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First drive: Audi A3 Sportback

Date: 07 May 2020   |   Author: Pete Tullin

The fourth-generation Audi A3 Sportback launch took place just before the lockdown; we tell you how to ensure you get the best version when it arrives in showrooms.
Standard equipment:
16in alloy wheels, LED headlights, cruise control, four electric windows, remote central locking, air-conditioning, multifunction steering wheel, sat-nav, virtual cockpit with 10.25in infotainment system, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, voice activation control
Petrol: 150hp 1.5-litre, 150hp mild hybrid 1.5-litre
Diesel: 150hp 2.0-litre
Equipment grades:
Technik, Sport, S Line
Six-speed manual,
seven-speed auto

Although there are still many people who believe car manufacturers jealously guard the secrets of every last nut and bolt like the crown jewels, most folks are aware that a huge amount of cross-brand component-sharing does go on.

You need look no further than the VW group with its associated Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche marques to witness this on a mass scale.

The all-new Audi A3 Sportback is the latest model to be spun off from similar underpinnings to the VW Golf, Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia; which begs the question, why choose the more expensive Audi?

Well, for a start, there is the freedom for each of these brands to tune individual models to perform in a manner best suited to customer's demands - and in the case of Audi in particular, there is also the opportunity to up the ante when it comes to interior design, fit and finish.

Featuring a radical departure from its predecessor's rather conservative layout, the latest A3's dashboard has been completely overhauled, featuring slim, horizontal air vents in place of the previous model's bullseye items and Audi's configurable virtual cockpit instrumentation binnacle sited behind a peach of a three-spoke sports steering wheel.

The super-slick layout also features a 10.25in central touchscreen, which replaces the old rotary and favourite buttons MMI layout. If there is a blot on the real estate then it is the disconnect between the jewel-like miniature automatic shifter and the rather nasty manual gearbox gear knob, which looks and feels like Audi found it lurking in the bottom of a pound shop oddments bin.

In general, the main screen works well, thanks to large icons and prominent haptic feedback pulses, even if some of the screen menus are blocked out when resting your hand on the steering wheel.

You can also execute commands via Alexa-style voice communication or scrawl on the screen to spell out letters for your sat-nav inputs. This is quite tricky though because you operate it with your less dexterous left hand (apologies to any southpaws).

Thankfully, some hard keys have been retained, predominately for climate management, so you don't have to search through layers of touchscreen menus on a cold and frosty morning to crank up the screen blower, flick on the heated rear screen and dial up the heated seats.

This clearly demonstrates an admission that there is still a place for hard keys, despite designers forever eulogising about the wonderful, uncluttered visual aesthetics that touchscreens provide, and how everyone is familiar with their pinch and swipe workings thanks to interactions with smartphones.

A sense of Audi's preoccupation with quality can be gleaned from the materials covering the door tops and dashboard, and the rather quirky-looking pterodactyl- shaped door pulls.

Although these components do not feel quite as premium as those in the previous A3, they are certainly a cut above those found in the latest Mk8 Golf.

As for chassis specification, less would definitely appear to be more, as the expensive optional adjustable suspension only serve to undermine the A3's driving credentials.

Allowing more suspension travel is a tried and tested approach to creating additional comfort, but in the A3's case it also induces excessive bonnet lift under acceleration and downward nose-dive under braking, as well as increased side-to-side shimmy at lower speeds.

You can gain a measure of control over this unruly nature by hitting the 'sport' mode via the Drive Select button, but the last thing you want to do when the road suddenly turns twisty is to start scrabbling around to adjust the damper settings.

Far better to stick with the lowered sports set-up that comes standard with S Line models. Despite the sports moniker, there remains sufficient compliance to soak up all but the worst lumps and bumps, while the tangible gains in body control and steering connection feeding into high levels of inherent grip help transform the A3 into a balanced and highly enjoyable driver's car.

As for powertrains, you will do well to avoid the entry-level, manual gearbox, 2.0-litre diesel engine as it is noisy and rather coarse when revved, which drives a fair bit of vibration through the pedals and the footwells. Step up to the same engine fitted with a twin-clutch S-Tronic automatic and the noise and vibration are far less apparent.

We can only assume much of this is due to the inherent damping qualities of the automatic gearbox. Without question, the 1.5TSI petrol engine is the pick of the bunch, but don't be tempted to go for the 48V version.

It may be more muscular and efficient than the basic version, but the battery regenerative system plays havoc with the brake pedal's feel and reactions, making it a guessing game as to how much pedal to apply when slowing down.

Best to stick with the entry-level 1.5TSI, which is smooth and fizzingly eager to rev, and is at its best when mated to the aforementioned automatic, which has also benefitted from the latest software developments, improving shift quality and parking creep smoothness.

Audi A3 Sportback 35TSI S Line S tronic
P11D £30,700 est
On sale Now
Residual value TBC
Depreciation TBC
Fuel TBC
Service, maintenance and repair TBC
Cost per mile TBC
Fuel consumption 44.8mpg
CO2 (BIK band) 142 g/km (31%)
BIK 20/40% a month TBC
Boot space 380 litres
Engine size/power 1,498cc/150hp


  • S-Line provides engaging driving dynamics
  • Classy interior space
  • Strong performance
  • Braking on 48V versions is frustratingly inconsistent
  • Some evidence of cost-cutting
  • Expensive options best avoided