Audi A3 VS Audi S1
- Sedan styling looks superb
- Quattro all-wheel drive on highest grade
- AEB on all grades
- Plain standard interior
- Limited rear legroom
- Low on standard features
- Sensational engine
- Quattro drivetrain
- Great chassis
- The interior is a bit dull
- Stiff ride
Audi’s A3 is one of the most affordable ways into this prestige German brand. But like some amusement park mirror maze you’ll find with so many A3 variations there are numerous, seemingly identical ways into the model.
Which one do you choose? There’s a sedan, a hatch, and a convertible with four different engines, not to mention front- or all-wheel drive.
That’s why this range review is here – to guide you through the A3 hall of mirrors, and identify the right model for you.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Spoilt. That's what we are. If you're in the market for a hot hatch, you can have your pick of German-built and French ones from as little as $27,000. There isn't a dud among them now that the VW Polo GTI has had a bit of an update and you can pick and choose your style. Audi's S1 is aiming to be king of the kids with its stiffly-priced S1.
Set the finances aside and consider for a moment what's on offer. As it turns out, a lot.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Audi A3 is now five years into this current generation and it’s beginning to show its age in terms of tech and styling in the cabin, despite updates adding new equipment. It’s expensive compared to most small cars but is spot-on for a prestige vehicle.
The Sedan is, in my view, the best looking small sedan on the planet and offers the biggest boot space in the A3 range. The Sportback, however, is arguably more practical, with better legroom, headroom and cargo carrying ability (with the rear seats down). The Cabriolet has the same perfect proportions as the sedan, but like all good convertibles doesn’t make practicality a priority.
The sweet spot of the range would have to be the Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line with its $50,000 list price making it the most affordable but most 'specced up' A3 in the entire range.
You have $50,000. Do you buy an entry-grade Audi A3 Cabriolet, a 2.0 TFSI Sport Sedan or a Volkswagen Golf R? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Cars this small shouldn't be this fast and useable at the same time, but the Audi S1 is. It isn't without its problems - the ride is harder even than the Fiesta ST which might weary some prospective buyers.
It's also a bit difficult to justify the price - in its basic form it's missing a few creature comforts that you'd expect in a $50,000 car - reversing camera, high-res screen, that sort of thing.
However, in the hot hatch world, those things don't matter. It has the bragging rights, the tech and the outright blinding speed to take on the bonkers Focus ST and equally zany Megane RS. And even the Audi S3.
The A3 comes in three body styles: a five-door hatch, which Audi calls the Sportback; the four-door Sedan, and a two-door convertible which it refers to as the Cabriolet. It may not surprise you to learn they're all different sizes, too.
The Sportback doesn’t look like the shortest of the three but at 4313mm end-to-end it’s 145mm shy of the Sedan and 110mm shorter than the Cabriolet. But those exterior dimensions don’t tell the whole story on interior space. So, which one is more practical? We’ll get to that.
But first, the looks. The Sportback has a wagon-like appearance with its large (for a hatch) rear quarter windows. If you think it looks longer than a regular hatchback, you’re right: a Volkswagen Golf is 50mm shorter even though it shares the same platform as the A3.
However, unlike the Golf, there’s something about the Sportback’s proportions which doesn’t seem balanced.
Then there’s the A3 sedan. Now this is a perfectly proportioned car. Looking like a miniature version of the A8 limo, the A3 is one of the only tiny sedans on the planet that looks fantastic.
The Cabriolet is based on the Sedan, and it too looks beautifully proportioned. Soft tops, when they’re up, never do much for a car’s profile. Be it a Bentley or an A3, they always look better down. When the roof is down the A3 appears lower, sleeker, and tougher.
While all A3’s have the same grille and headlight design the rear treatment of the Sedan and Cabriolet is more refined with their blade-like tail-lights and boot lid lip, than the Sportback, even if it does have a roof-top spoiler.
Interiors are identical across each A3 grade, the cabin benefiting from excellent fit and finish and the use of high-quality materials. But if you like bling-tastic cockpits, maybe you should be looking at a Benz A-Class because even the fanciest A3 money can buy, the RS3, comes with a small display screen and a rather low-key interior design.
As for rivals, the new A-Class (which I’ve just reviewed) is a glitzy competitor in hatch form, with a soon-to-arrive sedan going head-to-head with the little Audi as well.
The A1 is so small it starts to strain Audi's design language. When you cram on the S-style bumpers and raccoon-eyed trim on the hatchback, it's starts to look a bit busy.
It isn't quite a shrink-wrapped A3 - Ingolstadt's designers know better than that - but it's full of Audi design cues, such as the strong, light-catching character lines, distinctive LED daytime running lights and fondness for big wheels.
Inside is along the themes of the A3, with what are becoming Audi's trademark; round eyeball air-con vents, the manual fold-down screen familiar to Q3 owners (but smaller) and a good clear dash. The handbrake jars slightly as it feels cheap to hold and wobbles a bit.
The S Sport seats are big and comfortable, and the top half of the backs are capped in plastic, which was colour-coded on our car. The rear passengers will certainly get an eyeful of whatever terrifying hue you've chosen, so choose wisely.
Despite the five doors, the back seats are occasionals, like the Mini the A1 is gunning for, and the boot is very small, but okay for shopping for couples or singles.
The Sportback and Sedan have five seats, while the Cabriolet has four. Leg and headroom in the back row for all body styles is limited. The Sportback will give you the most rear legroom, while the sedan has a few millimetres more space for your knees than the Cabriolet.
At 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position in the Sportback with a pinkie finger’s space, while my knees brush the seatback in the Sedan, and the Cabriolet won’t accommodate my long legs back there at all.
Rear headroom in the Sportback isn’t bad with enough room for my big head to clear the ceiling thanks to that tall(-ish) flat roofline while the sedan is a tighter fit but I just make it under. The Cabriolet’s low fabric roof means only small adults or kids will be able to sit up straight back there – unless the top is down and then you have literally unlimited headroom.
Boot space varies obviously depending on the body style. The Sedan has biggest cargo capacity with 425 litres, the Sportback offers up 340 litres, but fold those rear seats down and you have 1180 litres at your disposal, plus a bigger aperture to fit stuff in. The Cabriolet’s folding roof eats into the boot space, but you’re still left with 320 litres even when it’s down.
The folding roof is automatic and can be raised or lowered at up to 50km/h, but it’s slow - I’ve timed it and it takes about 20 seconds to open or shut.
Storage throughout the cabin is limited, too. There are two cupholders up front in all cars, while the Cabriolet is the only A3 to have two cupholders in the back (they’re between the rear seats). If you want cupholders in the rear of the Sedan and Sportback you’ll have to option the $450 fold-down armrest which houses them.
All grades above the 1.0 TFSI come with storage nets in the seatback and front passenger footwell, 12-volt sockets in the rear centre console and boot, plus cargo nets back there, too. There’s a USB jack in the centre console of all A3s.
Price and features
The A3 isn’t great value for a small car, generally speaking, because while you are getting a high-quality prestige vehicle, it doesn’t come with a mountain of equipment that you might find on a more affordable little hatch or sedan.
Look at it this way: take $40 into a fish and chip shop and you’ll walk out with your arms full of food, take the same amount into a Michelin-starred restaurant and you’ll be lucky to get an entrée. Same with buying a prestige car – and the A3 really is a starter on the Audi menu.
Coming standard on the entry-grade $36,200 1.0 TFSI Sportback are xenon headlights with LED running lights, cloth upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat nav, reversing camera, multimedia system with voice control, eight-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, CD player, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Only the Sportback comes in this 1.0 TFSI grade. The rest of the body styles start with the 1.4 TFSI ($40,300 for the Sportback; $41,900 for Sedan; $49,400 for Cabriolet) which comes with the 1.0 TFSI’s equipment but swaps the cloth seats for leather upholstery and adds paddles shifters, aluminium-look interior elements and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Stepping up to the 2.0 TFSI Sport ($46,400 for Sportback; $48,000 for Sedan; $55,500 for the Cabriolet) adds leather sports front seats, aluminium door sills, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 17-inch alloys with a different design.
The 2.0 TFSI quattro S line ($50,000 for the Sportback; $51,600 for Sedan and $59,100 for the Cabriolet) brings in lowered sports suspension, 18-inch alloys and LED headlights.
Each grade also attains more safety equipment, which we’ll cover further on.
I’ve also reviewed Mercedes-Benz’s new A200, which is a good model comparison for the A3. At a list price of $48,200 the 1.3-litre four-cylinder A200 is pricier than the 1.4 TFSI, but offers better value than the A3 2.0TFSI with more equipment, including two 10.25-inch display screens.
As for paint colours, only 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White' won't cost you a cent more. Optional colours include 'Cosmos Blue', 'Tango Red' and 'Monsoon Grey'.
Starting at $49,900, Audi S1 is by far the priciest of the small-hatch based hotties, at least until Mini's madcap JCW arrives. This price is just almost double that of VW stablemate's forthcoming 2015 Polo GTI.
Standard on the manual-and-five-door-only S1 is a ten speaker stereo, climate control, ambient lighting, remote central locking, cruise control, satnav, headlight washers, auto headlights with xenon low beams, partial leather seats, leather-bound steering wheel, auto wipers and rear parking sensors.
Our Misano Red ($990 option) came with two extra packs. The Quattro Exterior Package ($3990) adds bi-xenon headlights with red trim, red brake calipers, spoiler, quattro logos on rear doors (ahem!) and five-spoke 18-inch alloys that are part matt black, part polished.
The Quattro Interior Package ($2490) adds S Sport front seats with Nappa leather and red backrest capping with quattro logo (ugh), more nappa around the cabin with contrast stitching, flat bottom steering wheel and red rings on the air vents.
There's an S Performance Package that brings the best of these two packs together for $4990, saving about $1500 and the embarrassment of the quattro logos.
Our test car also had aluminium air vents ($220), black contrasting boot lid ($300) and black roof ($720).
The grand total is a sobering $58,610. There's a couple more options that'll easily pop you over $60,000.
Audi's MMI is dash-mounted in the A1 as there's no room on the narrow centre console. As ever, it works well and doesn't take much getting used to. The satnav is a bit grainy on the smaller screen but is otherwise a competent unit.
Sound is from a ten-speaker stereo and you can stream across Bluetooth or plug in a memory card. The sound was good but the system did take a while to find the phone whenever we came back to the car.
Engine & trans
Now on to the engines. Yes, I’m doing this in what may seem a strange order, but trust me, it’s to guide you safely through the A3 range without anybody getting lost. We don’t leave anybody behind here, not on my watch.
The grades indicate the engines in the A3 line-up – the higher the grade, the more powerful the engine. So, the range starts with the 1.0 TFSI which has a 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, and steps up to the 1.4 TFSI which has a 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder with cylinder on demand (COD) letting it run on two cylinders when not under load). Both are front-wheel drive (FWD) cars.
Next rung up is the 2.0 TFSI Sport and that has a 2.0-litre four making 140kW/320Nm with drive going to the front wheels. The top of the range is the 2.0 TFSI quattro S line which has the same engine but is all-wheel drive (AWD).
Those are all turbo-petrol engines – yes, no diesels and no manual gearbox option either. All have a seven-speed dual-clutch automatics shifting the gears.
If you’re after something more hardcore in the same package, there are two halo ‘models’ that sit above the A3 range: the S3 with a 213kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four and the RS3 with its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol making 294kW/480Nm.
This is where the action is. The S1's tiny body packs a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder producing 170kW and 370Nm of torque. The S1 will streak to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds thank to the traction aid of quattro all-wheel drive.
Despite a pretty solid hammering during its week with us, including more time than we'd have liked in Sydney traffic, the stop-start function helped deliver a pretty reasonable 10.2L/100km, however that's a long way over claimed 7.1L/100km.
All Audi S1s come with a six-speed manual, so dual-clutch haters can save the whining. The only downside from not having a self-shifter is the ECU can't deliver the boy racer farts, parps and crackles of the other S cars.
Fuel usage depends on the engine and body style, with weights varying across the range. The most fuel-efficient engine is the 1.0-litre which is only offered on the Sportback, and Audi says over a combination of urban and open roads you should see it use 4.8L/100km.
The 1.4 TFSI Sportback uses 5.0L/100km, while the Sedan uses 4.9L/100km, but the heavier Cabriolet drinks more at 5.1L/100km.
My most recent A3 test car was a 1.4 TFSI Sportback and the trip computer reported 7.6L/100km over a mix of city and country kays - not bad.
