the market.
If you’re buying a used A3, make sure any necessary recall work has been carried out. Cars made between 30 June 2014 and 15 November 2014 need to have a revised passenger airbag module fitted. Cars made between 20 May 2018 and 2 September 2018 need the entire backrest to the rear seats refitted, and the camshaft adjuster needed replacing on cars built between January and September 2014. In addition, a small number of cars made in August 2017 had faulty hub carriers that needed replacing. Check with an Audi dealer or in the paperwork that this has been done if applicable.
Diesel particulate filters (DPFs) can get clogged if the car hasn’t been on a long drive; if there's a warning light on the dash make sure the problem has been sorted before you buy the car. In some cases, the DPF will not regenerate because it is too clogged up and the repair and replacement bill can be more than £1,500. The pop-up infotainment screen can creak too, requiring anything from lubrication to replacement to fix.
Cars fitted with the 1.4-litre engine can suffer with rattling under acceleration and all A3s can suffer leaking water pumps, resulting in loss of coolant. Check for puddles of coolant under the car when it’s been sat still.
Some cabriolet owners have reported quite a bit of wind buffeting at motorway speeds, but this can be tackled with an aftermarket wind deflector.
The CarGurus Verdict
When it comes to smaller family cars, the Audi A3 is a great premium choice. Make sure you decide what you need from your new car and pick the version that best suits you, as there are plenty of choices within the range from the practical Sportback to the sleek three-door hatch, classic saloon or rakish Cabriolet.
Whether you go for the super-fast RS3, an entry-level A3 1.0 TFSI, or anything in between, you’ll have yourself an understated, classy vehicle that oozes quality. It may not be the last word in absolute driving pleasure, with a focus more on comfort than razor-sharp handling, and you may end up paying a bit more than for the similarly-sized Volkswagen Golf. But with an Audi badge and the image that goes along with it, you’re unlikely to feel shortchanged.