It’s easy to see why the A3 is so popular, as its talents are broad as well as deep. If you’re looking for exclusivity, though, this probably isn’t the car for you.
Choice of engines, body styles and trim levels; good build quality; good ergonomics; very comfortable; a positive image.
The fact that you see them everywhere; initial purchase cost is high; running costs can also be high.

Audi A3 Mk 2 review (2003-2012)

Capable, solid, wide choices

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What is the Audi A3 Mk 2?

The Audi A3 is arguably the car that introduced the concept of the small, premium-badged hatchback. The plan could have backfired but in fact achieved the opposite: it became a massive global hit for Audi and ultimately led to rivals from BMW, Volvo and – to a lesser degree – Mercedes-Benz, which was already working on its revolutionary A-class.

In hindsight, it’s hard to see how Audi could fail. New-car buyers are more brand-aware than ever, and it’s the premium badges they want. This, combined with a trend towards downsizing has led to posh small cars becoming ever hotter property. You only have to look at the Mini, the Fiat 500 and Citroen’s DS3 to see the evidence: all these cars have been huge sales successes for their makers.

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While many buy these posh small-family cars for their decent build quality and generous equipment levels, another key motivating factor is their exclusivity. At least that’s the theory, though not one that withstands scrutiny here, as you’ll find an A3 on virtually every street corner, so there’s no shortage of choice on the used-car market, particularly as there’s a quite bewildering array of models to choose from.

The A3 is popular with fleet buyers, who choose diesel power in most cases. Don’t shy away from the petrol engines, though, as the TFSi units are fizzy yet frugal, and the 2-litre version is particularly fruity. If you’re after fun on four wheels this is the model to target, as its engine is a sweet, free-revving and punchy one that gives the A3 real zest. Essentially, it’s a VW Golf GTi in a smart Audi A3 suit. The diesel engines are also excellent, so if economy is more important than ultimate refinement, you have a choice of 1.6, 1.9 and 2.0 TDI motors, the smallest of these the newest, most economical and most mechanically refined.

Choices don’t stop there though, as the A3 comes in three- and five-door hatchback bodies (the latter dubbed Sportback, although it isn’t necessarily sporty) and a cabriolet. This last came to an end in the middle of 2013 with the launch of the so-called Final Edition. It cost £25,870 and came in white, with a red hood and black leather. You also get a choice of transmissions, the pick of the bunch being the superb dual-clutch DSG ‘box of S tronic models, which offers manual or automatic gearshifting and has little detrimental effect on fuel economy in automatic mode.

There are Standard, SE, Sport and S line trims to choose from. Entry-level cars are a tad basic, so aim for at least an SE; Sport and S line A3s have lower, stiffer suspension and too hard a ride.

The key thing to bear in mind is that while the A3 is brilliantly usable from the points of view of comfort, practicality, reliability and ergonomics, you will pay a premium for running one, and only you can decide whether it is too big a premium. When it comes to desirable small hatchbacks, Audi is at the top of the pile, although the VW Golf and BMW 1-series aren’t very far behind.

What to look out for when buying a used Audi A3 Mk 2

The A3 is generally tough and reliable, but failed dual-mass flywheels are fairly common on manual-transmission cars, and petrol engines have suffered more than their fair share of faulty ignition coils. The electrics and electronics are normally quite dependable, but it’s always advisable to check that every electrical system is working okay before committing to a car that’s being sold privately.

Some A3s in dark metallic colours can suffer from paintwork damage due to acidic bird droppings being left to eat into the lacquer. Because leaky radiators are fairly common on the A3, overheated engines aren’t a rarity, so check the underside of the oil filler cap for frothy, beige slime, which usually indicates cylinder-head gasket leakage.

This generation of A3 has been the subject of five recalls between March 2005 and December 2011, for such ailments as fuel-pump leaks, flywheel failure, airbag faults and DSG transmission problems.


The one to buy

Audi A3 2.0 TFSi quattro Sport S tronic Mk 2


1984cc, 4 cylinders
200bhp @ 5100rpm
207 lb ft @ 1700-5000rpm
6-speed semi-automatic
0-62mph in 6.7sec
Top Speed:
37.7mpg (combined)
Road Tax Band:
L 4238mm, W 1765mm, H 1421mm


Audi A3 rivals



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