Question: Is the Audi A3 for knobs?

Audi A3

We have a little email group here in Australia and every day we address certain issues confronting the motoring world. It’s a tough job, but someone has to sort these things out.

Right now, we’re trying to find one of our people a new vehicle. There are set criteria in place, of course, and it’s been fun to see the suggestions being thrown around.

One of the models that came up in discussion was the Audi A3/S3 and I have to confess I teed off on it. It’s fair to say I’m not a fan.

My main argument lies with the A3 (as distinguished from the S3), which I see as little more than a gussied up Volkswagen Golf. Recent models are a little more distinctive, but the A3’s I see mostly here in Hobart are around 5 years old, like the one to the right, and whenever I see one, as I did on the way home from work tonight, the only thing I can think is “What a knob!”

The A3 of this era comes across to me as an old-school GM attempt to squeeze more money out of a small platform without really trying that hard. It’s bland beyond belief and at the price you’d pay for a new one (back when they were new) you would have been much more entertained with a Golf GTI. The GTI is a much more genuine car, too, with all of its hot hatch heritage intact. All Audi can do is try to dress that heritage in some fancier clothes.

The A3 of this era is a cash grab, plain and simple, and as such is a car for those with more money than sense.

The A3 of today looks a little more distinctive, but still plays in a segment that the Golf basically owns – the compact five door hatch market. You can pay as much as A$60,000 for a new A3 here in Australia (the ‘kick me’ sign for your back comes free). Why anyone would do that when you can get, once again, a Golf GTI for $15,000 less is beyond me. Sure, the Audi might have a nicer interior, but it’s not as if it’s awe inspiring and the GTI’s interior is poor by comparison.

The S3 is a little more compelling. It’s got a more powerful engine, more aggressive styling and again, a theoretically more sporty interior. But is the interior comparison that compelling in favour of the S3?

S3 above, GTI below……

If you think the A3 is expensive, then how about around A$80,000 for an Audi S3? You can get a 2012 model DSG Golf GTI for around $30,000 less, not to mention plenty of other hot hatches that will deliver plenty of motoring thrills, even if they’re missing the cachet afforded to the four-ringed badge right now.

Make no mistake, Audi make some wonderful motor cars. They are very close to out-Teutonic-ing the other storied German brands right now. It’s just that when it comes to the A3/S3 range, I reckon they’re laughing all the way to the bank and if you’ve bought one, they’re not laughing with you.

My final argument – why on earth would you spend $80,000 on an Audi S3, a performance oriented compact luxury vehicle, when you could spend the same money and get any of these (none of which, I might add, match the criteria for a new car that started this whole discussion, but still……).

All of those cars make a much more compelling argument for me at that price. More class, better fun, better re-sale, better in pretty much every way except carrying capacity.

IMHO, the Audi A3/S3 is for knobs. What say you?

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31 Comments

  1. Swade you don’t get it 😉 It is so important to show that you are ‘someone’ by driving a car that makes financially absolutely no sense.
    I have friends who rather bought these tiny A3’s instead of 9-3 SC’s because it was the norm amongst the young house building adults at the time.
    VAG has done an excellent job on the image marketing side and it pays off.

    PS. In waiting for a consortium to pick up SAAB and make some Hi-Po models to get back in the race for the souls of people buying NEW cars.
    I see scary amounts of MY12 A’s and B’s ever day.

    1. Mike my wife runs a diesel RDesign and I thought it was going to be a bit rubbish but honestly I was really surprised how good at was. It looks amazing in white IMHO. Steering feel is poor, as is the turning circle but it grips really well. Check out Polestar for upgrades.

  2. This is where VW group and GM diverge. Firstly, there isn’t anything wrong with platform sharing – ” badge engineering” – if the platform to begin with is as good as it gets, which the golf platform is. Yes, the A3 ” is a golf in a party frock”, or the TT is a golf in a sport bra, but you can’t argue with the fact that both are products that have hit the bulls eye.

    Just look at the production numbers : the A3 in it’s current generation, which is now 9 years old, has sold at over 200 000 units a year. It pretty much created the premium small hatchback category.

    I have looked at buying an A3 (tdi) , bought the golf tdi instead, and in the past looked at a 3.2 A3, but bought an r32, so you could say I arrived at the same financial conclusion as you.

    But I certainly don’t think an A3 is for knobs: it’s a great, and successful product. I’d be happy to own one.

    Now, compare VW to GM , the biggest reason I never owned a Saab was that , back in the day, a Saab 900/9-3 ” was a vauxhall cavalier in a party frock” and while I was happy to be seen in a golf, no way was I going to be seen dead in a cavalier!

    1. Alan, you were fooled by all the Saab “haters” in the world to believe the 900/9-3 is just a dressed up Vauxhall Cavalier. Unfortunately a trick that worked very well for all the VAG salesmen and motoring journo’s.

