Audi A3 VS BMW 3 Series
- 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
BMW 3 Series
- Rear headroom
- No spare
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|
BMW 3 Series
Over 44 years BMW has produced more than 15 million examples of the 3 Series. That's roughly one every minute and a half... for over four decades.
And the latest, seventh-generation version of what the famous German maker defines as the "heart and soul" of its brand has landed in Australia.
The new '3' is longer and wider. It's also claimed to be slicker aerodynamically, up to 55 kilos lighter, more fuel efficient, and faster.
And it'll need every advantage it can muster to take a chunk out of its arch rival, the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite BMW's wholehearted embrace of the SUV its 3 Series is still a critically important model for the brand in Australia. And this new version certainly has the spec and tech to take the fight up to Merc's C-Class. And if you're in the happy position of making that choice, it's now a whole lot harder. For our money the 330i marks the sweet spot with extra performance, safety tech and standard features for only a fraction more than $3k over the 320d entry-point.
Could this new 3 Series steer you away from a Merc C-Class? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Changes to the exterior design are more evolutionary than revolutionary. You're never going to mistake this car for anything other than a BMW 3 Series.
But even if the face is familiar, aerodynamic efficiency is outstanding. BMW admits its claimed Cd of 0.23 was achieved with a base model running on 17-inch wheels (not offered here), but even if bigger rims knock a few fractions off that number it's still an amazing result for a conventional four door sedan.
Big contributors are a full width front spoiler, 'air curtains' managing flow around each corner of the nose, almost complete sealing of the largest areas underneath the car, and a functional rear diffuser section.
The signature kidney grille has grown and is delivered as a single piece, with active shutters incorporated to manage cooling air flow through to the engine. Twin adaptive LED headlights (standard on all models) feature a sharp notch on their lower edge, a big clue for new model spotters.
Broad, carefully managed surfaces characterise the bonnet and flanks of the car, with a distinct character line just above door handle height enhancing its confident stance.
The slightly smoked L-shaped LED tail-lights sit proud of the body, and 18-inch alloys are standard on the 320d, stepping up to 19s on the 330i.
The interior has been redesigned with revised controls and new materials, including slick 'aluminium teragon' finish on the console and dash in the M Sport.
As you can see in our interior images, it's been tidied up and simplified considerably, although it will still be instantly recognised by current BMW drivers.
Highlights are a 12.3-inch configurable digital 'Live Cockpit Professional' instrument display (lifted directly from the X5), a new 10.25-inch media touchscreen and a standard (larger) head-up display.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
A longer wheelbase (+41mm) has helped increase overall cabin space and rear room specifically.
There's plenty of storage provided with a large lidded box between the front seats as well as two large size cupholders in a recessed section in front of the gear shift (which can be closed off with a roll-top style cover).
The glove box is large and there are big bins in the doors with separate holders for full-size bottles.
Rear legroom is generous. At 183cm, sitting behind my own driving position, there was plenty of fresh air between knees and seatback, with lots of foot room to boot.
Headroom was more marginal with a straight back leading to a bonce/roof interface. But there are adjustable rear vents, twin cupholders in a fold-down centre armrest, and big bottle holders in the doors. Multiple USB ports (Type A and Type C) and a 12-volt power outlet are provided front and rear.
The boot space offers up a 480-litre luggage capacity with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increasing cargo flexibility. Local towing capacity is yet to be confirmed, but indicative (European) ratings for both models are 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 1600kg braked.
Standard rubber is run-flat so there's no spare of any description.
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'.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Pricing for the two-model launch line-up starts at just under $67,900 before on-road costs for the 320d, rising to $70,990 for the 330i.
Given many previous Australia-bound 3 Series models have been built in South Africa it's fair to ask where is the BMW 3 Series built, and the answer this time around is Germany.
And the standard features list is long, including 'Adaptive LED headlights' (with 'High-Beam Assistant'), LED fog lights and tail-lights, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors (with electric fold-in function), rain-sensing wipers, three-zone climate control, electrically-adjustable sports front seats (with memory function for driver and front passenger), wireless smartphone charging, 'Aluminium Tetragon' interior trim finishers, 12.3-inch 'BMW Live Cockpit Professional' digital instrument display, 'Navigation System Professional' with 10.25-inch digital touchscreen display also managing a 10-speaker, 205-watt sound system, including a 20GB hard drive and DAB+ digital radio. Apple CarPlay is included.
Also included are 'BMW TeleServices' taking in 'ConnectedDrive'(free use of vehicle apps via 'BMW Online'), real-time traffic info and 'Concierge Services'. The 'BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant' responds to a "Hey BMW' voice command with a range of hands-free functions like nav, calls and texts. We had mixed success in challenging this friendly PA.
The default M Sport trim includes 18-inch 'M Double-spoke' light alloy wheels, BMW Individual high-gloss 'Shadow Line' black treatment on the window frame and air breather surround, the 'M Aerodynamics package' (aero front and rear bumper trims, and side sills), Alcantara/Sensatec (vinyl) upholstery (black with contrast blue stitching), Anthracite BMW Individual headliner, and an M leather steering wheel (with multifunction buttons).
The no-cost 'Luxury Line' treatment swaps in 'Vernasca' leather seats, ash grey-brown interior wood trim, a sport leather steering wheel, the instrument panel trimmed in Sensatec and standard level sport seats for the driver and front passenger.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 19-inch alloys, 'Vernasca' leather upholstery, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry to all doors), adaptive suspension, M Sport brakes, 'Driving Assistant Professional' (active cruise control with 'Stop&Go' function, front and rear cross-traffic warning, steering and lane control assist, lane keeping assistant with side collision warning, crossroads warning and 'Evasion Aid'), and 'Parking Assistant Plus' ('Parking Assistant' with 'Active Park Distance Control' rear, 'Reversing Assistant', 'Surround View', 'Panorama View', and '3D View').
