Great with the engines we've tried so far
Very little to criticise, and Isofix is fitted even on the front passenger seat.
Decent rosta of kit but rear curtain airbags are only available as a cost option
Superb quality though reliability is more so-so
Good enough for most families of four
SE spec is the pick
The A3 Sportback is a total pleasure to drive. As long as you avoid the firm Sport suspension, it's smooth and quiet with responsive, accurate steering and tight body control. All the pedals and switches feel satisfying to use and the cabin is hushed; only if you go for particularly large alloys will you notice any road noise. The best of the engines we've tried so far is the 1.4 turbo petrol which is punchy, smooth, and affordable to buy and run. Otherwise we've driven only the diesels: the 103bhp 1.6 is refined and has plenty of oomph; the 148bhp 2.0 is genuinely strong and swift, while the 181bhp version is a peach, although you do feel a sudden surge of power when the turbocharger kicks in.
The cabin looks and feels extremely high quality, and it's easy to get comfortable whatever shape you are, although the rear view is a bit limited. Most of the major functions are controlled by a large central dial with a small collection of buttons; the system looks very smart and is pretty easy to use. As well as two extra doors over the three-door standard A3 you get more cabin space and a bigger boot. The loadbay itself is a useful, square shape and features an adjustable floor that you can raise to reduce the load lip, which makes it much easier to load heavy items like a buggy or supermarking shopping. It also makes a flat floor when you fold the rear seats forward to expand the load space. There are Isofix fittings with top-tether points on both outer rear seats as well as the front passenger seat. We'd stick with the entry-level SE spec, which comes with Bluetooth, a USB socket, voice control and manual air-conditioning. Sport models add dual-zone climate control and various sporty features, while S line cars have sporty bodykit, too.
Audi's reliability isn't particularly impressive, but it's not terrible either. The rosta of safety kit is good, however, with six airbags including curtain 'bags that extend to cover the rear seats. There's also a pop-up bonnet that helps protect pedestrians, but it's a bit disappointing that you have to pay extra for Audi's Pre Sense system, which automatically primes the safety kit if a collision looks inevitable; you also have to pay for a switch to disable the front passenger airbag if you want to put a rear-facing child seat here. Still, the three-door Audi A3 achieved a five-star crash rating from Euro NCAP, including 95% for adult occupants and 87% for children.
The Audi A3 Sportback is quite simply a fantastic small family hatchback, which is why it's the What Car? Car of the Year 2013. As well as being great to drive it's also a sound buy: stop-start technology and measures to keep the car's weight down help very good fuel economy and CO2 emissions, and while it isn't cheap to buy, the Sportback isn't much more than a Volkswagen Golf and the Audi will hold its value better, too.