By Jonathan Crouch
The Sportback. It's Audi-speak for 'five doors', the configuration in which most versions of Audi's third generation A3 family hatch were sold. This MK3 'Type 8V' model was first launched in 2013 but substantially updated in 2016 with greater efficiency and technology. It's the updated post-2016 MK3 A3 Sportback variant we look at here as a used buy. Sure, for the same money, you could consider buying a bigger car from a lesser brand, but after trying this one, Audi hopes that you won't want to.
Brand Loyalty. It's hard to put a price on it. Hard at least, if you're a consumer. Audi though, has no such qualms and has always confidently pitched this car, the A3 Sportback, as the priciest but also the most desirable of all the compact family hatches that the Volkswagen Group sells.
There's a reason for this, just as there's a reason why Audi brand loyalty saw a huge proportion of buyers for this car being customers who were satisfied with its predecessor. Explain to these people that the same technology could be theirs for several thousand less in a Skoda Octavia and you'll be met with looks of puzzlement wondering why such a fact could be relevant.
Though there was a five-door version of the original first generation Audi A3, a body style introduced to the range in 1996, this part of the line-up only gained the 'Sportback' tag in second generation form in 2004 when five-door A3 motoring was repositioned for a slightly more mature, slightly more up-market audience. This third generation 'Type 8V'-series A3 range continued that trend from its launch in 2012, Audi's argument that this Sportback version was more than just a three-door A3 with a couple of extra doors supported by this five-door model's use of a longer wheelbase.
Of more importance though, is the question of whether this is more of a desirable premium compact hatch than five-door versions of its two arch-rivals in this segment, BMW's 1 Series and the Mercedes A-Class. By 2015, with far-reaching recent changes having enhanced the appeal of both these rivals, Audi knew it was imperative to keep the appeal of this A3 fresh and up to the minute. Hence a package of revisions announced in the Summer of 2016 that created the much improved third generation A3 Sportback model we're going to look at here as a potential used buy.
The volume 1.4 TFSI petrol engine was replaced by a 1.5 TFSI unit in 2017, the same year that Audi launched an updated version of the top RS 3 hot hatch variant, with power uprated to 400PS. This A3 range in this updated MK3 form sold until the end of 2019, when it was replaced by an all-new fourth generation design.
What You Get
As was Audi's intention, this five-door A3 Sportback looks a little more mature and grown-up than its three-door counterpart. The post-2016-era changes made to this revised 'Type 8V' model are primarily focused on the front end, where the familiar Singleframe grille was made wider and more sharply contoured. The headlamps that flanked it we also restyled to be flatter and more distinctive than before, with more modern xenon lighting replacing the old halogen units.
Take a seat inside and the cabin quality you'll find there really sets this car apart at its price point amongst models from this era, with a really premium feeling of quality and class. The defining feature of the dash remains the prominent four air vents, styled to look like miniature jet engines and made up of no fewer than thirty individual parts including bright metal outer rings that are shaped for perfect grip. The two central vents sit above a smarter panel of ventilation controls that gained a piano black finish as part of the mid-life update, plus there was a restyled three-spoke leather-trimmed steering wheel. It's what you can view through this though, that probably represented the greatest change made as part of the 2016 package of update improvements - the optional 'Audi Virtual Cockpit'. Original buyers had to pay extra for this but if you find a car that has it, you'll get yourself a real cabin talking point, the set-up replacing the entire instrument binnacle with a 12.3-inch colour TFT screen that's fully digital and customisable, with smart 3D graphics and highly detailed effects.
Anything this set-up can't tell you will almost certainly be covered by the slimline MMI infotainment display that glides out from the top of the dashboard to deal with audio, informational and phone-orientated functions you can prompt via a chrome-edged rotary controller in front of the gearstick. The retracting screen is 7-inches in size across the range and with these updated models, works with the useful 'Audi smartphone interface' that, through 'Apple Car Play' and 'Android Auto' smartphone connectivity, allows everything you access on your handset to be duplicated onto the slide-out monitor.
If you're going to be regularly using the rear compartment in your A3, you really need to have opted for this Sportback bodystyle, not only because of its two extra doors but also because this variant sits on a wheelbase that's 35mm longer than the three-door. As for the boot, well it's 380-litres if you go for this slightly lengthier Sportback variant (as opposed to 365-litres with a three-door A3).
