German automaker Audi is often ahead of the pack when it comes to new ideas. In Europe the Audi A3 is often used as a family car, but in Australia it’s more likely to be bought by singles or couples.
The A3 created quite a commotion when it was first released in the small car market way back in 1997. Some felt prestige cars should be large, imposing and expensive – certainly not small and relatively affordable. They were wrong and Audi has since been joined by other prestige marques.
In May 2013 the Audi A3 gen-three arrived downunder. It was slightly larger than the gen two of 2004, which in turn was larger than the original A3 of 1997.
Audi stylists have stuck with the original successful shape over the years. Differences are obvious when the generations are viewed side by side but the timeless lines make for good resale value.
Audi A3 is sold in just about every imaginable body type, though not all are offered at any one time. There’s a two-door convertible/cabriolet, three- and five-door hatchback (Sportback in Audi speak) and four-door sedan. The five-door is almost station wagon in its rear and many buyers choose it because it looks smooth and can carry a decent load.
Four adults can get comfortable in most A3s, but two plus two children is a more practical load. Rear-seat access is in the three-door because the front seat design means it move well out of the way.
The convertible uses and old-style soft top which we reckon is much nicer than a boring folding hardtop. It can carry four adults if they don’t mind doing some serious compromising on legroom.
Handling is very good, though there is perhaps just a little too much understeer at the limit to suit the full-on driving enthusiast.
Engine choices are many and varied. Most engines are four-cylinder units but Audi’s fascinating five-cylinder turbo-diesel, sold from 2008 till 2010, is an interesting exception. A big capacity 3.2-litre V6 petrol quattro was first imported in 2004 and ran through till 2010. It has a huge amount of get-up-and-go in a relatively light car.
Then there’s the Audi A3 e-tron Sportback – a plug-in, petrol-electric, hybrid that arrived here in 2014. It uses a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine giving up to 110 kW of power and 250 Nm of torque and an electric motor which produces up to 75 kW and 330 Nm. The e-tron isn’t cheap and you probably can’t justify it on the ground of your budget, but those who want to minimise climate change love it.
Power in most standard Audi A3 models is transmitted to the front wheels, the high-performance models have the company’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. Quattro is also offered in some other models.
Audi S3 is a performance variant and Audi RS3 is a full-on hot-hatch with everything that means in the way of stunning performance. Its handling is nicely sorted out and it remains neutral if driven correctly, high-performance drivers love it.
Spare parts and servicing are reasonably priced for this class. However, if you are moving up to an Audi from an Asian or lower priced European for the first time check on parts and servicing costs or you might get a scare.
Check your insurance company about their attitude to the Audi S3 and RS3 variants. Some charge premiums that can add significantly to the purchase price of an older used car.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Uneven tyre wear, particularly at the front, probably means an A3 has been driven hard. This is more likely in one of the high-performance models, but check even the basic cars as A3s seem to attract press-on drivers.
Tyre wear may also mean one of the wheels is out of alignment after a crash, but a hard thump against a kerb can give the same result. If in doubt, get a professional opinion.
If the engine hesitates under hard acceleration in older A3s there may be computer problems. Chances are these have been sorted out by now, but check with the Audi dealer you’re buying from, or contact Audi online.
During your test drive check that an automatic transmission doesn’t hunt up and down the gears when climbing moderate hills with light to medium throttle openings.
Body repairs are most easily spotted by sighting along panels in a strong light to see if there are ripples in the metal. If there’s any doubt have a professional do a full inspection, preferably while the Audi’s up on a hoist.
Look over the interior and luggage area for signs of damage, particularly in the Sportbacks as many have begun their lives as reps cars.
Expect to spend from $4000 to $7000 for a 2008 Audi A4 Attraction; $7000 to $11,000 for a 2009 Ambition; $10,000 to $15,000 for a 2010 Ambition; $13,000 to $19,000 for a 2014 Ambition; $15,000 to $22,000 for a 2014 Ambition quattro; $17,000 to $24,000 for a 2015 Ambition; $21,000 to $29,000 for a 2016 Ambtition quattro; $24,000 to $32,000 for a 2016 Sport; and $31,000 to $42,000 for a Sport quattro.
CAR BUYING TIP
High-performance cars are more likely to be bought by keen drivers and may have been driven to the limit, causing exaggerated wear on their components.
RECALLS: To browse recalls on all vehicles go to the ACCC at: www.productsafety.gov.au/products/transport/cars/