Audi sedans are a staple in the luxury car market. Smart and conservative designs complement their precision German engineering and their infotainment and driver assists are currently considered the best among German automakers.
Although America’s obsession with SUVs means the Q3 and Q5 are Audi’s best selling vehicles, the A3 and A4 are not far behind in sales. The Audi A3 is the least expensive Audi car, and often an entry point for new Audi drivers. Naturally, the A4 draws comparisons with the A3, being the next step up in the regular Audi line.
So how exactly do the A3 and A4 differ?
The Audi A3 is a subcompact luxury car, whereas the Audi A4 is a compact luxury car. That means the Audi A4 has bigger dimensions and more interior room. Size differences are accompanied by subtle design differences outside and inside, and the A4 has more standard features.
That’s the gist of it, but let’s take a closer look at what exactly separates the two models.
Audi A3 vs A4: Price
The cheapest A3 ‘Titanium’ trim starts at $33,300, while the same trim on the A4 costs $39,200. The price difference is therefore around $6k, and relatively more costly options on the A4 can further widen that gap.
The A4 does however come with more standard features, even at the base trim. Most notable is the ‘Convenience Package’ which features keyless engine start/stop and entry, Audi side assist, aluminium window surrounds and LED interior lighting. This option costs $1,150 on the A3.
Audi A3 vs A4: Design
The trademark Audi singleframe front-grille is present on both Audis, but sharper and slimmer headlights makes it possible to distinguish the two cars from the front.
There are also differences at the rear. The tail lights also sport a wider, more aggressive look on the back of the A4. Meanwhile, the A4 gets two wide tailpipes on either side, whereas the A3 goes for more standard dual tailpipes on one side.
However, the most obvious difference is the shape of the cars themselves. The A4 is longer and appears more streamlined, whereas the A3 is more compact and boxy by comparison. This difference becomes even clearer when seeing them in person, as opposed to from photos.
Audi A3 vs A4: Space
Since we’re comparing a compact to a subcompact car, the A4 is obviously the bigger car. But by how much?
Passengers in the front and back get an additional 2.4 inches and 1.3 inches of additional head room respectively. While the longer wheelbase surprisingly doesn’t translate into any additional legroom for passengers, passengers get over an inch of additional shoulder room.
Although both have a seating capacity of 5, the middle seat of the A4 is much better at accommodating a 5th passenger. With the A3, larger passengers will struggle to squeeze in to fill up the back row.
Comparing practicality, the A4 also has 13 cubic-feet of cargo volume, while the A3 has a cargo volume of 10 cubic-feet. Both sedans can have their rear seats folded down, giving further flexibility for carrying cargo.
Audi A3 vs A4: Interior And Technology
Audi interiors have been the subject of much praise thanks to their more recent overhauls. They are modern, uncluttered, free from cheap materials and supported by one of the best infotainment systems around.
The differences in interior will be fairly obvious to the driver. Whereas the A3 goes with small, circular air conditioning vents, the A4 has air conditioning vents that lines the entire dashboard. You also get grey oak natural wood inlays that are a touch classier than the micrometallic silver inlays featured in the A3.
With either sedan you’ll get a 7-inch display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and cruise control as standard. Audi offer a host of in-car tech upgrades like a high definition Bang & Olufsen sound system, automatic climate control, 12.3-inch virtual cockpit with MMI Navigation and more.
Audi A3 vs A4: Powertrain
Under the hood, there isn’t really any difference between the A3 and A4. The base A3 and A4 are both powered by a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine named ‘40 TFSI’. Different tuning means the specs aren’t exactly the same—184 hp and 224 lb-ft of torque on the A3 compared to 186 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque on the A4. However, that difference doesn’t really amount to any difference in performance, and the smaller A3 is in fact faster going from 0-60 mph (6.6s vs 7.1s).
Both sedans are also offered with the higher spec ‘45 TFSI’ engine which delivers more horsepower and torque. Going for this model also gives you a better seven-speed DSG transmission and adds Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, which is especially beneficial for those who will find themselves driving in harsh weather conditions.
Those wanting something a little faster might want to look into the S3 and S4 in the high performance Audi S range. The Audi A3 also has an RS counterpart, the RS3, which delivers the best performance of all.
Audi A3 vs A4: Fuel Economy
According to EPA estimates, the Audi A3 40 TFSI gets 26/35 mpg (city/highway) and a combined gas mileage of 29 mpg. The more powerful A3 45 achieves 22/30 mpg (city/highway) and 25 mpg combined.
The Audi A4 40 TFSI gets 27/34 mpg (city/highway) and a combined gas mileage of 30 mpg. By comparison, the A4 45 TFSI is slightly more gas hungry with 23/34 mpg (city/highway) for a combined rating of 27 mpg.
With Audi set to introduce a hybrid version of the A4 in 2020, those who want the best fuel efficiency might want to hold back a little longer on their purchase.
Audi A3 vs A4: Drive Experience
The A3’s smaller nature and lower ground clearance gives it a slightly sportier and more agile driving characteristics than the A4. This is also reflected in its slightly tighter turning diameter of 36.1 feet versus the A4’s 38.1 feet.
However, Audi’s niche is not the sporty, thrusing and aggressive balance found in BMWs or Jaguars, but rather its comfortable and refined driving dynamics. And in this respect, the A4 is superior to the A3. The cabin is quieter and the suspension feels softer. Overall, you get a more distinctive Audi driving experience in the A4.
Audi A3 vs A4: Safety
The A3 and A4 were both given 5-star overall safety ratings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and are ‘Top Safety Picks’ according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
However, closer inspection reveals that the A3 fared slightly better in frontal crash testing, specifically for the front passenger side, where it obtained a 5-star rating as opposed to the A4’s 4-star rating.
Moving on to safety features, Automated emergency braking and forward-collision warning come as standard on both models, but things like lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring and high beam assist will cost extra.
When we compare different car models from the same manufacturer we normally conclude that the car to buy ultimately comes down to different driver needs.
But in this case, we’re going to go ahead and say the A4 is simply the better choice.
The A3’s interior feels a notch less luxurious than the one found in the A4, and the stubby exterior appearance doesn’t look anywhere near as good as the more streamlined A4. It’s tiny trunk makes it far less practical and the drive doesn’t feel as refined as the A4.
Overall the A3 doesn’t do enough to represent what people want and expect from an Audi. It’s cheaper, but unless you’re simply desperate to become an Audi owner, price sensitive consumers are better off looking elsewhere. The A4, on the other hand, is a truly luxury sedan that delivers on all fronts.