What to Look For
Most owners in our survey seemed happy. The most reported faults related to problems with the alarm system and the central locking. And issues with rattly interior trim and non-engine electricals. Look out for bodywork scrapes and kerb damage to larger-spec alloy wheels. We've had some reports of issues with wear to the side bolsters of the leather seats, as well as squeaking front brake pads, so it's worth looking out for both of those. There were a few issues with the car's infotainment system, with phones not connecting properly and flickering screens being the main problem. Rattling parcel shelves and buzzing interior trims were also reported. The DSG automatic gearbox should be checked to make sure it's had a regular oil and filter change, as should the quattro four-wheel-drive system.
Many A3s will have been company or lease cars and, as a result, you should check the condition of the bodywork carefully. The high-quality fit and finish of an A3 also makes it an ideal candidate for clocking, so ensure the history is absolutely verified. There were two manufacturer recalls on the A3 in this period. Check that any necessary remedial work has been carried out on affected cars. On some A3s produced in August 2017, there was a problem with the rear hub carrier not being manufactured to the correct standard, so in extreme circumstances, the car could lose a rear wheel. A recall was issued to replace the carriers on affected cars. Poor welds attaching the rear head restraint to the rear backrest of some A3s made between May and September 2018 posed a safety issue. Affected cars had to have the whole backrest replaced.
(approx based on a 2016 A3 2.0 TDI 150PS - Ex Vat) An air filter costs in the £10-£19 bracket. An oil filter costs in the £7-£11 bracket. A fuel filter is around £13-£29. Front brake pads sit in the £27 to £63 bracket for a set; for a rear set, it's in the £32 to £54 bracket. Front brake discs sit in the £50-£72 bracket; for a rear pair, you're looking at the £48-£80 bracket. A thermostat costs around £13-£30 and a water pump is around £102. A radiator is around £150. And a starter motor is in the £110-£160 bracket.
On the Road
Audi significantly improved the TFSI petrol engine line-up with this revised post-2016 version of the third generation A3 model, adding in a 115PS three cylinder 1.0-litre unit at the foot of the range and a much improved 2.0-litre 190PS powerplant at the top of it. In between these two options, the clever 1.4-litre 'Cylinder on Demand' derivative that can work with ether two or four cylinders depending on throttle load was carried over from before, but had its output boosted by 10PS to 150PS. This was quickly replaced by a 1.5 TFSI unit with the same output. It's also worth mentioning that with this updated Type 8V A3, all these petrol engines were able to work with a freshly developed 7-speed S tronic auto gearbox that was available as an option. Further up the petrol range, the hot hatch S3 variant also used the new 2.0-litre TFSI engine, but in uprated 310PS form, mating it to a revised quattro 4WD system that was quicker-reacting and delivered a more enthusiast-orientated rear-driven bias.
Most A3 buyers though, continued to want a diesel, possibly the 110PS 1.6-litre unit but more probably the 150PS 2.0-litre TDI powerplant most selected. These engines were upgraded to Euro6 status as part of the 2016-era updates but otherwise were carried over from the original model line-up. With the 2.0-litre TDI unit, there was the option of quattro 4WD, something you have to have if you opt for this powerplant in its top 184PS state of tune. As for handling, well the light, stiff MQB chassis makes this car feel quite agile and you can vary its handling responses if you get yourself an example fitted with the 'Audi drive select' vehicle dynamics system. Ultimately though, the key attributes of mainstream A3 models lie in their supple standards of ride and exemplary refinement. As a result, this A3 retains a continuing ability to bring a luxury segment-style driving experience to a sector based around more affordably-priced compact models.
The Audi A3 was the model that invented the premium compact sector way back in 1996 and since then, almost all the cars sold in this segment have had five doors. Vital then, that this important Ingolstadt model should be at its most desirable in this form. In many ways, it was in this MK3 Type 8V guise.
Like the three-door A3 variant, this Sportback model is light in bulk, heavy in technology and as at home in Belgravia as it is in Brixton. And, as with that model, the interior is where this design really strides apart. You could be in a luxury car. You certainly wouldn't think you were in a run-of-the-mill Focus-sized family hatchback. For not a huge amount more than you'd pay for one of those, this car brought a touch of class to the compact segment. Which of course is why so many people continue to want one.