Used Audi A3 review
A full used car buyer's guide on the Audi A3 covering the A3 Mk2 (2003-2013) and the A3 Mk3 (2012-date)
While the first A3 was a very desirable small car, it was the second edition that cemented Audi’s position in the class. This time there was a wider choice of engines and trim levels and, alongside the three and five-door versions, buyers could choose a convertible.
It may have been a VW Golf under the skin, but that didn’t stop the A3 from being seriously desirable; it still is now.
Audi A3 Mk2
The A3 Mk2 arrived in May 2003, with 1.6 FSI, 2.0 FSI, 3.2 V6, 1.9 TDI or 2.0 TDI 140 engines; in July 2004 a 2.0 TFSI (turbo petrol) appeared, along with the five-door Sportback. From May 2006 a 2.0 TDI 170 was available, with the option of quattro four-wheel drive fitted.
In October 2006 a 1.8 TFSI appeared, alongside the quick S3. A 1.4 TFSI petrol engine followed in May 2007, five months before the ultra-frugal 1.9 TDIe.
The A3 Cabriolet arrived in spring 2008 as the range was facelifted, with more efficient engines and the option of a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch gearbox on some models. In July 2009 a 109g/km 1.6 TDI version appeared; six months later this was cut to 99g/km. A 1.2 TFSI launched in January 2010.
Audi A3 Mk2 reviews
Which one should I buy?
The 1.6 in non-FSI form is the least zesty of the various engines available, but even this is fine – it just lacks sparkle.
While the 3.2 V6 is very costly to run, it’s the turbocharged engines that you should aim for, whether petrol or diesel; the 2.0 TDI is especially punchy. All A3s come with alloy wheels, electric front windows (and rear in the Sportback), electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, remote central locking, height-adjustable front seats, ESP, Isofix and three-point seatbelts for all occupants.
The SE adds cruise control, an auto-dip rear-view mirror, automatic lights and wipers, plus climate control. Top-spec Sport models bring sportier trim, sports seats, stiffer suspension, an upgraded hi-fi and 17-inch alloys.
Alternatives to the Audi A3 Mk2
Volkswagen’s Golf is the A3’s closest rival, because the two are so closely related. They share the same engines, gearboxes, suspension and braking systems, and while the Golf’s cabin isn’t as upmarket, it’s still a great place to be.
The BMW 1 Series is perhaps the Audi’s key adversary, because it comes with some fine engines and gearboxes, is beautifully built and more fun to drive. The BMW is also expensive to buy, but with a lot of examples out there to choose from, it’s definitely one to add to your premium hatchback shortlist.
A less obvious choice is the Mazda 3, which looks smart, is great to drive and comes very well equipped; all of this also applies to the Ford Focus, which lacks a premium badge but is still a great car.
What to look for:
Radiators can be fragile, with leaks possible after just 18 months. Check for signs of coolant at the radiator base.
Owners can get locked out of their cars if the door sensor microswitch fails with the keys left inside the car.
Steering racks are prone to failure on early cars; repairs cost £900-plus. Later racks tend to be more durable.
ECUs, sensors and electrics can all play up, so make sure all the warning lights go out and that everything works.
Superb ergonomics, high-quality materials and a clear design make the A3’s cabin impressively plush. The seats offer plenty of adjustment and support, but space in the back of the three-door car is tight, so the five-door Sportback is a better family buy. Boot space isn’t bad at 350 litres when the seats are in place, or 1,080 litres with them down.
Second-generation A3 owners can choose fixed or variable servicing. The former is set at 9,000 miles or 12 months; the latter is typically every 19,000 miles or two years. Maintenance alternates between minor and major check-ups, and these cost £167 and £329 respectively for cars up to 2.0 litres.
Prices jump to £199 and £399 for the 3.2 V6 versions; these and quattro editions need extra oil changes, which add up to £130 to a major service. Air-con recharging (£79) and brake fluid (£65) are required every two years. Most engines have a cambelt, but some later units are chain-driven.
The Mk2 has had five recalls, the first for fuel pump leaks on TDI PD A3s built from March to August 2004.
A flywheel campaign affected models made from December 2003 to June 2005. Sportbacks built in June and July 2005 were recalled for airbags. The DSG box on cars produced from September 2008 to August 2009 prompted a recall. A fuel leak recall affected A3 2.0 TDIs made from January 2008 to December 2011.
Driver Power owners satisfaction
The third-generation A3 ranked 23rd in our Driver Power 2017 used car satisfaction survey, but its predecessor was 71st, so it’s definitely showing its age. Out of the 75 cars listed in the poll, the A3 came towards the bottom in every category; its scorecard highlights were 54th for connectivity and 58th for practicality.
Even now, the A3 seems like a premium car. Compared with its cheaper rivals it feels satisfyingly well built, and has some excellent engines and gearboxes.
Running costs tend to be steep due to some high parts prices, and reliability isn’t always what you’d hope it to be. Finding a good independent specialist is the key; they can cut maintenance costs in half without cutting corners. Popular with both fleets and private buyers, the A3 is widely available used. Be careful when buying, because abused examples aren’t uncommon. Prices also vary, but if you’re prepared to travel for the right car, you might bag a bargain.
Have you ever bought a used Audi A3? Tell us about it in the comments section below...