Engines are strong and smooth, and the Sportback handles brilliantly
Cabin is a gorgeous place to spend time in and the controls are user-friendly
Stability control is standard but you have to pay to have front passenger airbag disabled
It all feels beautifully put together
Plenty of room up front but its a different story in the back; the five-door Sportback offers more passenger space
All versions are pretty well kitted out
The A3 feels really classy to drive - even the least-powerful petrol engine is quick enough to please most drivers; combined with precise, responsive steering and an impressively quiet cabin, the formula is a winning one. You'll need to stick with the standard suspension for the most comfortable ride, though; while it's still a touch firm, it's far preferable to the much firmer and lower Sport suspension. The good news is that you can specify the standard setting on any trim level at no extra cost.
For more power than the entry-level 121bhp 1.4 petrol there's the downright fast 1.8 petrol or the 2.0 diesel, which is punchy even from low revs. The 138bhp 1.4 petrol which will join the range later is brisk and capable at most revs, and offers exceptional running costs thanks to technology which shuts off two of its cylinders when their power isn't needed (the same features is available on the top-spec VW Golf). The 104bhp 1.6 diesel isn't as fast as the 2.0 but it's still strong and willing. Bear in mind that the semi-automatic S tronic gearbox is rather disappointing, as its gearshifts are rather jerky.
The A3's cabin is built from the sort of swanky materials you'd usually find in an executive saloon, while beautifully weighted switchgear and a super-slim infotainment screen add to the impression that no expense has been spared.
Whatever your size and shape you'll be able to find a comfortable driving position, thanks to the huge range of adjustment in the steering wheel and driver's seat. The Multi Media Interface (MMI) lets you control most of the A3's infotainment functions using a central control dial and a small collection of buttons. There's plenty of room upfront, but the A3 isn't as spacious in the back as a VW Golf but if you need more space there's always the five-door Sportback model to consider. The boot is large and well shaped, however, and comes with an adjustable floor that reduces the load lip. There's Isofix on both the outer rear seats and even the front passenger seat, although you have to pay extra to have the front passenger airbag disabled so you can fit a Group 0+ child seat here. We'd stick with the entry-level SE spec, which comes with Bluetooth, a USB socket, voice control and manual air-conditioning; Sport and S Line models offer extra niceties and flashy styling features but they're far from essential.
The latest A3 was too new to be included in the most recent JD Power ownership satisfaction survey. However, the signs aren't particularly encouraging, because the previous model was given below average grades for mechanical reliability. Let's hope Audi has resolved some of those issues. Safety is much more encouraging. All versions come with stability control and front, side and curtain airbags, while Audi's Pre Sense system, which automatically primes the safety kit if a collision looks inevitable, is available as an option. The car scored a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, including 95% for adult protection and 87% for child protection, better than a BMW 1 Series (91%/83%).
If you want the smartest small family car on the market, this is it. No rival gets close to the A3 for interior quality, driver enjoyment and refinement combined, while the 1.4 122 engine is both spirited and fuel-efficient. The A3 isn't cheap to buy, but makes up for that with cast iron resale values.