Eager to learn more about the world of Audi? As entry-level models to the Audi range, looking at the Audi A1 and Audi A3 is a good place to start. Both cars are sporty and close in price. So, if you’re looking for a new car and you think it might be an Audi, read on to see whether the A1 or the A3 is your best bet.
Audi A1 vs A3
A1 vs A3 - what a conundrum. Do you get much more for your money with the A3? Let’s take a look at the specs and pros and cons of each car to begin with:
- Doors: 5
- Engine: 2.0
- Fuel: P, D
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 168g/km
- Doors: 5
- Engine: 3.2
- Fuel: P, D, H
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 250g/km
Good fuel economy.
Punchy engine choice.
Can’t get Audi quattro.
Average repair costs higher than A3.
No scratchy plastics in the interior.
Good choice of powerful engines.
Pop-up infotainment screen is a little retro.
Could do with more safety tech as standard.
Audi models all look very similar but we’d say that the difference between these two is easier to spot than amongst other models further up the chain. Depending on the model, the differences will be more pronounced. The new Audi A1 is available in Sportback and citycarver (we’ll focus on Sportback only here) whilst the A3 comes as Sportback, Saloon, Cabriolet, and S3 performance model.
The headlights are probably the most pronounced difference from the front-end, with both sporting a honeycomb grille pattern after their most recent facelift.
Side-on, you’ll see that the A1 Sportback is shorter than the Audi A3 Sportback and the A3 Saloon. The Saloon has a smoother curved roofline than the hatchback styling on the Sportback. Moreover, the entry-level A1 comes with 15-inch ‘5-arm’ design alloy wheels whilst the A3 comes with larger 17-inch 7.5J ‘5-arms’ design alloy wheels.
Even at a lower price point, the A1 exterior still says “premium” but its smooth curves give it a sportier edge over the A3. The A3 (and the A3 Saloon in particular) looks more business-oriented, showing that Audi are really going for the “compact premium executive” market with this range.
Both are beautiful cars. Audi is a premium brand and we think the A3 reflects this best. When you compare models like the A5 and A6, there isn’t a drastic aesthetic difference between the two, but you can tell which is the more upmarket model between the A1 and A3.
If you’re a dieselhead, then the A1 Sportback won’t cut it for you. You have a choice of four 1.0-litre petrol-only engines, 2 with 7-speed S tronic automatic transmission, 1 with 5-speed manual, and 1 with 6-speed manual.
The A3 has a wider engine selection, offering 3 petrol engines with either 6-speed manual or 7-speed S tronic automatic transmission, and 2 diesel engines with 6-speed manual gearbox only.
Handling and suspension for both the A1 and A3 is great, with the A3 Saloon coming out top of the lot for a smooth drive. With both ranges, we say avoid combining bigger alloys with the Sport suspension if you’re going to do a lot of city driving. It’s not very comfortable at all. Neither comes with Audi’s all-wheel drive system “quattro” as standard - it’s actually not even available as an add-on with the A1.
The A3 engines offer a bit more power and torque than the A1 does, so we’ll hand it to the A3 here, though the A1 is more than capable for your ordinary everyday journeys.
A1 or A3, no matter which one you sit in, you’ll be able to tell it’s an Audi. Audi’s interior styling is one of the focal points of any Audi car, and neither misses the mark.
The A1 Sportback Interior has a standard dual-screen infotainment touchscreen, made up of a 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit and an 8.8-inch MMI touchscreen, but there are still traditional dials and buttons to control air con and such. The screens are embedded in the dashboard which looks very sleek. One criticism we do have is that a few scratchy, cheap plastics have been dotted around the cabin - but what do you really expect for a manufacturer’s entry model?
The A3 Sportback Interior comes with MMI Navigation and a 3 month subscription to Audi Connect which hooks your system up to the web. The 7-inch screen is electrically retractable into the dashboard which we think is a little clunky-looking and naff. But you may think differently! The quality of materials used in the cabin is of a higher standard than the A1, which we would hope for the extra cost!
Neither come with Audi Virtual Cockpit, but you can add it on at an extra cost, which we do recommend.
Although we’re personally not fans of the retractable dashboard screen, the A3 embodies Audi’s premium prowess to a higher degree than the A1.
A practical small car, the A1 Sportback boot offers 335 litres, which is pretty average for its class. In the backseat, headroom and legroom is decent enough to comfortably fit 2 adults, but 3 will be a mega squish. The A3 Sportback boot size is 380 litres whilst the A3 Saloon boot size is even roomier, boasting 425 litres of room.
Safety shouldn’t be a concern for either car - both Sportback models received 5 stars in the Euro NCAP tests. The A3 Saloon wasn’t tested but you’d be safe to assume they are on a par. Isofix child seats can be fitted into either car. The A3 has a little bit extra standard safety tech than the A1. For example, it comes with front seatbelt pretensioners to react to an impending collision and adaptive brake light which auto-flashes to warn drivers behind you during an emergency stop.
Both will protect you and passengers well in a crash, but the A3 comes with more standard safety tech so we’ll give it to the A3 again here.
Between the base model for each range, there’s about £4k of a price difference - but how do they compare on everyday running costs?
The entry engine choice for the A1 offers 61.4 mpg. The entry petrol options for the Audi A3 Saloon and A3 Sportback are capable of 55.4 mpg, with the TDI choices delivering around 64-66 mpg. The A3 Cabriolet is thirstier than the others in the range with the extra weight of the folding roof.
The Audi A1 insurance group for the 25 TFSI engine is firmly planted in Group 16, and 19 for the A3 equivalent.
Fuel economy for the Audi A1 Sportback is better than the A3 but average repair costs are higher. When it comes to insurance, there’s not a dramatic difference, but every penny helps with the A1. When you actually break down all the costs, the less expensive A1 is obviously the cheapest to run in the long term.
To read more about Audi A3 Saloon
For a few grand extra or £100 or less a month to lease, we think the Audi A3 is worth the investment. If looks matter to you, it has a more upmarket aesthetic. Fuel economy is understandably better in the smaller A1 but you’ll get the best engine power from the A3. Both are practical models, with the larger A3 understandably trumping the A1. And for all you tech-junkies out there, whilst we’re not mad keen on the pop-up infotainment screen, the A3 boasts better standard tech.
It’s ultimately up to what matters to you - if you can compromise on the subtleties of design and you’re not mad-fussed for having the best infotainment system, then the A1 is a very respectable car in its class. But you definitely do get more for your money with the A3.
Still not stuck on one or the other? We’re here to help make your choice easier. If you’re leaning towards the A1, check out our A1 vs Polo and A1 vs Mini Cooper posts. Or if the A3 looks to be a more promising choice, scroll through our A3 vs Golf, A3 vs BMW 1 Series, A3 vs Seat Leon, and A3 vs S3 posts too!