For a long time the neglected children of high-end brand families, today’s small luxury cars are equipped with top-quality materials, state-of-the-art technology and often offer as much fun as their six-figure counterparts. While in the past these models were marketed as stepping stone to more expensive vehicles in the lineup, they are often more dynamic and fun to drive than those larger and costlier members of the family.

Today we do an old-v-new comparison, of the 2020 Audi A3 and the 2020 Mercedes Benz A-Class.

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2020 Audi A3

Audi presented its first A3 in 2006, and the current generation goes back to 2015. For 2020, Audi has added more standard content to its small car, with the base and mid-range versions benefiting the most.

Three trim levels
Audi offers two 4-cylinder turbocharged engines, spread among three versions: Komfort, Progressiv and Technik. The first two versions of the A3 get front-wheel drive and the 40 designation, which indicates the presence of the basic version of the 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo unit under the hood.

As an option, and included standard with the Technik trim, the model designation changes to 45 in reference to a more powerful version of the same engine, as well as the automaker’s quattro all-wheel-drive system.

The base engine offers 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, while the 45 version offers 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is a 7-speed automatic.

There’s also the S3 that uses the same engine but with 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque to play with.

Standard Equipment
The A3 40 and 45 offer, in Komfort configuration, keyless entry, front and rear parking sensors, a first aid kit, shiny window moldings, an anti-theft system, and redesigned 18-inch wheels as standard equipment.

Also included is leather upholstery, panoramic sunroof, start/stop feature, 7-inch screen for the multimedia system, satellite radio, USB port, smartphone interface, Bluetooth and automatic climate control, electric controls with lumbar support for the driver’s seat, heated seats, aluminum door sills, xenon headlights, LED lights, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers and a driver information system.

With the A3 40 and 45 Progressiv versions, you add S-line exterior styling, a black roofline, aluminum interior inserts, sport suspension, sport seats, a flattened steering wheel at the bottom, and paddle shifters for gear changes.

Power controls for the passenger seat, storage spaces, shiny window moldings, aluminum trim, interior LED lighting, driving modes and an auto-dimming rearview mirror are standard features that were also standard on these models last year.

The A3 45 Technik adds a grille and shiny window moldings this year. Then, like last year, it adds navigation, a full-color driver information screen, digital instrument gauge, LED headlights, blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, LED headlights, Bang & Olufsen audio system, Auto Connect services, as well as a heated steering wheel.  

Since we’re dealing with a German product, there are also expansive options lists for each trim level, like technology packages that add electronic drive-assist systems for entry-level models, navigation or 19-inch tires.

The drive
There’s been some complaining about the absence of a manual transmission. Some also grouse about the slightly cramped interior space and the very-small trunk. Those two points are undeniably true, but once you get behind the wheel, you quickly forget those details.

And that’s because the A3 is for those who like to drive. Its size makes the car nervous and dynamic and you feel in full control. The 45 version, you probably are not surprised to learn, is our favourite.

However, weak sales pose a threat to the future of the model, though switching to electric might be a solution, especially since the A3 is due for a complete overhaul.

2020 Mercedes Benz A-Class

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class was brand-new in 2019, rolled out both as a sedan and as a hatchback. For 2020, Mercedes-Benz has abandoned two-wheel drive variants to sell only 4WD models. An AMG version equipped with the 2.0L turbo engine is available in a new A 35, offering 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Base versions produce 188 and 221 hp on the same 2.0L engine base.

A new Intelligent Drive Package option enhances the A-Class’ active safety aids. Specifically, a map-based speed adaptation function uses in-car navigation information to adjust the car’s speed to suit upcoming road conditions before they become visible to the driver. Finally, ventilated seats are an option in all A-Class models.

Versions available
The A-Class sedan is available in the A 220 and AMG A 35 versions. The hatchback model is available in A 250 and A 35. All use a 2.0L turbo engine with version-specific settings and power outputs, all-wheel drive and a 7-speed automatic transmission.

Standard features
The A 220 sedan and A 250 hatchback models come standard with a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim, piano black and aluminum dashboard trim, power driver’s seat with memory, dynamic driving modes, MBUX infotainment, 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster and display, 6-speaker audio and front collision warning with automatic braking.

