The Audi A3 can be seen as the entry level Audi in the luxury car market. In no way a saloon it manages to retain some of the luxury aspects of the larger cars whilst being small and practical. The original model now widely available as a used car was developed as a direct competitor for the BMW 318ti and the Mercedes C230. A little more affordable than these models, the German car manufacturer has now been producing the A3 for almost twelve years with good levels of success.
Originally Audi produced the A3 purely as a budget alternative other more expensive German models. The range of engines available in the initial launch was somewhat pedestrian and made the car a little sluggish in terms of performance. However, three years later a new range of engines were developed with more power to make the car a 'hot hatch' to rival the VW Golf GTi. Four wheel drive, something that Audi have made themselves famous for in recent years, was also added as a performance option.
In terms of handling the A3 was never designed to be an all out racer such as its much sportier brother, the TT. The drive can be described as adequate if not entertaining but grip and body stability in corners is good. Steering however is something that is lacking with a slightly detached feel that damages the experience as a whole. Ride is comfortable and in the sportier version, the firmer suspension improves the road holding qualities further. The engine is usually quiet at cruising speeds making it an ideal car for undertaking long distance journeys.
The interior of the A3 is still relatively contemporary even in earlier models thanks to efficient logical placement of dials and switches. With a fully adjustable steering wheel and driver's seat it is rarely a problem finding the perfect driving position. When the Audi first announced the A3 they wanted to continue the fine quality standards that were present in their larger cars. Space in the cabin is ample and comfortable, although the rear seats are rather awkward for any traveller who is over six foot. The boot is also large for a car in its class and has plenty of room for shopping trips and longer journeys.
As the A3 can be considered a prestige hatchback at a relatively affordable price, although the VW Golf is an even cheaper option from new. Fuel economy is good in the majority of engine models, although the V6 can be considered somewhat thirsty. Quality is clear throughout the A3 with solid fittings and fixings and the reliability of the engine should live up to the high expectations of Audi owners. With airbags for both front passengers and active headrests to reduce whiplash its safety features are also impressive.
For those who truly want a 'hot hatch' the S3 provides the perfect solution. Built along the same lines as the A3 it is a more powerful, edgier option. The first generation kicked out around 220 Bhp, although it could have been more powerful if it was not for competition issues with the Audi TT.
Utilising a turbo charger, the performance stats were impressive and it rapidly became popular. The latest generation is believed to achieve 0-60 mph in five and a half seconds. In comparison to other models the S3 is rather expensive, especially considering the VW R32 Golf and Vauxhall Astra VXR offer similar power at a more affordable price.
Overall the A3 and its brother the S3 are decent small cars. Quality and reliability are exceptional and although it is cheaper than the other major German manufacturers, there are cheaper alternatives on the market. But for Audi quality and brand recognition the A3 is a brilliant small family car that will bring years of driving pleasure.