In terms of colours, 'Alpine White' and black are no-cost, wihle metallic shades - 'Black Saphire', 'Melbourne Red', 'Glacier Silver', 'Mineral White', 'Mineral Grey', 'Mediterranean Blue', 'Sunset Orange', 'Velmont Bronze' (brown), and 'Portimao Blue' add $2000 (rrp). And the 'BMW Individual' metallic shade of 'Dravit Grey' adds $2350.
Lots and lots of fruit without any change to the price. Clearly BMW is determined to bring the 3 Series back to prominence.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
The 320d is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel, featuring common-rail direct-injection and variable inlet timing. It produces 140kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm between 1750-2500rpm.
The turbo's multi-stage design incorporates a small, high-pressure, fixed-vane turbocharger as well as a larger, low-pressure, variable-vane turbo to maximise response, performance and efficiency.
A 2.0-litre single turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine sits under the 330i's bonnet incorporating direct-injection, as well as variable valve and cam timing. Peak outputs are 190kW from 5000-6500rpm and 400Nm between 1550-4400rpm.
Mark the date because this is the first time the BMW 3 Series has been offered in Australia without a manual gearbox option. Both launch models send drive to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic (with wheel-mounted shift paddles) only.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite each car's performance potential claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is commendably low.
BMW says the 320d delivers excellent diesel fuel economy, consuming a miserly 4.5L/100km, emitting 119g/km of CO2 in the process, with the 330i's fuel consumption figure coming in at 6.4L/100km and 147g/km.
You'll need minimum 95 RON premium unleaded in the 330i, with both petrol and diesel requiring 59 litres to fill the tank to full capacity.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
First, the performance figures. BMW claims the 320d will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.8sec, which is agreeably quick, while the 330i knocks that down to 5.8sec, which is properly fast.
Both engines deliver the same 400Nm of maximum torque at low rpm; 1750-2500rpm for the 320d, and a broader 1550-4400rpm spread for the 330i. Mid-range acceleration is strong and satisfyingly linear in each, the 330i that bit more urgent at the top end.
The eight-speed auto is velvety smooth, with the wheel-mounted shift paddles on hand for rapid 'manual' changes. Engine noise is muted at low revs but nice and rorty under pressure.
A stated aim in the development of this 3 Series was "dynamic engagement", and the standard strut front, multi-link rear suspension has been tuned to reinforce the driving part of the brand's long-standing 'ultimate driving machine' promise.
The standard suspension includes tricky two-stage dampers front and rear, but with all cars at the local launch fitted with the optional active damper system we'll have to wait to report on its quality (or otherwise).
This car's centre-of-gravity is 10mm lower than the model it replaces, which may not sound like much, but in engineering terms, absolutely is. In concert with a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, and wider tracks front and rear, it helps deliver an overall planted feel and predictable cornering balance.
The electro-mechanically assisted steering is accurate and linear with good road feel, which is not always the case in recent Beamers.
The launch fleet was also rolling on 19-inch rims (standard on 330i, optional on 320d) shod with Bridgestone Turanza run-flat rubber (225/40f - 255/35r) and despite that type of tyre's reputation for harsh characteristics and a moderate level of road noise, ride comfort on the typically coarse rural roads we covered in the Victorian high country was impressive.
Braking on both models is by ventilated disc front and rear, and even in spirited cornering maintained their power and efficiency. The M Sport brake package fitted to the 330i dials things up with four-piston alloy calipers (sourced from Brembo) up front.
The standard sports steering wheel is fat and grippy, the sports front seats combine firm location with long-distance comfort and overall noise levels are low. Overall, this is a super-impressive touring car.
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.
BMW 3 Series9/10
The new 3's active safety package is exactly where it needs to be, with all the 'cost-of-entry' items like ASC, DSC, ABS, 'Braking Assist', and traction control included. But additional tech includes everything from all-speed AEB, 'Lane Departure Warning', 'Lane Change Warning', head-up display and 'Front Collision Warning' (with brake intervention), to 'Cornering Brake Control', 'Rear Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Rear Collision Prevention', 'Speed Limit Information', 'Parking Assist' (with 'Reversing Assistant') and 'Dynamic Braking Lights'.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 'Steering and Lane Control Assist', 'Emergency Stop Assistant', 'Auto Speed Limit Assist', 'Lane Keeping Assist', 'Front Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Evasion Aid', 'Crossroads Warning' (with 'City Braking' function), 'Wrong Way Warning', as well as 'Parking Assistant Plus' (with 'Surround View Camera' and 'Remote 3D View').
On the passive side, the airbag count runs to eight (front and side airbags for driver and front passenger, and head airbags for all four outer seats). 'Intelligent Emergency Call' is also included.
There three top tether anchors for child seats/baby restraints across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
This seventh-generation 3 Series is yet to be assessed by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but it's a safe bet it will pick up a maximum five-star safety rating.
BMW 3 Series7/10
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is drifting off the pace now with the majority of mainstream brands stepping up to five-year cover, with some at seven.
On the upside, bodywork is covered for 12 years, the paint for three, and 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
Servicing is condition based, so the car tells you when maintenance is required, and BMW offers a range of service packages in 'Basic' and 'Plus' grades up to 10 years/200,000km.