A good case of new vs old

The fourth-generation BMW 1 Series broke cover for the 2020 model, and it seems that the Munich-based company final has a proper competitor for latest Mercedes-Benz A-Class. But these are the only premium hatchbacks on the market. Germany’s third premium automaker, Audi, offers its very own five-door subcompact, the Audi A3 Sportback.

Unlike the 1 Series and the A-Class, the current A3 Sportback is a bit long in the tooth. Launched back in 2012, it’s already seven years old as of 2019, and it won’t stay around for long. But is it too dated for the new 1 Series? Should we wait until the next-gen hatchback breaks cover for a proper comparison? Not really. Although it’s old enough for modern car life cycles, the A3 Sportback still has what it takes to tackle the BMW 1 Series. Let’s find out how these cars stand next to each other in the comparison below.

Exterior Design

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The 1 Series is a much more aggressive and mature hatchback for 2020

There’s a big difference between these hatchbacks, and it comes from the fact that while the BMW 1 Series is brand-new for 2020 model year, the Audi A3 is a seven-year-old design as of 2019. Sure, Audi made some changes for the 2017 model year, but they’re far from significant.

The 1 Series is a much more aggressive and mature hatchback for 2020. It has a larger twin-kidney grille, as seen on the bigger 5 Series and 7 Series models, and more angular headlamps that sit almost diagonally at the corners of the front fascia. BMW also reconfigured the bumper to include a black-trimmed vent that extends from one side to the other.

By comparison, the A3 remained mostly unchanged since its redesign in 2012, despite the 2017 facelift. I’m not saying it’s not appealing, it’s just that it feels a bit old. Sure, Audi tried to replicate some of the new styling cues of the bigger models, but the A3 still looks like a cheaper version of the A4, but with a hatchback in the rear.

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The A3 Sportback is by far the car with the simpler and cleaner profile

The 1 Series’ profile changed a lot as well, now looking more like that of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. That’s because BMW ditched the straight beltline in favor of a rising character line that creates increasingly narrower windows toward the back. The new 1 Series also has a slightly shorter front hood with a sloping design toward the fascia. The nose itself also sits lower compared to the old 1 Series. These changes make the 1 Series more to the traditional hatchback designs of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the Audi A3. However, the A3 still has an almost straight beltline.

The A3 Sportback is by far the car with a simpler and cleaner profile. A more subtle proposition to the 1 Series, it features almost flat side panels, with only the lower character line adding some sportiness. Unlike the 1 Series, the A3 Sportback has a quarter window behind the rear door, but it’s really narrow. So while the 1 Series became a sporty hatchback, the A3 Sportback retains a wagon-like stance.

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But just like the profile, the A3's rear end looks more like that of a wagon, and it's not as sporty as the Bimmer

Much like the front fascia, the 1 Series’ rear fascia looks sportier than before. The sloping roofline, the smaller rear window, and the flatter and longer taillights all contribute to this. BMW also moved the license plate recess from the bumper to the tailgate. The bumper-fitted license place was one of the features that set the old 1 Series apart from the competition, but I guess BMW wanted to align to current trends. Another big change is the diffuser-like black element, now reduced to a tiny strip.

The A3 Sportback’s rear end is similar to the 1 Series in many ways. It doesn’t boast the same wide stance, but it also has a rather narrow rear windscreen, horizontal taillights, and clean bumper. But just like the profile, its rear end looks more like that of a wagon, and it’s not as sporty as the Bimmer. Just one element projects a bit more sportiness, the three-piece lower bumper that looks like an actual diffuser.

All told, while the A3 Sportback’s design isn’t outdated, the 1 Series looks sportier and more modern.

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2019 Audi A3
2020 BMW 1 Series 2019 Audi A3 Sportback
Length 4319 4313
Width  1799 1966
Height 1434 1461
Wheelbase 2670 2637

Interior Design

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The first thing that catches the eye when jumping inside the 1 Series is the modern display layout

This is where things are notably different. Not only the 1 Series looks more modern thanks to its brand-new cabin with elements borrowed from larger BMWs, but it also features newer and more advanced technologies. But let’s look at the design first.

The first thing that catches the eye when jumping inside the 1 Series is the modern display layout. The Bimmer’s new infotainment display is smoothly integrated into the upper dash and sits right next to the digital instrument cluster. The latter comes from the Z4 and 8 Series and features the same layout with the speedo and rev counter pushed to the sides and navigation and performance data shown in the center. Both displays measure 10.25 inches as standard in the more expensive trims.

The Audi A3 also features a digital instrument cluster and an infotainment display. However, the infotainment screen is mounted atop the dash instead of being integrated into the center stack and looks a bit out of place. This display is also smaller than BMW’s at seven inches. On the other hand, the optional instrument cluster measures 12.3 inches, so it’s two inches bigger than BMW’s.

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The BMW 1 Series also has the more advanced head-up display, shown on a 9.2-inch virtual screen

Look under the 1 Series’ infotainment display, and you’ll see a neatly organized center stack. All the controls are grouped into a couple of thin units that include A/C and radio commands. Everything else is now accessible through the infotainment display, resulting in a much cleaner design. The A3’s center stack is pretty clean as well, but the round A/C vents set it apart from other Audis and make it look dated.

The BMW 1 Series also has the more advanced head-up display, shown on a 9.2-inch virtual screen on the windshield. Of course, this feature is optional. The 1 Series also comes with the Intelligent Personal Assistant, a system connected to all of the car’s functions that can be activated with the prompt "Hey BMW." You can use it to operated and access various functions by speaking, it remembers your choices, and you can also give it a name.

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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When it comes to driving assist technology, the BMW 1 Series is a top-notch car

Apart from these features, that set it apart from the Audi A3 but keep it in line with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the 1 Series is actually very similar to the A3. Sure, certain technologies come in newer versions in the 1 Series, but it’s not something that will make a big difference. It’ll matter if you’re a tech freak, but it won’t make the Audi A3 an inferior car.

When it comes to driving assist technology, the BMW 1 Series is a top-notch car. The German hatchback borrowed many assistance systems from the bigger, more expensive Bimmers, starting with the ability to monitor its own surroundings and avoid you about hazard by using camera images and data gathered by radar and ultrasonic sensors. It also comes with collision and pedestrian warning with city braking and a lane departure warning system with active lane return; both equipped as standard. Optionally you can add active cruise control and Driving Assistant, which combines lane change warning, rear collision warning, and crossing traffic warning. There’s also Park Distance Control, for automatic parking and exit from and into parallel spaces. When all these features are combined, the 1 Series is pretty much a semi-autonomous car.

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The BMW 1 Series is the most spacious hatchback in its segment

The Audi A3 isn’t as fancy in this department, but it comes with a significant amount of features. It has a multi-collision braking system that stops the car after the first impact, adaptive cruise control, Pre Sense with radar-guided collision avoidance, active lane assist, and side assist. Of course, some of these features are optional on the entry-level cars, so you’ll have to go with the more expensive trims for a better package.

Moving over to luggage capacity, the BMW 1 Series is the most spacious hatchback in its segment, although not by much. Now able to swallow and extra 0.7 cubic feet of luggage, it has a total capacity of 13.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats. The Audi A3 Sportback will take up to 11.8 cubic feet, so you benefit from an extra 1.6 cubic feet in the 1 Series.

Powertrain & Performance

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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Both models are available with a variety of gasoline and diesel engines

Until the new-generation arrived, the 1 Series was the rear-wheel-driven exception in this niche. The redesign brings a new front-wheel-drive platform into the game, so both the 1 Series and A3 Sportback are front-engined, FWD cars. Both models are available with a variety of gasoline and diesel engines.

The 1 Series gas range starts off with the 118i, powered by a 1.5-liter three-cylinder rated at 140 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. This model goes against the 1.5 TFSI version of the A3 Sportback, which comes with 148 horses and 184 pound-feet on tap. The extra torque of the A3 makes it quicker to 62 mph, needing 8.2 seconds versus the Bimmer’s 8.5 clicks. The Audi also has a higher top speed at 135 mph vs. 132.

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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BMW 118i vs Audi A3 1.5 TFSI
BMW 118i Audi A3 1.5 TFSI
Engine 1.5-liter three-cylinder 1.5-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower 140 hp 148 hp
Torque 148 lb-ft 184 lb-ft
0 to 62 mph 8.5 seconds 8.2 seconds
Top speed 132 mph 135 mph

The second gasoline engine available with the 1 Series is notably more powerful, as it moves the M-inspired M135i model. The turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder unit cranks out a solid 306 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, which makes it a good options against the Audi S3 Sportback. The latter also features a turbo, 2.0-liter four-pot, but it doesn’t generate as much power at 300 horses and 295 pound-feet. While the horsepower drop is minimal at six horses, the S3 falls behind by 37 pound-feet in the torque department. The S3 needs 4.8 seconds to hit 62 mph, which surprisingly enough is a tenth-second slower than the Bimmer. Top speeds are identical here at 155 mph.

BMW M135i vs Audi S3
BMW M135i Audi S3
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged
Horsepower 306 hp 300 hp
Torque 332 lb-ft 295 lb-ft
0 to 62 mph 4.7 seconds 4.8 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph 155 mph
2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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On the diesel front, the 1 Series is available with three choices

While the 1 Series is limited to only two gas engines as of July 2019, the A3 Sportback is available with more. There’s an entry-level 1.0-liter three-cylinder with 116 horsepower and 148 pound-feet, as well as a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 180 horses and 184 pound-feet. The 2.0-liter four-pot in the 2.0 TFSI model cranks out 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of twist.

