So you know you want an Audi sedan but you’re unsure whether the subcompact Audi A3 or compact Audi A4 is more appropriate for your lifestyle? You’ve found the right post!
Choosing between a subcompact luxury sedan and compact luxury sedan can be confusing, as these vehicles often look very similar, have similar features and aren’t too far apart in price.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Audi A8 Review
In this post, we’ll explain the key differences between the Audi A3 and Audi A4, with subtopics on styling, powertrains, fuel economy, pricing and more. This will leave you armed with enough knowledge to make a more confident buying decision or maybe even help you come to the conclusion that neither of these cars is right for you.
Scroll down to learn all about the Audi A3 and Audi A4.
Audi A3 vs A4
Design and Body Styles
Audi A3: The Audi A3 is a subcompact luxury sedan with seating for five. It has a relatively neutral design that is sporty and modern-looking, with Audi’s large single-frame grille, narrow LED headlights, and taillights, sharp styling lines, stubby front, and rear overhangs and an integrated rear lip spoiler. The A3 is available as a four-door sedan or a convertible, and it’s no longer available as a hatchback in North America.
Audi A4: The Audi A4 looks quite similar to the A3, but it is a compact rather than a subcompact, so it appears larger and longer and has bigger front and rear overhangs. It also has LED headlights and taillights and Audi’s single-frame grille, though, and also has seating for five. Audi is applying a host of design changes to the car for 2020, which give the car a sportier, more youthful look with all-new headlights and taillights. The A4 is available as a four-door sedan or a wagon, with the A4 Allroad.
Bottom Line: These two look fairly similar, although the Audi A4 has a more traditional sedan look due to its proportions. Comparably, the A3 is much shorter and stubbier. The A4 also has a more modern look, as it was just refreshed for the 2020 model year. If you’re looking for something that looks more mature, go for the A4. The A3’s proportions can look a bit weird.
Audi A3: The A3 is a subcompact sedan, so it has less room for passengers and cargo than the compact A4. It has front row leg room of 41.2 inches and front row headroom of 36.5 inches, while second-row passengers get 35.1 inches of leg room and 36.1 inches of headroom. The trunk volume is 12.3 cubic feet, but the seats can fold down to hold longer items.
Audi A4: The A4 is a compact sedan with front row leg room of 41.3 inches and front row headroom of 38.9 inches. The second row has 35.7 inches of legroom of and 37.4 inches of headroom. The trunk capacity is 13 cubic feet.
Bottom Line: The A4 may not seem much bigger than the A3 on paper, but it is a larger vehicle by some margin. Even though the A3 is a four-door car, we don’t suggest it for those who plan on putting adults in their back seats often, as it is quite small. If you carry people in the rear seats often, the A4 is the better bet.
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Audi A3: The base A3 ’40’ is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 184 hp and 224 lb-ft of torque. A more powerful 2.0-liter is available as well, marketed as the A3 ’45’, which makes 228 hp and 258 lb-ft. Power for both models is sent through a seven-speed DSG transmission to Audi’s all-wheel-drive system, which is optional unless you get the uplevel ’45’ model. You might not know this, but Audi’s quattro isn’t actually standard in the A3, which is front-wheel drive at the base level.
The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive A3 40 at 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. The more powerful A3 45 is rated at 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined and comes standard with AWD.
If you wanted something faster, you could also get the S3 or RS 3, and the A3 is also available as a convertible.
Audi A4: The base Audi A4 40 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 188 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Buyers can also opt for the more powerful A4 45 model, which is powered by a more robust version of the same 2.0-liter making 248 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Both the A4 40 and the A4 45 feature Audi’s seven-speed DSG transmission, but only the 45 model is standard with all-wheel drive; the 40 model is front-wheel drive.
