Audi A3 VS Mini Cooper
- 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
- Unique looks
- Cool cabin
- Great on-road dynamics
- Low on standard advanced safety equipment
- Limited rear legroom
- Small boot
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|
I want to hug you. Or maybe we could just high five if you’re uncomfortable with the whole hugging thing. Why? You’re looking at buying a Mini Hatch or Convertible, that’s why. And that’s not a decision somebody makes lightly.
See, Minis are small, but they’re not cheap; and they’re so different looking that if they were a fish many people would throw it back if they caught one. But for those brave enough to buy a Mini the rewards these little cars will give you in return could make you a fan for life.
|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.
If you’re buying a Mini Hatch or Convertible because they look unique and are fun to drive, then you’re doing it for the right reasons. But if you need a small family car then think about the Countryman or something bigger in BMW’s range like an X1 or 1 Series – these are the cousins of Minis and share the same tech but offer more practicality for similar prices.
The sweet spot in the Hatch and Convertible range is the Cooper S, whether it’s the three-door hatch, the five-door hatch or Convertible.
Are Minis the coolest small prestige car out there? Or overpriced and ugly? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
There are those googly eyes, the tiny flat bonnet, the snub nose with that angry mouth grille, those wheel-arches which eat way up into the body and are filled with wheels, and that little bottom. It’s tough and cute all at once, and still has stayed so true to the original look that if you were to push somebody from 1965 into a time machine and take them to 2018, they’d get out and say "that’s a Mini".
The original three-door Mini was less than 3.1m long, but over the years the Mini has grown in size – so the Mini still mini? The new three-door is 3.8m end to end, 1.7m wide and 1.4m tall – so yes, bigger but still mini.
The Hatch comes with three doors (two front and the boot’s tailgate) or five doors, while the Convertible is a two-door. The Countryman is Mini’s SUV and the Clubman is a wagon – both of these are yet to be given the update.
That update is super subtle, however. Visually the only differences between the latest Hatch and Convertible and the previous models is that the mid-spec Cooper S and top-grade JCW have the new LED headlights and Union Jack tail-lights. The entry-level Cooper has halogen headlights and regular tail-lights. That’s it – oh, and the Mini badge’s styling has been tweaked, almost unnoticeably.
On the outside the differences between the grades is obvious. Reflecting its more potent performance the JCW gets the biggest wheels (18-inch) and an aggressive-looking body kit with a rear spoiler and JCW dual exhaust. The Cooper S looks pretty mean, too, with its centre dual-exhaust and 17-inch wheels. The Cooper appears tamer but still cool with its chrome and black grille and 16-inch alloys.
Step inside the Mini Hatch and Convertible and you’re entering either a world of pain or world of awesomeness - depending on who you are - because it’s an extremely stylised cabin full of plane cockpit style switches, textured surfaces and dominated by the large circular (and glowing) element in the centre of the dash housing the media system. I’m quite fond of it all.
Seriously, can you think of another small car on the road which is as quirky as the Mini Hatch and Convertible but also prestigious? Okay, the Fiat 500. But name another one? Sure, Audi A1, but what else? Right the Citroen C3 and (now defunct) DS3. But apart from those can you name any? See.
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.
The name of this car is a bit of a clue as to how practical the insides are.
In the three-door, five-door Hatch and Convertible the car feels roomy up front, even for me at 191cm tall with good head, leg and elbow room. My co-driver on the launch was my size and there was plenty of personal space between us.
Can’t say the same for the back seats – in my driving position the front seat back is almost up against the rear seat base in the three door and the second row of the five-door isn’t much better.
Now you need to know that the three-door Hatch and Convertible have four seats, and the five -door has five seats.
Boot space is tight, too, with 278 litres of cargo capacity in the five-door Hatch, 211L of luggage space in the three-door, and 215L in the convertible. In comparison, the Audi A1 three-door has 270L of boot space.
Cabin storage for the Hatch includes two cup holders up front and one in the back of the Cooper and Cooper S Hatch, and two in the front and two in the back of the JCW. While the Convertible has two up front and three in the rear. Top down driving can be thirsty work.
There’s not much in the way of other storage places, apart from the glovebox and map pockets in the seat backs – those door pockets are only large enough to slide in a phone or your purse and wallet.
As for power connections Coopers have a USB and 12V in the front, while the Cooper S and JCW have wireless phone charging and a second USB port in the front armrest.
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'.
If you’d read the section above (Did you? It’s exciting and full of sex scenes), you’d know that the Mini Hatch and Convertible come in three grades – the Cooper, Cooper S and JCW. What I didn’t point out up there was that while this is true for the three-door Hatch and Convertible, the five door is only available as a Cooper and Cooper S.
So how much do Minis cost? You’d heard they can be expensive right? Well, you heard right.
For the three-door Hatch line the list prices go: $29,900 for the Cooper, $39,900 for the Cooper S and $49,900 for the JCW.
For the five-door Hatch you’re looking at $31,150 for the Cooper and $41,150 for the Cooper S.
The Convertible costs the most with the Cooper listing for $37,900, the Cooper S for $45,900 and the JCW for $56,900.
That’s way more expensive than a Fiat 500 which starts with a list price of about $18K and tops out at $37,990 for the Abarth 595 Convertible. But the Mini is more prestigious, higher in quality and far more dynamic performance-wise than a 500. So, unless it’s just about the looks it’s better to compare it to Audi’s A1 which begins at $28,900 and maxes out with the S1 at $50,400.
High in quality, but a bit light-on for standard features for the price is typical for prestige cars and the Mini Hatch and Convertible are no exception.
The three-door and five-door Hatch and the Convertible in the Cooper grade come as standard with cloth seats, velour floor mats, three-spoke leather steering wheel, a new 6.5-inch touch screen and updated media system with 4G connectivity, sat nav, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, wireless Apple CarPlay and digital radio.
The Hatch has air-conditioning, while the Convertible has dual-zone climate control.
As mentioned in the design section Coopers come with 16-inch wheels, single exhaust tip, a rear spoiler for the Hatch, while the Convertible gets an automatic folding fabric roof.
The Hatch and Convertible in Cooper S form pick up cloth/leather upholstery, JCW steering wheel with red stitching, LED headlights and Union Jack pattern tail lights, and 17-inch alloys.
The Convertible also gains dual-zone climate control.
Only the three-door Hatch and Convertible models are available in the JCW grade, but at this level you’ll get lots more in the form of an 8.8-inch screen with a harman/kardon 12-speaker stereo, head-up display, JCW interior trim, cloth and Dinamica upholstery (‘eco-suede’), stainless steel pedals, and front parking sensors.
There’s the JCW body kit too, along with the upgrade in brakes, engine, turbo and suspension which you can read all about in the Engine and Driving sections below.
Personalisation is a massive part of owning a Mini and there’s a billion ways to make your Mini more unique from colour combinations, wheel styles and accessories.
Paint colours for the Hatch and Convertible include Pepper White, Moonwalk Grey, Midnight Black, Electric Blue, Melting Silver, Solaris Orange and of course British Racing Green. Only the first two of those are no-cost options, however, the rest cost only $800-$1200 more at the most.
Want bonnet stripes? Of course you do – those are $200 each.
Packages? Yep, there’s a stack of them. Say, you’ve bought a Cooper S and want a bigger screen, then the $2200 Multimedia package adds the 8.8-inch screen, harman/kardon stereo and a head-up display.
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 simple. The Cooper is the least powerful with its 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine; the Cooper S is the piggy in the middle with its 2.0-litre 141kW/280Nm four-cylinder while the JCW is the hardcore one with the same 2.0-litre engine but tuned to make 170kW and 320Nm.
All are turbo-petrol engines and all Hatches and Convertibles are front-wheel drive.
Okay, this is where it gets a bit messy - the transmissions. The Cooper, Cooper S and JCW hatch come standard with a six-speed manual, but optional is a seven-speed dual-clutch auto on the Cooper, a sports version of that auto on the Cooper S and an eight-speed auto on the JCW.
It’s the other way around for the Convertible which comes standard with those autos as you step up from Cooper to JCW, with an optional manual gear box.
How fast is the hardcore one? The three-door JCW can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.1 seconds which is quick, while the Cooper S is half a second behind that and the Cooper is a second behind that.
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.
The Cooper’s three-cylinder turbo petrol is the most fuel-efficient engine in the range, with Mini saying you should see 5.3L/100km in the three-door Hatch, 5.4L/100km in the five-door and 5.6L/100km in the Convertible using an automatic transmission.
The Cooper S’s four-cylinder turbo according to Mini should use 5.5L/100km in the three-door Hatch, 5.6L/100km in the five-door and 5.7L/100km in the Convertible.
The JCW’s four-cylinder is the thirstiest of the pack, with Mini claiming that in the three-door you’ll use 6.0L/100km while the Convertible will need 6.3L/100km (you can’t get a JCW five-door Hatch).
Those figures are based on driving on a combination of urban and open roads.
During my time in the three-door JCW the trip computer recorded and average of 9.9L/100km and that was on mainly country roads.
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.
I’m yet to drive a Mini that wasn’t fun, but some are more fun than others. At the launch of the updated Hatch and Convertible I piloted the three-door in Cooper S and JCW form, and the five-door Cooper.
You can’t go wrong with any of these from a driving perspective – all steer precisely and directly, all feel agile and manoeuvrable, all are easy to drive and yup, fun.
But the Cooper S’s bump in power over the Cooper adds the grunt to match the great handling, making it my pick of the bunch. I drove the three-door Cooper S, and to me this is the quintessential Mini – plenty of grunt, great feel and the smallest of the family.
Stepping it up several notches is the JCW, which is sniffing around in high-performance territory with its powerful engine with its JCW specific turbo and sport exhaust, bigger brakes, adaptive suspension and bigger brakes. I drove the three-door Hatch in the JCW grade and loved shifting with those paddles, the barks on the upshifts are awesome, and the crackles as you step down though the gears is, too.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission in the JCW is a beautiful and fast thing, but the seven-speed sports auto in the Cooper S is mighty fine, as well.
There wasn’t a chance to steer the Convertible this time around, but I’ve driven the current generation soft-top before, and apart from the lack of roof making it easier for somebody my size to climb in, the ‘indoor-outdoor’ driving experience adds to the fun factor.
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.
The Mini Hatch was given a four-star ANCAP rating in 2015 (that's four out of five), while the Convertible has not been tested. While both Hatch and Convertible come with the usual safety equipment such as traction and stability control, and airbags (six in the Hatch and four in the Convertible), there is a lack of standard advanced safety technology. The Hatch and Convertible don’t come with AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) as standard, but you can option the tech as part of a Driver Assistance pack.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor points in the second row of the Hatch and Convertible.