The Audi A3 is a very fine car, don’t get us wrong, but it’s not a BMW 1 Series. If you are looking for a premium small car and trying to choose between the two, the case for the BMW is pretty compelling.
Maybe you want the economy of a diesel but don’t want to compromise on performance. The quickest A3 diesel is the 148bhp 2.0-litre, which reaches 62mph in 8.6 seconds. Choose the BMW 1 Series, and the 123d offers 204bhp and 0-62mph in just seven seconds.
The 1 Series also has the edge if you are looking for a high-performance petrol but don’t want to pay through the nose. The M135i has 315bhp and takes just 4.6 seconds to hit 60mph, as independently tested by Autocar magazine. The same road testers found the Audi RS3 is a tenth quicker, but it costs £39,995 before you even get near the options list. The BMW? Prices start from £29,995, saving you an astonishing £10,000.
It’s not just what the BMW 1 Series does, it’s the way it does it. Autocar described the M135i as “a very well balanced car… the M135i is adjustable and entertaining.” What about the RS3? “Impressive performance and loads of grip,” said Autocar’s testers, “but less finesse and a lofty price.”
Every 1 Series is rear-wheel drive, which gives each model – not just the M135i – the balanced, agile handling of a true BMW. Most versions of the Audi A3 are front-wheel drive, and just don’t steer as well or handle as keenly as the 1 Series. Whatcar.com describes the 1 Series as driving “with neutral handling, bags of grip and accurate steering.”
If fuel economy and emissions are a higher priority, the 1 Series more than holds its own against the A3. The 116d EfficientDynamics returns 74.3mpg and emits just 99g/km of carbon dioxide. That matches the figures for the A3 1.6 TDI SE, but remember the 1 Series hatchback is a five-door while the A3 is a three-door. For a more practical bodystyle Audi buyers will need to choose the A3 Sportback. The most economical Sportback model returns 67.3mpg and emits 108g/km. These are impressive numbers, but well beaten by the 116d EfficientDynamics.
The best way to judge is from the driver’s seat. Test drive the brilliant BMW 1 Series at your local Elms BMW dealer and we’re sure you’ll agree that it’s the best upmarket small car – bar none. The A3 may be good, but it’s not a BMW.