Audi A3 VS Volkswagen Passat
- Sedan styling looks superb
- Quattro all-wheel drive on highest grade
- AEB on all grades
- Plain standard interior
- Limited rear legroom
- Low on standard features
- Sensibly-priced trim levels
- Strong 162 TSI engine
- Attractive and practical
- Not the soft-roader it could be
- Touch panel controls
- Price won't tempt people out of SUVs
Audi’s A3 is one of the most affordable ways into this prestige German brand. But like some amusement park mirror maze you’ll find with so many A3 variations there are numerous, seemingly identical ways into the model.
Which one do you choose? There’s a sedan, a hatch, and a convertible with four different engines, not to mention front- or all-wheel drive.
That’s why this range review is here – to guide you through the A3 hall of mirrors, and identify the right model for you.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It seems almost quaint to review a bona fide station wagon in 2021.
Nevertheless, the humble wagon has so many endearing and often-overlooked attributes which make it such an ideal product for the majority of buyers, so all the more power to Volkswagen which persists in offering the Passat here in both regular wagon and lifted Alltrack forms.
The Alltrack is the latest arrival as part of a refreshed Passat lineup for 2021, and we’ve sampled a top spec 162TSI Premium at its Australian launch. Is it the perfect anti-SUV for the left-of-field buyer? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Audi A3 is now five years into this current generation and it’s beginning to show its age in terms of tech and styling in the cabin, despite updates adding new equipment. It’s expensive compared to most small cars but is spot-on for a prestige vehicle.
The Sedan is, in my view, the best looking small sedan on the planet and offers the biggest boot space in the A3 range. The Sportback, however, is arguably more practical, with better legroom, headroom and cargo carrying ability (with the rear seats down). The Cabriolet has the same perfect proportions as the sedan, but like all good convertibles doesn’t make practicality a priority.
The sweet spot of the range would have to be the Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line with its $50,000 list price making it the most affordable but most 'specced up' A3 in the entire range.
You have $50,000. Do you buy an entry-grade Audi A3 Cabriolet, a 2.0 TFSI Sport Sedan or a Volkswagen Golf R? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
I like the Passat Alltrack. It’s my kind of car and it certainly got a nod or two from passing VW drivers and wagon appreciators. It’s a shame more people will look straight past this and to the also fantastic but arguably less interesting (or practical) Tiguan in showrooms.
The Alltrack is good value falling between its wagon rivals while offering full safety, excellent multimedia and stellar practicality. But in the world of raised wagons, the Alltrack could still be a little further removed from its regular Passat wagon siblings to really stand out.
The A3 comes in three body styles: a five-door hatch, which Audi calls the Sportback; the four-door Sedan, and a two-door convertible which it refers to as the Cabriolet. It may not surprise you to learn they're all different sizes, too.
The Sportback doesn’t look like the shortest of the three but at 4313mm end-to-end it’s 145mm shy of the Sedan and 110mm shorter than the Cabriolet. But those exterior dimensions don’t tell the whole story on interior space. So, which one is more practical? We’ll get to that.
But first, the looks. The Sportback has a wagon-like appearance with its large (for a hatch) rear quarter windows. If you think it looks longer than a regular hatchback, you’re right: a Volkswagen Golf is 50mm shorter even though it shares the same platform as the A3.
However, unlike the Golf, there’s something about the Sportback’s proportions which doesn’t seem balanced.
Then there’s the A3 sedan. Now this is a perfectly proportioned car. Looking like a miniature version of the A8 limo, the A3 is one of the only tiny sedans on the planet that looks fantastic.
The Cabriolet is based on the Sedan, and it too looks beautifully proportioned. Soft tops, when they’re up, never do much for a car’s profile. Be it a Bentley or an A3, they always look better down. When the roof is down the A3 appears lower, sleeker, and tougher.
While all A3’s have the same grille and headlight design the rear treatment of the Sedan and Cabriolet is more refined with their blade-like tail-lights and boot lid lip, than the Sportback, even if it does have a roof-top spoiler.