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
- image 848898

On the diesel front, the 1 Series is available with three choices, starting with a 1.5-liter three-cylinder that generates 116 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. This model goes against Audi’s 1.6 TDI variant, featuring a 1.6.-liter cylinder good for 115 horses and 184 pound-feet. While the 1 Series hits 62 mph in 10.1 seconds, the A3 achieves the benchmark in 9.8 clicks. The Audi also has the superior top speed at 126 mph, versus BMW’s 124-mph rating.

BMW 116d vs Audi A3 1.6 TDI
BMW 116d Audi A3 1.6 TDI
Engine 1.5-liter three-cylinder 1.8-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower 116 hp 115 hp
Torque 199 lb-ft 184 lb-ft
0 to 62 mph 10.1 seconds 9.8 seconds
Top Speed 126 mph 126 mph

The second diesel model by BMW goes by name 118d and features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that cranks out 150 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of twist. This one goes against the A3 2.0 TDI, powered by a 2.0-liter four-banger rated at 150 horses and 236 pound-feet of torque. Suffering from a 22-pound-foot deficit, the A3 is two tenths slower to 62 mph. While the 1 Series reaches the speed in 8.4 seconds, the A3 takes 8.6 clicks. Top speeds come in at 135 and 132 mph, respectively.

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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BMW 118d vs Audi A3 2.0 TDI
BMW 118d Audi A3 2.0 TDI
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower 150 hp 150 hp
Torque 258 lb-ft 236 lb-ft
0 to 62 mph 8.4 seconds 8.6 seconds
Top Speed 135 mph 132 mph

If you want the range-topping diesel from BMW, the 120d xDrive comes with a 2.0-liter four-pot that generates 190 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. This model is rivaled by an A3 with a 2.0-liter four-banger rated at 184 horses and 280 pound-feet, a minor six-horsepower and 11-pound-foot drop. Again, the BMW is quicker to 62 mph, needing exactly seven seconds, while the A3 takes 7.3 clicks. Top speed ratings for the two hatchbacks are identical at 143 mph.

BMW 120d xDrive vs Audi A3 2.0 TDI
BMW 120d xDrive Audi A3 2.0 TDI
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower 190 hp 184 hp
Torque 295 lb-ft 280 lb-ft
0 to 62 mph 7.0 seconds 7.3 seconds
Top Speed 143 mph 143 mph
2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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The BMW 1 Series stands out thanks to a wide array of newer technologies

While drivetrain options are somewhat similar, the BMW 1 Series stands out thanks to a wide array of newer technologies. While the Audi A3 dates back to 2012 and the 2017 facelift didn’t bring notable improvements, the 1 Series benefits from a complete overhaul for the 2020 model year and comes with state-of-the-art tech.

First on the list is the ARB system that it borrows from the i3 electric model. An actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation, ARB allows wheel slip to be controlled quicker and more precisely. It features a slip controller positioned directly in the control unit, which eliminates the long signal path, and brings wheel slip under control up to ten times faster.

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
- image 841416

The second feature is a newly developed mechanical limited-slip differential that creates a locking effect between the front wheels. Created by renowned company Torsen, it’s integrated into the eight-speed Steptronic transmission and includes a Launch Control mode that unlocks the engines full torque in first and second gear.

Which is Actually Better?

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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It goes without saying that a detailed comparison will always favor the newer car. It rarely happens for a much older car to be better than the one that was just redesigned, and it’s definitely not the case here. While the 1 Series just got redesigned for 2020, the Audi A3 is essentially seven years old as of 2019. Sure, the facelift from 2017 added a few new features and freshened up key design cues, but the A3 remains dated compared to the current 1 Series.

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
- image 848896

Design-wise, it’s obviously a matter of taste. The 1 Series looks significantly better than the old Bimmer hatchback, and it should, in theory, make a bigger impact when parked next to the Audi A3. On the other hand, Audi purists will probably like the A3’s cleaner, less aggressive design a bit more. Inside the cabin, the 1 Series is obviously the winner when it comes to overall design layout, but the A3 isn’t exactly dated either. However, the 1 Series comes with more and better driving assist features.

As for the oily bits, the old Audi engine has what it takes to give BMW’s newer powerplants a run for their money. The power and torque deficit is minimum, while performance is a tenth or a couple of tenths behind. But again, BMW offers better drivetrain technology that should translate into better fuel economy as well.

Further reading

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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Read our full review on the 2020 BMW 1 Series.

2020 BMW 1 Series vs 2020 Audi A3
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Read our full review on the 2019 Audi A3 Sportback.

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