AMG A 35 models add a version-specific grille and body kit, 18-inch wheels, high-performance brakes, flat-bottomed steering wheel, AMG-specific infotainment system and multimedia displays, sport-tuned 4Matic all-wheel drive, MBUX with voice and artificial intelligence, 10.25-inch digital gauge display and infotainment screen, and ambient interior lighting.

Key Options
The A-Class’ list of options focuses on high-tech extras, including augmented reality navigation, wireless cell phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a heads-up display and a 12-speaker Burmester audio system. Ventilated front seats are available as an option on all A-Class models, and the A 220 and A 250 can be offered with optional ambient cabin lighting.

All versions offer multi-beam LED headlamps with 18 individual lighting elements in each housing and automatic cornering lights.

Safety extras include blind spot monitoring, Intelligent Drive package and the Sport and Night cosmetic upgrade packages. The 35 AMGs offer a Mercedes wind-tunnel-tested aerodynamic package.

The Drive
The closest comparison we can draw when appraising the driving experience of this new A-Class is with the Volkswagen GTI. The feeling from the suspension is firm but without discomfort. Power and torque are virtually the same, as is the interior space, which is comparable.

The only downside is in the steering, which suffers from a somewhat artificial feel. Braking is nicely poised, and we also liked the low driving position, the excellent support of the seats and the rigidity of the bodywork, which ensures excellent driving precision.

This is a car with many solid qualities, plus it’s innovative, fun to drive and as everything needed to seduce the tech lovers.

Advantage Audi A3

Audi has experience on its side, meaning it’s a slightly more mature, more comfortable and quieter car.

Advantage Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Mercedes has youth and technology on its side. The MBUX system is amazing and efficient. The driving is nervier and more dynamic, especially when you move up in the model range. The hatchback model also offers much more space for luggage.

Similarities

As far as space, prices, warranties and the AWD are concerned, both models rate about the same.

Verdict

The Mercedes stands out for its modernity and advanced technology for an entry-level model. The Audi A3 is showing some signs of aging, although it’s still a pleasure to drive. A drink from the fountain of youth would be in order. In the meantime, the A-Class sits at the front of the class.

2020 Audi A3

We like

Timeless design
Spiffy on-road behaviour
Assembly quality

We like less

Lower-than-average reliability
Small trunk
No manual gearbox with sportier models

2020 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

We like

Well thought-out and ergonomic space
Comfortable behaviour
Innovative interactive multimedia system

We like less

Overassisted steering
Still a lot of options
A manual gearbox would have been interesting on this model

Specifications

  2020 Audi A3 2020 Mercedes-Benz A-Class
  Transmission 7-sp sequential auto 7-sp sequential auto
  Drivetrain FWD or AWD AWD
    2.0L T (FWD) 2,0L T (A 220)
  Fuel consumption (city) 9.1L/100 km 9.7L/100 km
  Fuel consumption (highway) 6.8L/100 km 6.8L/100 km
    2.0L T (AWD) 2.0L T (A 250)
  Fuel consumption (city) 10,6 l / 100 km 9,9 l / 100 km
  Fuel consumption (highway) 7,9 l / 100 km 7,0 l / 100 km
    2.0L T (S3) 2.0L T (A 35 AMG)
  Fuel consumption (city) 10.7L/100 km 10.5L/100 km
  Fuel consumption (highway) 8.0L/100 km 8.0L/100 km
       
  Engines    
  Type L4 2.0L T 2.0L T (A220)
  Output 184 hp 188 hp
  Torque 221 lb-ft 221 lb-ft
       
  Type L4 2.0L T 2.0L T (A250)
  Output 221 hp 221 hp
  Torque 258 lb-ft 253 lb-ft
       
  Type 2,0 l T (S3) 2,0 l T (A35 AMG)
  Output 288 hp 302 hp
  Torque 280 lb-ft 295 lb-ft
       
  Capacities    
  Cargo space 356 L 420 L (1,210 hatchback)
  Fuel tank 55 L 51 L
       
  Dimensions    
  Length 4458 mm 4549 mm
  Width 1960 mm 1796 mm
  Height 1416 mm 1434 mm
  Wheelbase 2637 mm 2729 mm
       
  Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km 4 yrs/80,000 km
  Pricing $34,500 to $47,200 $37,300 to $50,000