Like a festival car park, there’s very little room between the Audi A3, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the BMW 1 Series.
They’re the undisputed kings of the high-end hatches, and they’ve been happily locking horns - overtaking each other with abandon - for almost a decade now.
They’re also among the most popular cars among lease customers thanks to that winning mix of affordability, performance and modern good looks.
But which car is most suited to your needs - and how can you pin-point which to go for when most critics struggle to get a cigarette paper between them?
Here we take a closer look at the cars’ credentials in a bid to help you make the right decision:
Audi A3 Hatchback (A3 lease costs from £188 per month, or £24,900 outright)
When it comes to premium compact cars, the Audi A3 has been fighting the good fight in the marketplace since 1996. Originally based on the VW Golf platform, you can consider the A3 a more upmarket version of that car, with agile handling and real dependability.
The latest facelift, revealed in September this year, brought with it new concave flanks and flared arches to give the car a more ‘athletic stance’, according to Audi, as well as a new front grille.
There are five levels of trim Technik, Sport, S line, Edition 1 and Vorsprung - though above this you have much sportier ‘S3’ and ‘RS3’ variants.
Inside the functional and well put together cabin you get, as standard, a 10.1-inch touch display for the infotainment system and a 10.25-inch virtual cockpit.
The A3 gets Audi’s new ‘MIB 3’ unit - which handles things like connectivity, Wi Fi hotspot, sat nav, DAB radio and media player. Voice control is also on board as standard.
At present you can have the A3 with a choice of two petrol engines and two diesel engines. The petrol range comprises a 1.0 litre ‘30 TFSI’ with 110 PS to play with, or a 1.5 litre ‘35 TFSI’ with 150 PS on tap.
Go with the diesel option - both versions use a 2.0 litre turbo powered mill - and you get either 116 PS or 150 PS.
There’s a modern mild hybrid 1.5 TFSI due to be released soon, and there are also plans to unveil a plug-in hybrid version next year, too. But they’re not available just yet.
BASE MODEL FACE-OFF:
1.0 litre ‘30 TFSI’ petrol engine
0-62mph: 10.6 secs.
Fuel economy: 49.6–52.3 mpg
Tech as standard in base Technik trim: cruise control, rear parking sensors, hill-hold assist, Audi’s ‘pre sense front’ - which uses a radar to scan the area in front of the car to warn about potential hazards, and can even apply the brakes in an emergency - as well as collision avoidance assistant and lane departure warning.
Boot size: 380 litres.
Mercedes A Class Hatchback (A Class lease costs from £259 per month, or £24,095)
The modern A-Class as we know it has been around since 2012, and it’s fair to say the car has made a huge impact on the market segment. There are a few trump cards the A-Class has to play, but arguably the biggest is it’s luxurious interior and comfortable ride quality.
The tech-laden cabin is simply a great way to spend time.
The first thing to note is that unlike the A3, there’s already a plug-in hybrid version of the A-Class - the A 250 e. A 75kW electric motor is married to a 1.3 litre engine which produces a whopping 262 hp.
And then you’ve got a much heftier trim line-up than the A3 as well.
Base spec is the SE, followed by Sport, Sport Executive, AMG Line, AMG Line Executive, AMG Line Premium, AMG Line Premium Plus and Executive Edition.
At the top of the range you get a 10.25 inch instrument cluster, augmented reality sat-nav, heated seats, and panoramic glass sunroof.
There’s also a wider array of engines than the A3, too. The three petrol mills produce either 136hp, 163hp, or 224hp, while there’s power outputs of 116hp, 150hp and 190hp with the diesel offerings.
And it’s the finishing touches in the A-Class that really stand out, including coloured inserts in the air vents and ambient lighting in the more premium models.
BASE MODEL FACE-OFF:
1.3 litre ‘A180’ petrol manual with 136hp
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 46.3-47.9 mpg
Tech as standard in base SE trim: Cruise control, 7 inch instrument cluster, 7 inch infotainment screen, active brake assist, active lane assist, driver fatigue monitor, speed limit assist, touchpad, heated front seats, speed sensitive power steering.
Boot size: 355 litres.
BMW 1 Series Hatchback (1 Series lease costs from £218 per month, or outright £25,360)
The BMW 1 Series might be the ‘baby’ of the BMW range - but you wouldn’t want to say that to its face, because the latest styling tweaks make it look more aggressive and powerful than ever.
This is a car with tough dependability, a modern high-quality interior brimming with tech, and a gutsy range of engines.
And while the purists might moan about the fact the latest 1 Series is front-wheel drive, as opposed to BMW’s classic rear-wheel drive set up, it’s no worse for it.
The latest facelift has also been a real improvement on the outgoing model. There’s a choice of five versions - SE, Sport, M Sport, the 128ti, and the sporty all-wheel drive M135i xDRIVE. The 306hp M135i packs a real punch - accelerating from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds.
While a brand new 128ti is a Golf GTI rival, using a 2.0 petrol engine to churn out 265hp and a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds. Meanwhile things look pretty rosey in base SE spec, too.
Here the 1 Series offers a refined, quiet ride while also coming with goodies like 8.8 inch touch screen and BMW’s Live Cockpit Plus ‘personal assistant’ system, which lets your voice, as opposed to your fingers, do all the hard work.
All in all, the 1 Series is a great all-rounder and the real work-horse of this trio.
The base model ‘SE’ is also the quickest of the entry level models in this round-up, too.
BASE MODEL FACE-OFF:
1.5 litre ‘118i SE’ with 136hp.
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds.
Fuel economy: 47.9-49.6 mpg
Tech as standard in base SE trim: Cruise control with braking function, park assist front and rear, 8.8 infotainment screen, connected sat-nav and parking information.
Boot size: 380 litres.
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