The EPA rate the Audi A4 40 at 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway for a combined rating of 30 mpg. The A4 45 has slightly worse returns at 23 mpg city, 34 highway and 27 mpg combined. If you wanted something even faster, the S4 is also available. For the 2020 model year, the A4 will be available with a mild hybrid system, which should improve both fuel economy and performance.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Audi A6 Review
Bottom Line: Both of these cars give buyers the option to choose from two different 2.0-liter engines. They are also offered with optional all-wheel drive and feature the same transmissions. In conclusion, these two have very similar powertrain lineups in standard A3 and A4 guise, making this category a bit of a toss-up. These two are set apart by their sizes and content, not their powertrains.
Audi A3: When we last drove the Audi A3, we said it was “a car that speaks softly” with a powertrain and chassis that are impressively capable for such an inexpensive vehicle. We didn’t like the plain-looking interior and dashboard and found the tiny trunk to be a turn-off, but concluded that it “delivers just about everything we want (and expect) from an Audi in a small, attractively-priced package,” due to its refined driving characteristics.
Audi A4: We had a glowing review of the Audi A4 when we last drove it, with our editor saying it was a car they would buy and that they “would recommend to anyone shopping this segment.” Moreover, they would choose it over a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class and said it does a “really good impression of a more high-end car like its A8 big brother.” We were also impressed with the “balanced and agile driving, luxurious interior, sophisticated chassis, mature yet bubbly disposition, long list of available safety features and technology.”
Bottom Line: The Audi A4 is a superior product to the A3, feeling more like a “real” Audi than its younger brother. You get quite a bit more bang for your buck in the more expensive A4, in our opinion — so save your pennies, kids.
Audi A3: Standard tech features on the A3 include a 7-inch display with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 10-speaker audio system, cruise control, and rain-sensing wipers. Options include a Bang & Olufsen sound system, Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display, automatic climate control, and a heated steering wheel.
Standard safety features include automated emergency braking and forward collision warning, although adaptive cruise control, advanced park assist and high-beam assist are optional.
Audi A4: Standard tech features on the A4 include a 7-inch display with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 10-speaker audio system, cruise control, and Audi Drive Select with multiple drive modes. Standard active safety features include automated emergency braking and forward-collision warning.
Tech options include a larger 8.4-inch multimedia display, Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit driver’s display, a Bang & Olufsen high definition audio system, automatic climate control, a multifunction steering wheel with shift paddles and more. Optional safety features include blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and high beam assist.
Bottom Line: Both the A3 and A4 have very similar equipment and features, although the A4 comes standard with more equipment. If you are tempted to go heavy on the options with the A3, it may be a better deal to shoot for the A4 and select fewer optional extras.
ALSO SEE: 2019 Audi Q3 Review
Audi A3: The A3 starts at $33,300 for the entry-level Titanium model with the 188-hp 2.0-liter engine. The cheapest model with AWD and the more powerful 45 engine is the Premium trim, which starts at $35,600. The range-topping Prestige model starts at $41,700 for the 40 powertrain and $44,800 for the 45 powertrain.
Audi A4: The A4 starts at $39,200 for the entry-level Premium model with the 40 powertrain, while the 45 powertrain with AWD brings the starting price of the entry-level trim to $42,000. The range-topping Prestige trim starts at $46,200 for the 40 engine and $50,800 for the 45 engine.
Bottom Line: The base price of the A3 is way less than the base price of the A4, however, the A3’s value quickly goes down the drain as you add more equipment onto it. Unless you are going to go light on the options with your A3, it may be better value to get a base model A4, which offers up similar or superior equipment and much more size for only a few thousand dollars more.
The Verdict: Audi A3 vs A4
The A3 and A4 are extremely similar with near-identical looks, two different available 2.0-liter engines, and standard all-wheel drive. But the A3 is quite a bit smaller than the A4 and is thus not well suited to those with a big family, or those who may use their back seats often. What the A3 lacks in size it makes up for in price, though, with prices starting well below the A4.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Audi Q3 Review
Ultimately, the A4 is a more refined and well-built product that will be worth shelling out the extra money for, in our opinion. If you are tempted by the A3, we suggest opting for a well-equipped Volkswagen Golf, as it will drive very similarly and you won’t be paying a premium for a fancy luxury badge.