Audi A3 vs. BMW 1-Series: Which One Should You Choose

Which is the Better Subcompact Performance Car – Audi A3 or BMW 1-Series?

The Audi A3 and the BMW 1-Series are both excellent subcompact cars. The base models offer acceptable performance and some of the most entertaining handling and braking you’ll find anywhere. Whether you are looking for a fun car for city driving or a spritely autocross machine, these cars have a lot to offer. We’ll go through the two subcompacts and give you the information you need to make the right choice. As usual, if you decide to buy one of the two, make sure it comes with an Audi A3 or BMW 128i owner’s manual since it contains maintenance and service intervals.

There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get into it.

Powertrain

One of the key areas of interest to any buyer is the engine and transmission options available. We will briefly look at the available engines and learn about maintenance costs, reliability, and fuel efficiency. It’s worth mentioning that given both cars are German vehicles, they can be tricky to work on. Nonetheless, the best way to keep maintenance costs low is to stay on top of recommended service intervals. When in doubt, take a look inside the owner’s manual; you’ll find everything you need in there.

BMW 1-Series

Two models were widely available in the U.S., the 128i and the 135i. Both used variants of the 3.0-liter inline-six. Our favorite is the 128i, boasting a 3.0-liter 228 hp engine. BMW’s subcompact car is also rear-wheel drive, which makes it much more engaging to drive.

The BMW 128i is a rocket compared with many other similar vehicles — it’ll hit 60 mph from a standstill in only five seconds.

However, BMWs are expensive to maintain. RepairPal.com estimates $1,080 annually, while yourmechanic.com estimates only $358. The 128i is somewhat more unreliable than similar vehicles. It is common to require a cylinder head and valve cleaning every 30k miles. Still, regularly replacing the spark plugs and using only the approved lubricants will help reduce common problems. 

Audi A3

The Audi A3 has numerous engine variants across different years. The most common in the U.S. is the 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter turbocharged engines. A diesel variant was also available and was part of the emissions scandal involving vehicles built by the Volkswagen Group.

Our favorite engine of the bunch, without jumping into RS3 territory, is the 2.0 TFSI engine used from MY 2008-2013. It produces a factory-rated 178 hp and will accelerate the hatch from 0-62 miles per hour in around seven seconds.

However, Audi, along with Volkswagen, does not have a reputation for reliability. Audi vehicles using the 2.0-liter engine often require a rebuild at around 150,000 miles. RepairPal.com estimates an average annual maintenance cost of $768 annually, fairly high compared to similar vehicles. For instance, the average annual cost of maintaining a Mazda 3 is estimated at $460. Of course, the easiest way to keep maintenance costs as low as possible is to perform some of the repairs by yourself. If you don’t know where to start, make sure to get your hands on a quality repair manual such as those here. You’ll find every replacement procedures you might ever need in there.

Interior

You’ll spend way more time inside your car looking out, so it should have a comfortable, sensible layout. These two vehicles have many interior similarities.

BMW 128i

The interior of the BMW 128i looks a bit dated compared to the A3. It features a similar three-spoke steering wheel and central gauges, but where the Audi has two round air vents in the center of the dash, the BMW uses less attractive rectangular vents. Besides, the flow of the dash into the center console isn’t as smooth-looking as the Audi’s.

Leather and heated front seats are standard. Overall, the interior is spacious and well-suited for a driver’s car, with all buttons and controls within comfortable reach.

Audi A3

A three-spoke wheel and central gauges are directly in front. The climate and radio controls are also easy to reach and have redundant buttons on the wheel. The seats are covered in leather with front heaters standard. Nappa leather is available as an option.

Overall, the interior is attractive, comfortable, and functional.

Driving Experience

The Audi A3 is a dynamic hatchback and makes for an excellent autocross vehicle due to the lightweight construction that allows the car to maneuver wonderfully. It lacks the raw acceleration and outright speed but more than makes up for it on a windy road.

However, the BMW 128i is a whole different beast. BMW is known for building performance-oriented cars, and the 128i didn’t get left behind. It may lack the raw power of larger models, but it’s one of the fastest subcompact cars. Open it up on a curvy road, and the amazingly well-balanced suspension and braking make the entire experience a thrill. In that regard, it’s a class above the Audi A3.

Costs

Used Audi A3s on the market cost between $10k and $15k with moderate mileage and no defects. You’ll find good deals on vehicles that have physical or mechanical damage. These aren’t tricky cars to work on when you have an Audi A3 repair manual.

Meanwhile, the BMW 128i is a little more expensive than the Audi A3 in good, low-mileage condition. You’ll find cars below $10k with higher mileage or some damage, but be wary if it seems like too good of a deal. You’ll want a BMW 128i repair manual regardless of the car’s condition because the only way to save money is to do the repairs yourself.

Verdict

With a blank check and a good shop manual, we’d take the BMW 128i over the Audi A3. The BMW offers better performance, handling, and braking than the Audi. This is a car to be driven as resale values are not holding up, and it isn’t likely that many models of the 1-Series will be collectible.

Prepare for more expensive oil changes, tires, and other parts when you get into a BMW. These are performance cars, and the parts wear faster than conventional vehicles and are more expensive to replace. Still, a workshop manual for the BMW 128i will help you save tons of money by helping you do the work yourself.

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