AUDI A3 1997 – 2012

1997 Audi A3

1997 Audi A3

Audi is often in the vanguard of vehicle design and the A3 is a classic example. Audi was the first of the iconic German makers to make the bold move of moving down into smaller, relatively affordable cars.

Prior to the Audi A3 you had to find something north of $60,000 to get into one of the big make Germans. The A3 dropped the starting price to the sub-40 grand region. There were mutterings that this would devalue the prestige rating of the larger, more expensive models in the range. That didn’t happen and soon arch rivals Mercedes and BMW joined Audi in introducing smaller, affordable cars.

Though the Audi A3 is considered a small car by Australians, in Europe it’s often used as a family car. Four adults are more comfortable than you might expect given the relatively small size of the car. Rear-seat access in the three-door is better than in just about any other car of its type with front seats that move right out of the way in an ingenious fashion. Having said that, the five-door is obviously more practical if the back seat is going to get a lot of use.

2003 Audi A3

2003 Audi A3

There’s plenty of stowage space the cabin so this is a practical machine that suits many people living in crowded suburban regions in Australia.

Two good sized suitcases can be carried in the boot together with some small bits and pieces. Tie-down clips secure the load in a crash or under heavy braking.

Audi A3 sales were reasonably good from the May 1997 launch of the three-door, but didn’t really get up to full speed until the introduction of the five-door models in October 1999. Many of the earliest A3s are now on the used-car market, but they may be nearing the end of their lives – and they aren’t as cheap to repair or service as more mundane cars of this size.

2012 Audi A3 Sportback

2012 Audi A3 Sportback

The Audi A3 has the solid feel that’s very much part of the marque and this has shown up in good durability as the years have gone by.

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 in the original A3 were a 1.6-litre single-cam unit with two valves per cylinder and two 1.8-litre twin-cam models with the Audi trademark of five valves per cylinder (three intakes and two exhausts). The 1.8 came with or without a turbocharger, with the turbo engine tuned to give flexible torque and economy at low to mid-range engine speeds, rather than flat-out sports performance.

The second-generation cars retained the 1.6-litre in the entry level models, but also offer a 2.0-litre FSI petrol unit, with our without a turbo. It was also available with a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel. Best of all is a 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine that gives a huge amount of get-up-and-go in a relatively small car like this one.

Power in most Audi A3 models is transmitted to the front wheels, the 2.0 turbo-petrol can be specified with Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel-drive system. It comes as no surprise that quattro is mandatory with the big V6 engine.

Audi S3 is the high-performance variant. The S3 has a sporting three-door body and uses a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine driving all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox.

Audi has been on fire in the Australian sales race over the last few years and the number of authorised dealers has increased as a result. Naturally there’s a concentration on the major metropolitan areas, but some regional areas are starting to get into the act as well.

Spare parts and servicing are reasonably priced for a prestige car but fairly expensive for a machine of this size. If you are shifting up to an Audi from an Asian or lower priced European car ask the dealer about servicing costs.

Check your insurance company’s policy on turbo-petrol engines as some charge very high premiums that can add significantly to the purchase price of a used car.

Make sure the engine starts quickly and idles smoothly even when it’s cold. If there’s any hesitation from the engine under hard acceleration there could be computer problems.

Check that a manual gearbox changes smoothly and quietly and that an automatic transmission doesn’t hunt up and down the gears when climbing moderate hills with light to medium throttle openings.

Uneven front tyre wear probably means the car has been the subject of some hard driving, so is more likely in one of the high-performance models.

Uneven tyre wear may also mean one of the wheels is out of alignment as the result of a crash, though that crash may have simply been a hard thump against a kerb.

Budget on spending from $3000 to $7000 for a 1999 Audi A3 1.8 Turbo five-door; $7000 to $11,000 for a 2004 A3 1.6 Attraction three-door; $12,000 to $17,000 for a 2005 2.0 FSI Ambition three-door; $17,000 to $25,000 for a 2009 Sportback 1.4 TFSI Attraction five-door; $24,000 to $33,000 for a 2009 1.8 TFSI Attraction cabriolet; and $27,000 to $36,000 for a 2012 Sportback 1.8 TFSI Ambition.

Upmarket cars almost invariably cost more to run than everyday ones, be sure to factor this into your purchasing budget.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *