Review: Audi A3 (2003 – 2008)
Classy hatchback with a premium interior. Wide choice of engines including efficient TDI models. quattro models corner sharply. S3 can be a blast to drive.
All engines still belt cam. Oil pump problems with 2.0 TDI.
Audi A3 (2003 – 2008): At A Glance
Outside, its chunky good looking and Audi-like. First with the new corporate two-tier Audi grille, like the Nuvolari concept car. Inside, you get a fully adjustable driving position and an interior that quietly shouts quality. Getting comfortable takes no time at all and, unlike some former Audis, you dont feel the need to re-adjust yourself afterwards.
What does a Audi A3 (2003 – 2008) cost?
Audi A3 (2003 – 2008): What's It Like Inside?
It's extremely refined with excellent ride quality, so to get the grip you dont have to suffer constant jiggling. It proves handling need not mean discomfort. Apart from the suspension the reason for this is a 30% stiffer bodyshell than the old A4 with very fine, very precise shut-lines. The less a body twists, the better the suspension can work and the less likelihood of rattles.
What it isnt good at is parking. The back seat is even more claustrophobic than the original A3s. Legroom is tight. Centre rear passenger legroom in non-existent due to the high centre tunnel (its for small children only). And the view out back for reversing is almost as bad as a Calibra. You can get it right using mirrors and the park distance control. But it isnt an instinctively easy reverser. And I guess most owners will simply ditch the centre rear head restraint.
Child seats that fit a Audi A3 (2003 – 2008)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the Audi A3 (2003 – 2008) like to drive?
Turn the key, move off and the controls are light but with plenty of feel. Especially the new electro-mechanical steering that gives plenty of positive yet unintrusive feedback. Gearchange quality of the six speeders (2.TDI and 2.0FSI) varies from car to car, but the five-speeders on the 1.6i and 1.9TDI were fine. And the groovy walking stick-like handbrake gives you something to point out to a passenger new to the car.
First off, we drove the new 2.0 TDI 16v that pumps out an unstressy 140bhp and 320Nm torque. It scoots along very well, with plenty of punch, and doesnt mind being revved and held above 4,000rpm. Pick the right gear, brake in the right place, choose the right line and it settles into serious bends superbly. Bit of tyre squeak if you push it, of course. But no drama. Its a far finer handling car than an A4.
The new 2.0 16v Fuel Stratified Injection petrol engine offers a smoother alternative to a diesel. It puts out 150PS yet still delivers an impressive 40.9 mpg on the combined cycle, about 11 mpg behind the 2.0 TDI, but a fraction better than the 1.6. This comes at a price, though, because to get the good figure you have to use 98Ron petrol which, in the UK at least, means Shell Optimax. But if smooth four cylinder power and decent economy is what you want, it delivers.
The 1.9TDI PD 105 is the old 100bhp engine brought a bit more up to date with revised pumpe duse technology. It works very well. Much better than the disappointing TDI PD 100 and with bags of low speed torque. It will cost a lot less than the 2.0 TDI PD 140 but is far from a poverty choice.
The surprise of the cars we drove was the last one: the entry level 1.6 petrol. It really is a nice, sweet car with enough power for most people, decent ride, roadholding and handling and good 5-speed manual shift quality. Not quite as much grip as the bigger tyred, more powerful A3s and, like the 1.9TDI, a very slight over-centre feel to the steering sometimes, but nothing to complain about. Base model it may be, yet its still a fine car.
We didnt get to drive the all-singing, all-dancing 3.2V6 Quattro, which effectively replaces the old S3. A stop-press announcement told us power has been upped to a full 250bhp, ten more then the Golf R32. It will have the Haldex clutched Quattro four wheel drive system of the TT. And also gets the new Dynamic Shift Six Speed gearbox that does away with a clutch pedal by means of a clever new liquid twin clutch which is the first big advance in conventional automatic gearbox technology since the torque converter. Unlike everyone elses dry autoclutches, it cannot burn out. You can even hold the car on the brakes with your right foot flat to the floor and as soon as you slip your left foot off the brake the gearbox optimises its response a bit like Formula 1 launch control.
Now you'd think that a 265PS four-wheel-drive hatchback hiding behind Audis aggressive barbeque grille would be anything but sweet.
But this is a sports car thats as happy to pootle through town as it is to claw its way round greasy corners at ridiculous speeds.
It may develop its serious 350Nm peak torque between 2,500 and 5,000rpm. Hoever, theres still enough to keep it perfectly happy trickling along at 1,000 1,500 rpm.
The gearing helps. You get about 25mph per 1,000 rpm in 6th and the ratios below that are all fairly close. So, unlike a turbodiesel geared at 35mph per 1,000 rpm, you have torque as well as power from quite low engine speeds. The gearshift is top notch as well. The S3 has shorter shifts and is very positive. Its very fast and I never mis-slotted. A nice touch is a digital speed read-out in the centre of the dashpanel as well as the dials.
On 18 wheels and 225/40 R18 tyres I cant claim the suspension absorbs pot-holes. It is stiff, but not stomach-jarringly solid. Get the seat position right and its also twinge-free after 300 miles in the saddle. And of course you can get people in the back and things in the boot, which you cant do with an Audi TT.
You have to fill it with at least 98Ron Super to get the full bag of beans. And it responded extremely well to 52.37 litres of Shell V-Power.
In fact it gave me one of the drives of my life.
Early start. Empty roads. Temperature hovering between 4 and 6 centigrade so little chance of ice. Like quattros of the past, if you pussyfoot round corners youll get understeer by the shovel full. So what you have to do is boot it by the right amount at the right time. Then all four claws grab hold of the hold of the road and pull you round.
I confess I tend to err in the side of caution with my entry speeds these days. Im no rally driver by a long way. But I got a lot of satisfaction out of the S3 over 46 very special miles and took three minutes off the quickest time Id ever done it in, despite keeping everything nice and legal in the villages and towns I passed through.
It has a nice little trick at the de-restriction signs. If you run up to them at 30 in second, then boot it hard, it puts the power down so well it almost snaps your neck in the two seconds or so it takes to get to 60. At which point I wont write any more in case it amounts to a confession.
After adding 90 miles of motorway cruise the petrol receipts showed a reasonable 24mpg, compared to 26mpg over 300 miles of mostly motorway. From my first fill I got about 32.5mpg, mostly driving at South East traffic speeds, so keep the speeds down and the EC combined average of 31mpg can be done.
The S3s power output and performance figures are very similar to those of the Mazda 3 MPS. But, though the 3 MPS is pretty good, you cant put the power down as confidently in that car, especially on greasy winter surfaces.
Another thing about the S3 is you have to look twice to realise it is an S3. No aircraft tailplane spoilers rising off the back. Its quite discreet. And looks good in the Sprint Blue pearl paint mine came in (though you can pretend its a Focus ST and go for Solar Orange if you want to).
So thumbs up then?
Definitely. Its like a sort of junior EVO without all the trappings and impracticalities. Its a sportscar you can use every day, and for the same sort of money as a TT 2.0T I know which way Id go.
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