      1. Not really. And certainly not a Saab “hater”. But badge engineering , or platform sharing, call it what you will, is car manufacturing common sense, and there is nothing wrong with it. (otherwise cars would be astronomically expensive)

        But compare the VW PQ35 (A5) platform, and look at the derivative products built on it; (I had no idea it was this many, until I looked up)

        VW Golf , jetta, tiguan, golf plus, caddy, Scirocco, Touran, Eos, Beetle
        Audi A3, TT, Q3
        Seat Leon, Toledo, Altea
        Skoda Yeti, Superb, Octavia

        But very few, if anyone, will associate a Skoda Yeti or a VW Touran with an Audi A3 or TT. Thus, badge engineering done right.

        On the other hand, when I think of badge engineering done wrong, the examples that come to hand are the Cadillac Cimmaron ( a warmed over J body Chevy) and unfortunately for Saab – the “Saabaru” 9-2 and the “Trollblazer” 9-7. There is nothing wrong with a Subaru Impreza, or Saab 9-2, as a car, but from a branding standpoint, it was a disaster. It may have worked if the two cars had come out simultaneously, and it could then be claimed that it was planned that way all along.

        1. My point exactly. You can build different kind of cars from the same platform. They are not the same i.e. a Cavalier MK3/A Vectra is similar to a GM900. Not even close.
          Just look at a 900 vs. Opel/Vauxhall from the mid-90s and it becomes obvious. I’ve driven (owned) both and I can tell for a fact that the Opel felt much more German (VAG) than Swedish.

          When the B Vectra came in ’96 it had definitely adopted some Saab cues in terms of handling and comfort but that does not make the 900/9-3 a rebadge Opel/Vauxhall, just the opposite imho.

        2. Alan.
          Infact the GM900/9-3 gen1 and the Vectra/Cavalier only have bits and pieces in common and that is the floorpan and some improved chassie parts. Ooh and the rear view mirror adjustment control. Everything else is Saab.
          The GM 2,5 V6 was ok, but not more and was abandoned.

          Looking at Swedish Volvo they have never had the problem with saying their products are “this” or “that” from other manufacturers eventhough the Volvo belt drive 66 the 340/360 (also belt at first) and 440/460 where Dutch DAF products, the latter with Volvo engines. Then there is the S40/V40 which shared platform and a 1,6 GDI engine with the Mitsubishi Carisma. The now terminated S40/V50 share platform with the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus, most tech and some engines with the Focus.

          Volvo has never been nothing than a new Volvo… Why? Because Volvo has told everybody it is… Saab has let journos have their way.

          Ooh the A3. I’ve driven a Passat as a company and would never buy a VW. “Das Boring” (A Swade expression) or Das Backbreaker will never end up in my driveway. I think Audis are cock versions of VW’s so what else can I say than… Why would anybody pay more for either of them when VAG also sell Skoda? I don’t want a Skoda either but I see no sense in choosing a VW or Audi over a Skoda other than the Premium DSG’s that Skoda does not come with. Yeah I know… Skoda is limited in markets.

          Another thing… The 900/9-3 look Nothing like a Vectra A/Cavalier A.

          Cheers

          1. Oh, how I love the irony of Mitsubishi naming a car with absolutely zero carisma just that. Carisma.

  3. Taking a deep breath here. Why on earth would anyone buy an example of the same technology, in a slightly different package, and pay a shyteload more? Marketing, my dear Watson, nothing but marketing. Why do sales reps cream their pants when someone whispers A3 (or worse even) A4 in their ears? Europe’s motorways are full with them, all showing off their recycled Xmas light “daylight driving LEDS”. So marketing have done their job. Granted.

    A German mate of mine once summed it up quite well. “Audi, langeweile ausgedruck im Blech”. Audi, boredom expressed in tin. And he is right. There is nothing whatsoever in these cars that can get my juices flowing. None, wotsoever.

    So, in order to show one is a real knob and have fallen for the marketing as well as the high sales rep content of these “cars” they go and buy one. Show off to the neighbours “you’re succesful and can afford it”….. Shpow to the rest of the world the only thing that gets into yer brain, is brainwashing advertisements. My point is: an Audi driver understands nothing of technology, not a flying bit..

  4. Hi Swade,

    As mentioned in comments above, VW/Audi are much better in the platform sharing and badge engineering game that GM was. Having said that, I tend to agree with you. Back in 1999, I test drove an Audi A3 TDi and a VW Golf with the view to replace my Saab (GM) 900. Looking at specifications and value for money, I ended up buying a Skoda Octavia with the same engine and plaform as the A3/Golf.

    But I soon realized that the Skoda was not as comfortable as the Saab on long distances, and replaced the Octavia with a 9-3. I would also have done the same if I had bought an A3 at the time.

