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Is the BMW 1 Series better than the Audi A3?

7 minutes Published: 29/09/2020

There’s no denying that luxury small cars are all the rage right now. Sporty performance, chic styling, serene comfort - you name it they’ve got it. However, there are few within the class that can match the premium feel of both the Audi A3 Sportback and BMW 1 Series.  

The Audi A3 may have the edge when it comes to interior sparkle but there’s no denying the BMW 1 Series’ superior infotainment system. With similar performance and a similar price tag, it all comes down to very fine margins. Who gets your vote? Let’s find out who wins this Audi vs BMW battle!

Want to compare the Audi A3 against some more stiff competition? Check out our Audi A3 vs Volkswagen Golf review for a battle between two stalwarts in the premium family hatchback class.


BMW 1 Series vs Audi A3

Germany vs Germany. Premium hatchback vs premium hatchback. Guaranteed luxury vs guaranteed luxury. With so much in their favour, how do we pick a winner between these two classy outfits? Read on to review the differences!

1 Series Hatchback

RRP: £24,205 - £39,545

Monthly Cost From: £245.29

  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 3.0
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 89 - 226g/km

A3 Sportback

RRP: £23,070 - £37,840

Monthly Cost From: £196.82

  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 3.2
  • Fuel: P, D, H
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 250g/km
  • Cracking infotainment system

  • Enthralling handling

  • Audi A3 is better equipped

  • No longer rear wheel drive

  • Superior interior finish

  • Impressively low running costs

  • Lack of standard kit on cheaper trims

  • Firm ride at low speeds


Exterior

BMW 1 SERIES EXTERIOR

AUDI A3 EXTERIOR

The Audi A3 Sportback is the true meaning of smart-casual. Aesthetically, it’s miles ahead of other small family hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Skoda Octavia, and it gives the Mercedes A-Class a run for its money. The body of the five-door hatchback is elegant and looks a lot less squashed than the chunkier BMW 1 Series. 

Audi’s signature four rings command the front grille and combine effortlessly with the sharply angled indicators to create a premium vibe. Indulge in the top of the range S Line and you’ll bag yourself a sporty exterior styling pack that is truly irresistible.

1 Series Hatchback:

A3 Sportback:


Driving Experience

BMW 1 SERIES DRIVING EXPERIENCE

AUDI A3 DRIVING EXPERIENCE

Both the Audi A3 and the BMW 1 Series have a diverse range of competent and refined engines, but you’ll have to choose a diesel if you want to unleash optimum performance.

The A3 Sportback feels comfortable and composed on any stretch of road. Handling is smooth through corners and regardless of the trim, steering will be decisive thanks to Audi’s electric power steering. If you’re a devoted petrolhead, the 1.5-litre turbo-charged petrol engine is very well suited to city spins. 

Nonetheless, if you want the true Audi experience, you can’t go wrong with the 2.0-litre Quattro four-wheel-drive diesel system that comes with a seven-speed S Tronic gearbox. Achieving 0-62mph in just 6.8 seconds, the 2.0-litre diesel engine returns great fuel economy if you do lots of motorway driving.

The Audi A3 may handle itself with poise and vigour, but it doesn’t blow you away as much as the 1 Series does. Despite the 1 Series losing its rear-wheel-drive capabilities, it remains comfortable and quiet at high speeds. 

The steering feels extremely engaging and the smooth gearboxes certainly make it feel more agile and enjoyable to drive than the Audi A3. The 1 Series’ effortless diesel engines offer a more all-rounded drive with the pick of the bunch being the frugal 2.0-litre 118d version. The more affordable petrol equivalent - the 118i is quiet and smooth, but only worth considering if you stick to driving around town. You’ve also got the option of the high-performance Mi35i which is seriously rapid if you fancy a thrill-seeker. 

1 Series Hatchback:

A3 Sportback:


Interior

BMW 1 SERIES INTERIOR

AUDI A3 INTERIOR

Both these cars in question are renowned for their solid build quality and intuitive infotainment systems, but which one has that all-important wow factor? 

The A3 interior is a prime example of Audi’s meticulous craftsmanship. Everything feels built from high-grade, premium materials and the layout of the dashboard is classy yet minimalist. If you’re in the market for luxurious comfort, the S Line spec comes with Alcantara leather seats and a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel that truly add to the cabin’s superior feel. 

