People love premium. That’s why posher hatchbacks such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series are flying out of showrooms – everyone is partial to a bit of Germanic build quality and luxury, to the extent that the A3 was in the top 10 of cars sold in 2015.
So, if you’re in the market for either machine, what can you expect when you enter the respective Audi and BMW showrooms?
Prices are quite similar, although the Audi has list prices that are fractionally lower than those of the BMW, although if you’re the sort who likes a haggle the BMW dealer is slightly more likely to offer the bigger discount.
The 1.4 TFSI is the pick of the Audi’s engines. Its smooth, punchy and when you’re cruising along it can even deactivate two of its cylinders to enhance fuel economy.
Comfort is an area where the A3 excels; it rides even the worst urban scars well, and settles to a smooth and comfortable gait on the motorway. It’s quiet too, with only minimal engine road and wind noise entering the cabin to disturb your day.
BMW has long trumpeted itself as provider of the Ultimate Driving Machine, and the 1 Series does a good job of living up to the tag. Its best engine is the 118i, which gives the car decent acceleration and in-town flexibility.
The BMW also has the benefits of rear-wheel-drive handling, with its inherent nimbleness and balance. It also steers quickly, although the steering is light enough to make the car feel occasionally nervous.
The sporty handling doesn’t come at the expense of comfort, however, with the 1 Series riding all but the worst bumps and potholes with real sophistication. Even the worst motorway bumps only vaguely register in the cabin.
As far as interior comfort is concerned, it’s advantage Audi. The A3 has plenty of space around the two front seats, and adjusting the driving position is simplicity itself.
The BMW is almost as roomy, but getting comfortable takes a fair bit more effort, and even once you are settled the offset pedals mean you’ll always be sitting slightly skewed.
The Audi’s larger glass area also makes it a great deal easier to see out of.
Practicality also favours the Audi – just. It has 1220 litres of boot space on offer, while the BMW has 1200. Rear-seat passengers will also be slightly more comfortable in the Audi, and they’ll find it easier to get into and out of the rear seat than they would in the BMW, which has rather awkwardly shaped rear doors.
Both cars are extremely well equipped, with air-conditioning, Bluetooth, digital radio and USB connectivity across the range. Both have large screens with the latest infotainment control systems, too.
Running costs across both ranges are much of a muchness, with the Audi holding a slight advantage. It tends to be slightly more economical than the BMW, and the 1.4 TFSI model emits less CO2 than the equivalent 118i.
Factor in the Audi’s lower list price and the fact it sits three company car taxation bands lower than the BMW and it’ll be much cheaper to run as a company car.
Of course, if you’re a private buyer, the lower CO2 output of the Audi will translate into lower annual road tax rates.
So in the end you’re faced with a decidedly pleasant choice if you’re opting between these two, because they’re both beautifully built and seriously well appointed.
If comfort, space and economy are your driving factors, the Audi has the edge. If, however, you’re the sort who likes a weekend drive to a distant pub, or who has an enjoyable A- and B-road commute, the more engaging BMW could be the better choice.
Either way, you’ll be getting one of the finest premium hatchbacks on sale today.