    Today, I would not go for A3 or Golf in that segment, rather the new EU Civic or a Citroen C4. Both simply offer more value (and comfort) for the money and are less common. than the VAG alternatives. Even the Astra looks more attractive to me than the VW or Audi. Question of taste, not everybody wants an Audi or BMW.

    1. In late 1998, I spent about 10 minutes in an Octavia, being parked at a dealer. Then, I deleted it from my short list.

  5. I think even less of A3 drivers than I used to since one swerved to the right at 40mph, with no signals, to attempt to enter a side road, whilst I was in the process of overtaking him, writing-off my Dame-Edna of 2 months. Then lied to the Police and his insurance company. Gnnnn! Feel the luurve!

    If you follow the AU$ argument further and stick with VAG you’d be talking about a Škoda Octavia RS. But then, as @Nils found, *nothing* compares with a Saab!

  6. The Audi A3 is no more for ‘knobs’ than the BMW 3 series, Porsche Cayenne or even the Porsche Panamera which looks like a knob.

    It is all a matter of individual taste, circumstances and choice. I would no more say someone is a ‘knob’ for driving a new Nissan Juke ( one of the ugliest, most pointless cars around) than they are for driving a new Saab 9-3.

    Generalisation does no-one any favours.

  7. Speaking from experience having worked in an Audi showroom, I found the A3 the least Audi like model in the range so it was not my favourite car.

    That said there are loads of products where people pay a premium that is questionable. I mean people buy Kellogs Rice Krispies over own brand, to me that’s being a knob (and I do it – memo to self start buying own brand).
    A car is an emotional product is it not? I mean we could all buy Seat Leons that will do the same job for a fraction of the price but the world would be a little bit grayer than today. And its gray enough without Saab.

    Now speaking from real experience the A3 customers fall into categories:

    1 Enthusiasts who have been with the brand since the quattro. You will find that they are just as passionate as us.

    2. People who bought into the A3 back in the 90s when no one else had even thought about it and are sticking with what the know.

    3. People who are knobs, but then that applies to any brand, I have seen plenty of Saab owners who bought the badge not the car.

  8. I agree 100% with you on the issue of Audi A3. The fact that it is also (in my humble opinion) a lot uglier than the VW Golf puts the nail in it.
    It is a totally unnecessary car which Audi has sold (and continue selling) to its fanbase.

    I also notice that the steering wheel is on the wrong side. 😉

  9. The four door GTI is only $1,000 less than the A3 four door/wagon here in the USA. I have two friends with new GTIs (both with the Burberryesque seating pattern), and another with an A3. I think both vehicles are very good at what they’re supposed to do. I don’t see the A3 as the sporting vehicle the GTI is supposed to be, and clearly is. I also don’t see the GTI as the premium wagon that the A3 clearly is.

    They are both nice vehicles, so I don’t agree with your assessment Swade because I don’t think the vehicles are trying to be something they aren’t.

    I would say that they knob/cock you are referring is better reserved for the Mercedes Benz C250 driver. Take a Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord or 2013 Ford Fusion, fit it with options, and you’re at $28-$32k. Any of these vehicles in this form is a MUCH better alternative than a bare bones $36k C250, which will easily reach $42k once you add similar options. The C class is just a bunch of rubbish, and only excites me in its $70k C63 AMG form.

  10. Sorry to go off topic a bit but VAG is “Volkswagen AG” . The AG is the German equivalent of Limited ,Ltd ,& Co etc . Not Volkswagen Audi Group. My wife is thinking of an A3 I am of the same opinion as you Steven .

  11. Hey, Audi just revealed their new A3… Hoooray!! Can´t tell it from the previous tho..

    Audi is perfect car for those who do not care about what they drive 😀

  12. One thing is for sure, cars with grey interiors could be described as “boredom expressed in plastic”. If I’d paid for either of the two above I’d feel annoyed most mornings.

  13. My brother once owned a 1st gen A3. Compared to a Golf of it’s time i guess it was slightly more comfortable, at least better road-noise isolated. But besides that i guess it’s upscale features compared to a Golf was everything being rounder and and how the redness of the “speedometer” made my eyes tierd. But i guess the whole plan with using the most extreme and worst possible color to look at while driving was to distract the buyer from how bland everything else was.

  14. Interior/dash lighting is a topic that we probably should explore at length some time. Many mfrs have signature colours which they maintain over the years – which I appreciate but don’t necessarily understand. I’m probably biased but I rate Saabs green lighting best, followed by BMW’s orange. The blue of VW and red of Audi work for me too though. Volvo seems to prefer (along with M-Benz?) white which is pretty simple but effective.

    Swade – a research piece perhaps? I wonder if the car companies would offer some reasoning behind their choices?

  15. Interior available in multiple shades of black. Das Boring. At least the Audi has a bit of class unlike the utilitarian looking Golf. Das uberBoring.

  16. The colour red is worthless in any situation but those where you want to make a grand impresion or a impression of grandness. Love and hate, not speedometers.

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