What is the Audi A3?
A mainstay of Audi’s mid-size range is the A3, a model that shares many parts with the Volkswagen Golf.
Now well into its third generation, the A3 has been offering Golf levels of practicality in a premium package for over 20 years.
- Top speed: 128-155mph
- 0-62mph: 4.1-9.7 seconds
- Fuel economy: 34-72mpg
- Emissions: 103-189g/km of CO2
- Boot space: 340-1,220 litres
Which versions of the Audi A3 are available?
There really is a version of the Mk3 Audi A3 for a wide range of buyers’ needs and budgetary constraints.
First to go on sale in 2012 (and discontinued in 2013) was the three-door Audi A3 Hatchback, but it was the more practical five-door Audi A3 Sportback that arrived the following year that proved to be the bigger seller.
Trim levels for the A3 range start at SE Technic and go through Sport, S Line and the Black Edition.
What are the Audi S3 and Audi RS 3?
Two tiers of go-faster versions have been available, but such is Audi’s naming strategy that neither was actually badged A3.
The Audi S3 packs a respectable 305hp four-cylinder turbocharged engine and was available in Hatchback, Sportback, Saloon and Cabriolet guises.
Above it was the top-of-the-range RS 3, developed by Audi Sport, with a 395hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine, with a warbling, popping soundtrack for good measure.
Audi A3 styling and engineering
It’s no secret that the Audi A3 borrows much of its hardware from the VW Golf, using the the modular MQB platform, which underpins a variety of Volkswagen Group cars, including the similarly sized SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia.
Audi’s differentiated the A3 with sharper, upmarket styling, a desirable badge, plus cabin design and quality befitting its steeper prices.
At worst, the A3’s styling can be described as inoffensive; at best, handsome, crisp and contemporary; it still has visual appeal in spite of its advancing age and impeding replacement.
Is the Audi A3 good to drive?
Aside from the S3 and RS 3, the Audi A3 delivers a benign-yet-capable driving experience. It won’t get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, but it has commendable body control, traction – particularly with Quattro four-wheel drive – and balance, allowing you to attack most twisty roads at reasonable pace.
Sportier S Line specification cars come with slightly harder suspension, which can make the ride a tad jarring during ordinary driving. You can ask for the softer Sport suspension at no extra cost for better day-to-day manners.
Overall, a BMW 1 Series is more of a driver’s car, with a better seating position and more steering feedback.
How much does the Audi A3 cost?
Those four rings on its grille ensure that the A3 costs considerably more than an equivalent Golf. That said, it’s priced very competitively alongside models with similar badge kudos.
A reputation for quality and reliability makes for strong residual values, thus keeping monthly payments and PCP deals competitive. Being at the end of its life-cycle, there are some excellent deals to be had, too. That said, the new Mercedes A-Class will come better equipped with more up-to-date technology for 2019 and beyond, but it’s significantly more costly.
Don’t forget, a liberal dusting of options can see purchase or finance costs soar – an issue by no means exclusive to Audi.
See how drivers of the Audi A3 rate their cars with our comprehensive owners’ reviews.
Audi A3 Model History
Second-generation Audi A3 (2003-13)
The second-generation Audi A3 brought the premium hatch into the German marque’s clean and crisp mid-noughties age. With style and quality borrowed from the lofty heights of the A8 limousine, this A3 was uber-cool, if somewhat homogenised in its style.
Three-door Audi A3 Hatchback versions arrived in 2003, with the longer, almost-an-estate, five-door Audi A3 Sportback going on sale the following year.
Four more years would pass before the soft-top Audi A3 Cabriolet reached showrooms in 2008.
Quality and performance were second to none, with a strong range of petrol and diesel engines, some of which were available with the S Tronic double-clutch automatic transmission.
Powerful S3 and RS 3 variants (264hp and 339hp respectively) ran with the performance baton, but the full-fat 3.2-litre V6 was less popular.
The first RS 3 came in 2011, following a mid-life refresh of the A3 in 2009, which included the full-height oblong grille. As ever with Audi, the driving dynamics were more clinically capable than spine-tingling.
First-generation Audi A3 (1996-03)
Arriving in 1996 as a three-door, the Mk1 Audi A3 Hatchback was arguably the genesis of this particular premium genre: the family hack in an executive suit. The BMW 1 Series was still some way off in the late 1990s, while the Mk1 Mercedes A-Class was more of an MPV.
It was Audi’s first small car since the 50 (a model not sold in the UK, but the original VW Polo was virtually identical aside from the badges), and was first to use the PQ34 platform that would end up underpinning 10 VW Group models.
Five-door A3s didn’t arrive until 1999 – the notion being that having two fewer doorsgave a distinct sporty character in comparison with the more practical Volkswagen Golf.
The S3 debuted in 1999 with the 1.8-litre 20-valve four-cylinder motor offering 210hp. The model was updated in 2002, with 225hp courtesy of variable valve timing.