Recently my brother traded in his Volkswagen GTI for a 2018 Audi A3, and I got have a brief go in the new-to-him car. Here are some quick thoughts on the entry-level Audi machine, though I’ll caveat my opinions with the fact that my views are incredibly colored by the fact I drive a 911 GT3, the preeminent sports car, so the potential to misjudge a compact luxury sedan with some sporting intentions is quite high. Anyways, here goes.
The first immediate complaint is that the seating position is far too high. My brother’s A3 has the optional sports seat for the driver, and while its comfortable and supportive, it doesn’t go down nearly far enough - the stock seats of the front passenger can go lower, which is just baffling. I’m only 5’10” on a good day, and with the seating position adjusted properly, my hair is brushing the ceiling. I had more headroom in my old Mazda ND MX-5!
The A3’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, ubiquitous within the entire VW group portfolio, offers decent punch and adequate passing power; it makes the car a solid urban runabout with the occasional fun sprinkled in. I was able to zip in and out of traffic with ease. The motor obviously doesn’t make the most entertaining noise, emitting the same dull growl that all other turbo four-poppers make. Coming from the mighty atmospheric GT3, it’s indeed a bit of a let down, and so is the meager redline of barely 7,000 RPM. Gunning through the gears in the A3 for the first time, I almost didn’t upshift in time because I’m so used to having an engine that revs to 9K.
Main reason my brother switched from the GTI to the A3 is for the transmission: at a ripe old age of 21 years, he’s already tired of the manual transmission (someone take his car enthusiast card away, honestly) and wanted out into an automatic. The DSG dual-clutch unit in the A3 proves to be as advertised: the shifts are rapid, and its slow manners are super smooth (it even imitates the off-brake creep forward of a traditional automatic gearbox). It’s definitely engineered towards an economy bent, however: at anything less than full spirit throttle, the DSG will acquiesce to minimizing emissions such as letting the engine rev-hang before snicking over to the next gear, and upshifting to the highest gear as quickly as possible.
Armed with an all-wheel drive system, the A3 never lacks for grip, though the reactive Haldex differential is not an ideal situation. Again, it’s a luxury sedan with some sporting intentions, rather than a pure sports sedan, so the all-wheel drive system is designed towards efficiency, rather than maximizing lap times. Under normal situations ,the A3 feels like a front-wheel drive car because indeed only the front-axle is getting power. It’s not until under certain conditions does the computer activates the Haldex differential and sends power to the rear. I could feel this happening, too: punching the A3 off the line there’s a definite pause because the rear-axle hooks up.
None of this is to say the A3 is a bad car; I can even live with the slightly high seating position. One aspect I cannot excuse, however, is the utter lack of steering feel, a sort of achilles heel of Audi products, even on models as focused as the R8 supercar. The A3’s rack is responsive and direct enough as most modern electric assisted units are, but there’s really no feel at all. I have zero idea what the front tires are doing, and road imperfections gets utterly filtered out. I intentionally ran the car over some cat’s eyes and I couldn’t feel a thing in my hands.
Even though they are built on the same MQB chassis and shares the same engine, I reckon I’d take the GTI over the A3.