With driver safety at the forefront, Audi’s 7-inch pop-up infotainment screen is controlled by a slick, user-friendly rotary dial between the front seats. If you are into gadgets, you’re going to have to consider the optional Audi Tech Pack. This replaces the traditional speedometer with a 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit screen that gives you easy access to driver information and sat-nav capabilities.

After a well-needed facelift, the new BMW 1 Series boasts a much more sophisticated cabin with outstanding tech features. Equipped with a standard 8.8-inch touchscreen, the cutting-edge system is super simple and comes with more impressive features and crisper graphics than the Audi A3.  Although the dashboard may not live up to the hype of the Audi A3, the 1 Series has certainly improved its looks. Everything feels well-built and there are lots of soft-touch plastics dotted around.

1 Series Hatchback:

A3 Sportback:


Practicality

BMW 1 SERIES REAR SEATS

AUDI A3 BOOT SPACE

Both the Audi A3 and the BMW 1 Series are particularly spacious up front, but the A3 is the place to be if you’ve been shoved into the rear seats.

In the Audi A3, there’s more than enough shoulder and legroom for a couple of tall adults to get comfortable before a long journey. If you avoid the optional sunroof, you shouldn’t have many complaints from over six-footers in the headroom department either. Rear space is also pretty decent for a hatchback which makes it a very viable option for a small family car. In terms of boot space, they are neck in neck for the hatchback - the Audi A3 Sportback boot space holds 380 litres. Otherwise, the A3 Saloon is more practical at 425 litres and the A3 Cabriolet is pokier at 320 litres.

The new front-wheel-drive system has ensured that all five seats in the 1 Series are more spacious than its predecessor. This has provided the cabin with a neat blend of practicality and style as well as the option of getting the car with five doors as standard. Unfortunately, the back seats don’t seem to reap the benefits of the front. They don’t get the same supportive feel and feel much more cramped when compared to the Audi A3.

1 Series Hatchback:

A3 Sportback:


Costs

BMW 1 SERIES RUNNING COSTS

AUDI A3 RUNNING COSTS

In terms of the retail price, there’s not much to differentiate the two cars. They both start in the region of around £23,000 and sit in the upper echelons of the family hatchback class.

If you’re willing to pay the premium price, you’ll be sure to revel in the luxury that comes with both of these upmarket cars. 

Another cost factor to consider when buying a car is fuel economy. When comparing the running costs of both the A3 and the 1 Series, we have decided to pick out two punchy 2.0 diesel engines from each class. 

The BMW SE 118d 5dr returns a whopping 68.9 MPG, while emitting 108g/km of CO2. Not far behind, the SE Technik 35 TDI 5dr returns a very respectable 65.7 MPG and 113g/km of CO2. If you’re a company car user, don’t forget about the four percent diesel surcharge you’ll have to pay on your benefit-in-kind tax if you opt for one of these cars.

The A3 is covered by a three-year, 60,000 mile Audi warranty whereas BMW offers a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, which could be a crucial factor for long-distance drivers.

Insurance-wise, the lowest Audi A3 Sportback insurance group is 14, ranging up to 36. The A3 Saloon insurance group is between 21 and 39 whilst the A3 Cabriolet insurance band ranges from 17 to 42.

1 Series Hatchback:

A3 Sportback:

Derivative Contract Length Monthly Cost
1 Series Hatchback 118i M Sport 5dr Step Auto 3 Years £245.29
A3 Sportback 30 TFSI Technik 5dr 4 Years £196.82

Verdict

Our gut says Audi A3.

Both these cars are so evenly matched it’s taken us some time to crown a winner! 

If you’re after the most practical family car that oozes quality both inside and out, you’ve got to go for the Audi A3.

If you value top-drawer performance and innovative technology features, there’s no doubt that the BMW 1 Series is the most enjoyable car to drive and play around with. 

As they’re both similarly priced when comparing starting and running costs, the deciding vote had to go with comfort and style. With little to differentiate the two in terms of performance, we found that the Audi A3 had more all-round capabilities and greater practicality, which at the end of the day is a huge selling point in the small family hatchback market.

BMW 1 Series

4/5

Audi A3

4.5/5

If you’ve got your eye on the Audi A3 but want to keep your options open, our Audi A3 vs Volkswagen Golf comparison is a great place to start. If your budget is stretched, you might want to check out our Audi A3 vs Seat Leon comparison to see exactly what you’re getting for the premium price tag. Our Audi A3 alternatives is very handy too!