Audi A3 vs VW Golf

30 Dec, 2012 10:30am

The Mk7 Volkswagen Golf is more luxurious than ever, but how does it compare to the Audi A3?

The latest Volkswagen Golf has more premium appeal than any previous model, and is now a genuine rival to posh hatchbacks like the Audi A3. Although the two cars have been sharing platforms and engine technology for years, there has traditionally been a gap between them in terms of desirability, with the Audi perceived as more of a premium product. But this gap is now smaller than ever, as there’s no longer anything mainstream about the Golf.

This is reflected in the design of the two cars. Both have a restrained sense of class, and although VW and Audi have been accused of being overly conservative with the cars’ styling, a safe and sensible approach has proven no barrier to sales success for either model. The A3 probably stands out more on the road with its distinctive LED daytime running lamps and large, imposing grille, but the Golf still looks clean and smart, and everything from the stylish grille to the neat rear end feels well conceived.

Audi is known for offering the best interior quality in the business, and the A3 upholds this reputation. Everywhere you look there are high-quality materials, the layout is easy to use and all models come with plenty of equipment. Air-con and Bluetooth are standard across the range, while a 5.8-inch screen slides up out of the top of the dash to provide access to the various menus of the MMI control system. This helps give the A3 a slightly greater sense of occasion, although the Golf has exactly the same size central display – which can be switched for an optional eight-inch touchscreen – as part of a similarly generous equipment tally. And the VW is equally well built from similarly high-quality materials, while all Golfs have cruise control; this is an option on all A3s.

As they’re based on the same platform, the two cars make equally good use of their dimensions. The Golf has a narrow advantage in terms of boot size, with a 380-litre capacity expanding to 1,270 litres; the A3 offers 365 litres and 1,100 litres respectively. Yet both provide plenty of room for driver and passengers, although owners needing easier access to the interior can choose five-door versions of both models – and the A3 Sportback has the same luggage capacity as the Golf with the rear seats in place.

The VW and Audi will protect their occupants well no matter how many people are on board, with both awarded five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. ESP is standard on all models, while both cars are available with hi-tech optional safety aids like autobrake, lane departure warning and self-parking.

The cars share very similar stop-start-equipped engine ranges, with impressively efficient low-capacity turbo petrol engines and torquey, economical 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels. The highlights are the 1.4-litre TSI (badged TFSI in the A3), which keeps fuel consumption to a minimum by shutting down two of the four cylinders when they’re not needed. Plus, both makers offer ultra-green diesels; Audi’s cleanest A3 is the 1.6 TDI, with 74.3mpg and 99g/km emissions (for free road tax), while VW has the edge here, as its Golf BlueMotion promises amazing 88.3mpg fuel consumption and 85g/km of CO2.

The 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines are lighter than the diesels, and these models handle better as a result, but the Golf and A3 deliver a similarly strong blend of cornering agility and ride composure. Top-spec S line versions of the Audi ride a little firm on their 18-inch wheels, so are perhaps best avoided if you do a lot of town driving. But neither of these cars will disappoint from behind the wheel, and their makers’ reputations should guarantee strong reliability, too.

Audi A3 1.4 TFSI SE 3dr VW Golf 1.4 TSI SE 3dr
Price: £19,205 £18,990
Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl turbo petrol 1.4-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
Power: 120bhp 120bhp
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 9.3 seconds 9.5 seconds
Top speed: 126mph 124mph
Economy: 54.3mpg 54.3mpg
CO2: 120g/km 120g/km
Equipment: Stop-start, ESP, air-con, Bluetooth, MP3 connectivity Stop-start, ESP, air-con, cruise control, Bluetooth, MP3 connectivity
Boot capacity (seats up/down): 365/1,100 litres 380/1,270 litres
Insurance group: 14 14
Road tax: £30 £30
Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles 3yrs/60,000 miles
Driver Power rating: N/A N/A

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Now that's a tough call. How do you pick from two cars that happen to be almost exactly the same? One simple answer could be to pick the badge with more appeal which in this case is Audi. A3 looks sharper, will hold its value better and is two-tenths of a seconds quicker.

Formerly Audis have been known for giving a firmer ride and crisper handling. This article makes no mention of this. Anyone knows how this new A3 rides? If Audi has sorted the ride then its perhaps a better buy.

There's not much to choose from in terms of price either. Audi sells in smaller numbers so it'll hold on to residual value better than big sister Golf. Anyone for Spanish step sister Leon?

Well, as usual from AE this isn't actually a review or a comparison. What Car? reckons the Audi is slightly better overall, but still said the Golf rode better and was more refined. Personal taste and dealer location probably more critical.

Easy, buy the cheapest you can get, specification for specification taking account what can be screwed out of the dealers.

For me, in the previous incarnations of these models, the Golf was a far superior car, not least that it had a more upmarket interior than the A3, a much better ride, but it was just an overall more desirable package. I drove both, and ended up putting my £25k on the Golf - it was ahead of the A3 in virtually every respect, and then found the A3's bone shaking ride just far too hard. However the interior latest A3 appears to have moved upmarket, and I have to say is a nice place to be. Let's hope they've now sorted the suspension - from other reviews I've read it's still too hard. I haven't sat in the new Golf yet, but from the pictures it doesn't not look any more upmarket than the last Golf, so maybe the A3 has now edged ahead in that regard. It seems to me that the cars are pretty much identical, and the choice you're making is whether you want the more of an airy, glassy feel of the Golf, and it's slightly better practicality, or the more steeped windscreen of the A3 which gives it a sportier feeling when sitting at the wheel, but then it feels a lot more cramped than the Golf, particularly in the back. The cars use the same engines, and the quality of the two are very similar, there's also very little to choose between them re initial cost and devaluation. So. it's just down to personal choice, as both a superb cars. For me, I'd choose the Golf every time, as it's as upmarket as the Audi, yet it's the more sensible package, particularly as we occasionally need to seat 5 people, and I much prefer the image of VW to that of Audi.

These engines do not include cylinder de-activation, that is in the more powerful 138 bhp GT version of the Golf and is not yet available in the Audi.

highly suggest sitting in the new golf it's interior is a huge improvement on the mk 6. You'll be surprised.

I wish AE would get their facts right - the amount of mistakes on this website is appalling these days. The Golf GT will be the one with cylinder deactivation NOT the 120bhp 1.4 TSI engine.

I've looked seriously at all 3 (Golf, A3 and Leon) I have been to the preview events for A3 Sportback and Leon. I have driven a 3 door A3 and petrol Golf and Diesel Golf - I have done a lot of comparing and it is a really tough choice. In the end I've put my deposit on a Golf 1.4 TSI SE. The Golf in my opinion had the best cabin and came with so many high end extras as standard in the SE spec that it was hard to overlook on value for money level. The Leon is a great option in SE as it can come with a more powerful 140 BHP engine for about 2k less than the Golf 122 BHP SE - but equipment levels mean you need to add a lot more cash! It's a great looking car - A3 was the best drive (although only tried 3door and not tried Leon) as i loke a grippy feel, but Golf was good too! the A3 felt cramped and I personally did not think the dash had a very grown up feel (a bit like a bigger A1) - again A3 needs a lot of spec added to get the SE close to Golf. All in all this one comes down to what is important to you as it really is not an easy choice!

AEX 1334
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