Audi A3 and S3

In recent years, Audi became one of the most motivated car manufacturers. First with the sophisticated A8, then launched the dynamic A4, and the third step is a new hatchback, A3. With the emergence of A3, its model range expanded to a more healthy 4 models, covering nearly all important categories in the European market. 

To reduce both development cost and manufacturer cost, A3 is heavily based on the later Golf IV platform. Development is straight forward, engineers put Audi's famous 5 valves per cylinder 1.8 litres engine which serves A4 under the bonnet. Then wear it with Audi's in-house designed shape, paint it with good-looking metallic paint, trim its cabin with higher quality textile and plastic, install with Audi's 5 stoke alloy wheels and the familiar 4 wheels logo on the front grilles. That's it ! 

Golf's chassis used to be exciting, not any more to the Golf IV platform. It gives A3 high level of refinement and good noise suppression, and its supple ride provides high degree of comfort which is rarely seen in this class. Roll-control is still satisfactory, but handling is less inspiring as the chassis and steering feels not sharp enough.  

The standard 125hp engine is spiritual and offers fine performance, while the turbo-charged version, with strong 155lbft of torque delivers as low as 1750rpm, lifts the car above many GTi rivals. 

However, A3 is not a thrilling hot-hatch. Its road behaviour tends to be stable and predictable rather than thrilling, mostly because of the filtered steering feel, the silence engine and the flat torque spread that hardly tempt the driver to deepen the throttle and keep changing gears busily. Therefore, under the young look, A3 is actually a very mature car.  

A3 versus Golf 

The Golf and A3 behave similar on road. Normal A3 has stiffer suspensions than the Golf, but not Golf GTi. The A3 has a prettier styling to attract niche buyers, however, this image advantage comes with price - it is much more expensive than the equally-specified Golf. Therefore the VW is definitely the value choice, while the four rings represent taste. 

The above report was last updated in 1998. All Rights Reserved.

A3 Quattro

Having read our report about Volkswagen Golf 4motion, you might have expected a similar car to be launched under the badge of Audi A3. Here it is : A3 Quattro. It employs the same multi-link rear suspension and multi-plate clutch 4WD as the Golf 4motion and also Audi TT Quattro. But the engine will distinguish between a VW and an Audi - the Golf uses the refined V5 while the A3 Quattro is powered by the 180 hp version of the 1.8 turbo engine, which has been launched in the lower spec Audi TT.  

Unlike the Golf, A3 Quattro picks the normal 5 speed box instead of the 6 speed. For cost reason ? or because of its superior torque ( 174 lbft versus 151 lbft ) ? or because the extra ratio is reserved for the forthcoming flagship S3 ?  

Audi claims tauter spring and damper setup deliver sportier handling than the Golf, while the extra power and torque should improve top speed to 140mph and 0-100km/h to 7.5 sec.  

Priced at about 22,000 pounds, A3 Quattro bridged between A3 1.8T and S3. 

The above report was last updated in 1998. All Rights Reserved.

The hot S3

Pricing at around £26,000, roughly equals to the 180hp Audi TT Coupe Quattro, it's your decision which one to choose. The TT Coupe is million times more exciting to look at, offering a sense of occasion this side of a Lamborghini Diablo. On the other hand, the 210hp S3 is actually faster, offering 2 decent rear seats and a useful hatchback. Moreover, its waiting list is likely to be very much shorter. Decision is really difficult to make ! 

No matter which one, their road manner is the same, because the chassis, engine, 4-wheel-drive etc. are more or less the same. As you have already known, the TT is derived from Golf 4motion, employing the same multi-link rear suspensions, Haldex multi-plate clutch center LSD and 6-speed manual box. Its wheelbase is shortened from Golf by 89mm. Turbocharged 1.8 litres 20V engine replaces Golf 4motion's 2.3 V5, boosting 180hp in normal form and 225hp in hi-boost, twin-intercooler version. 

The S3 is even closer to its TT brother. The engine is virtually identical to the 225hp TT's, just minus 15hp in order to relieve the pressure on the £30,000 TT. Strangely, S3 with its longer wheelbase still weighs 20kg less than the TT. Perhaps the latter is over-decorated. Anyway, the purposefully reduced power result in 145mph top speed, 0-60mph completed in 6.4sec, 0-100mph in 16.4sec. Both acceleration is marginally slower than the 225hp TT Coupe. 

For a hatchback GTi, such performance is nothing other than world-beating. However, S3 is not a GTi as it looks to be. Its price, also its 4wd, suggest it should compete with at least Subaru Impreza turbo or the normal WRX. The most demanding drivers may even compare it with the WRX STi Version V or Mitsubishi Lancer GSR Evo VI. As we know, the latter is being sold in UK for £28,500, that means roughly equals to the Audi when competing outside Europe. 

Autocar magazine is quite kind to the Audi, it took a £21,450 Impreza turbo against the £26,000 S3. If you think S3 must win easily, you're wrong. Although S3 is fast, it is no match with the Impreza's 5.3sec for 0-60 and 14.9sec for 0-100. Throw them into corners and bumpy roads, the S3 feels relatively reluctant to power oversteer. The steering is less sensitive and not very involving, although it is already improved a lot from the S4. (The same could be said to TT Coupe, luckily it is not supposed to compete with the Japanese rally aces) 

Obviously, the German-designed S3 feels at home on the best A-roads. Once it leaves the demanding B-roads, it shows its strength in grip and high speed stability. Like most performance Audi, it suits those require effortless fast drive. Again, like most turbocharged Audi, its engine is smooth and surprisingly tractable, but makes uninspiring noise. 

At least it has an excuse to be so expensive compare with the Impreza turbo - the first rate build quality and material use inside and outside. 

The above report was last updated on 21 Mar 99. All Rights Reserved.


A3 1.8
A3 Quattro
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, 4wd
Front-engined, 4wd.
L / W / H / WB: 4152 / 1735 / 1423 / 2512 mm
L / W / H / WB: 
4159 / 1795 / 1415 / 2519
Inline-4, dohc, 5v/cyl
Inline-4, dohc, 5v/cyl, turbo
Inline-4, dohc, 5v/cyl, turbo
1781 c.c.
1781 c.c.
1781 c.c.
125 hp
180 hp
210 hp
127 lbft
174 lbft
199 lbft
Suspensions (F/R)
Strut / torsion beam
Strut / multi-link
Strut / multi-link
195 / 65 R15
195 / 65 R15
1190 kg
1300 kg
1375 kg
Top speed
122 mph*
145 mph*
0-60 mph
9.8 sec*
6.4 sec*
0-100 mph
30.2 sec*
16.4 sec*
* Tested by Autocar

Audi A3: related models

Volkswagen Golf IV platform is shared among 4 brands in the group. All of them but Audi TT, have the same hardpoints, hence roughly the same wheelbase and width. 
  • Audi A3 - the earliest model built on the platform. Launched even earlier than Golf. It�s mechanically identical to Golf, deviations are just cosmetic. 
  • VW Golf IV - the base model. 
  • VW Bora / Jetta - the 3-box saloon version of Golf. Jetta is the name use for marketing in North America.
  • VW Beetle - a Golf with completely new packaging.
  • Seat Leon - a repackaged Audi A3 5-door. Cheaper.
  • Seat Toledo - saloon version of Leon.
  • Skoda Octavia - a repackaged Bora / Jetta. Cheapest.
  • Audi TT - the most deviated version. 3 doors coupe. With shorter wheelbase and multi-link rear suspension, the latter also share with other 4wd versions of Golf-derivatives.
The above report was last updated on 7 Feb 2000. All Rights Reserved.

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