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|
|Engine:||1.4-litre 4cyl turbo petrol||1.4-litre 4cyl turbo petrol|
|Transmission:||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive|
|0-62mph:||9.3 seconds||9.5 seconds|
|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|
|Warranty:||3yrs/60,000 miles||3yrs/60,000 miles|
|Driver Power rating:||N/A||N/A|