The 2.0 TFSI Sport Sportback uses 5.9L/100km, the Sedan needs 5.8L/100km, the Cabriolet a bit more at 6.0L/100km.
The 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line Sportback uses 6.2L/100km, while the Sedan will go through 6.1L/100km and the Cabriolet again is highest with 6.4L/100km.
That raises the question of how much more does the Cabriolet weigh? About 170kg more than the Sedan and Sportback thanks to the extra reinforcement needed to strengthen the body to compensate for the rigidity it loses by not having a fixed metal roof.
I’ve driven all A3 variants from the 1.0 TFSI to the 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line, plus the S3 and RS3, but most recently I tested the 1.4 TFSI Sportback, which I’ll focus on here.
Our car was fitted with two optional packages – the 'Style Package' which adds LED headlights, 18-inch alloys and sports suspension, and the 'Technik Package' which brings a virtual instrument cluster, an 8.3-inch display and sports steering wheel.
Those larger 18-inch alloys wearing low profile 225/40 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2 tyres look great, but like thin-soled shoes you’ll feel every imperfection on the road giving a harsher texture to the ride, plus they can be noisy on course-chip bitumen.
I’d stick to the standard 16-inch wheels. Sure, they don’t look as racy, but the ride from those, on 55 profile tyres, is a lot more cushioned.
Despite that grittier feel from the tyres the sports suspension is excellent and manages to soften bigger bumps well. Handling is good too, thanks to that suspension keeping the body well controlled.
Good visibility, steering that’s light but offers decent feel, and a comfortable seating position make the A4 pleasant to pilot, but not hugely engaging. If you're after more of a driver’s car, the S3 and RS3 will deliver – trust me.
Acceleration isn’t bad from the 1.4-litre, with 0-100km/h claimed to be 8.2 seconds. That dual-clutch transmission is a quick shifter and smooth even in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but only if you turn off the stop-start engine system (jerky and hard to tolerate).
I’m also not a fan of the way the stop-start system switches the engine off as you coast to a stop at traffic lights and intersections. For me, that borders on a safety issue, particularly when needing to turn on an amber only to find you momentarily lack steering or power.
As mentioned in the engine/transmission section, the 1.4 TFSI Sportback is a FWD car. Put it on a steep hill, as I did on our test incline, and even in dry conditions it’ll lose traction under hard acceleration. Traction control reins the slippage in, but AWD 'quattro' cars won’t struggle for traction in the same circumstances.
If you're buying the S1 as a comfortable urban runabout with a cool badge, you're half right. While the seating for front passengers is certainly supportive, the hard suspension tune will ensure you're well aware of road surface imperfections.
Thankfully, what it missed out on in the ride department it makes up for in every other way - the S1 is a rocket. The 2.0-litre turbo jammed under the bonnet has almost no lag and is paired with a slick six-speed manual that is terrific fun to manhandle through the gears.
The way the S1 picks up speed when it's on boost is addictive and licence-endangering. A flattened accelerator in second or third will obliterate just about anything this side of $100,000 and you'll be having more fun in this than big brother S3 because the chassis is more adjustable and there's a bit more life.
You can hear the turbo sing to accompany the bassy exhaust growl. Hit the massive brakes hard and the car remains stable even over rutted roads. Turning the wheel brings almost-instant turn-in, mashing the throttle again a fun little wriggle. It's superb.
You'll have to be a bit patient with the throttle to get the wriggle, though - give it too much too early and it will want to push wide, the quattro system shuffling power around to try and quell understeer while the electronic diff fiddles with the braking system to do the same thing. It gets there in the end, but you're better off meting out the power with your right foot for maximum rewards.
It's tremendous fun point-to-point on a twisty road - despite being a bit heavy for its size (1415kg), it's as chuckable as the next best thing, the Fiesta ST.
The A3 has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating from its 2013 crash test, which applies to the Sportback, Sedan and Cabriolet.
While the Sedan and Sportback have seven airbags, the Cabriolet has just five, missing out on the head-level curtain bags.
The amount of advanced safety equipment increases as you step up through the grades, but AEB is standard across the range. Lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert becomes standard from the 2.0 TFSI Sport upwards, while the lower grades can attain these with the optional $1500 'Assistance Package'.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX mounts and two top tether anchor points across the back seats in the Sedan, Sportback and Cabriolet.