Interiors are identical across each A3 grade, the cabin benefiting from excellent fit and finish and the use of high-quality materials. But if you like bling-tastic cockpits, maybe you should be looking at a Benz A-Class because even the fanciest A3 money can buy, the RS3, comes with a small display screen and a rather low-key interior design.
As for rivals, the new A-Class (which I’ve just reviewed) is a glitzy competitor in hatch form, with a soon-to-arrive sedan going head-to-head with the little Audi as well.
A gentle retouch resulting in a quietly elegant execution of VW’s current design pillars defines the Passat wagon. It’s attractive but subtle, not the kind of car which turns heads, but one which is pleasant on the eye anyway from any angle.
It’s a classic wagon profile, complete with blocky rear three-quarter, but the Alltrack touches like the plastic cladding running down this car’s side profile help give it an element of toughness without overdoing it. The chrome garnish and LED matrix headlights on our test car round things out nicely for a stately, mature design. The Aquamarine Blue on our test Alltrack looks the business, too.
It contrasts the interior trim at any rate which in our test car was the optional “Mistral” pale coloured Vienna leather. This looks great now and makes the interior feel huge, but I can’t help but feel like it won’t age quite as well as the standard black leather trim on Premium cars.
The rest of the inside follows VW’s sensible interior approach with lots of squared off stoic elements alongside more impressive touches like integrated air vent design which runs the length of the dash. It’s not an amazing design statement generally, but like this car’s exterior appearance, it’s quietly attractive. VW’s new wheel is a lovely touchpoint, and the digital dash cluster (still one of the best on the market) adds a bit of a wow factor in our top spec car. Compared to newer entries in the brand’s range like the updated Tiguan and incoming Golf 8, the Passat’s interior does seem to be aging, if just a little. Some would say it suits its mature personality.
The Alltrack’s interior doesn’t vary from the standard Passat at all, so this is really a sensible, subtle car for a sensible buyer who doesn’t want attention, perhaps apart from knowing nods from other wagon enthusiasts.
The Sportback and Sedan have five seats, while the Cabriolet has four. Leg and headroom in the back row for all body styles is limited. The Sportback will give you the most rear legroom, while the sedan has a few millimetres more space for your knees than the Cabriolet.
At 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position in the Sportback with a pinkie finger’s space, while my knees brush the seatback in the Sedan, and the Cabriolet won’t accommodate my long legs back there at all.
Rear headroom in the Sportback isn’t bad with enough room for my big head to clear the ceiling thanks to that tall(-ish) flat roofline while the sedan is a tighter fit but I just make it under. The Cabriolet’s low fabric roof means only small adults or kids will be able to sit up straight back there – unless the top is down and then you have literally unlimited headroom.
Boot space varies obviously depending on the body style. The Sedan has biggest cargo capacity with 425 litres, the Sportback offers up 340 litres, but fold those rear seats down and you have 1180 litres at your disposal, plus a bigger aperture to fit stuff in. The Cabriolet’s folding roof eats into the boot space, but you’re still left with 320 litres even when it’s down.
The folding roof is automatic and can be raised or lowered at up to 50km/h, but it’s slow - I’ve timed it and it takes about 20 seconds to open or shut.
Storage throughout the cabin is limited, too. There are two cupholders up front in all cars, while the Cabriolet is the only A3 to have two cupholders in the back (they’re between the rear seats). If you want cupholders in the rear of the Sedan and Sportback you’ll have to option the $450 fold-down armrest which houses them.
All grades above the 1.0 TFSI come with storage nets in the seatback and front passenger footwell, 12-volt sockets in the rear centre console and boot, plus cargo nets back there, too. There’s a USB jack in the centre console of all A3s.
Why buy an SUV when you can have a wagon? The Passat Alltrack continues to put forward a compelling argument for team wagon, with a huge boot capacity, as well as ride height and angles which rival many SUVs.
Even the cabin feels cavernous, with large but supportive front seats, excellent adjustability, and a lovely blend of the extra ride height but the low-down seating position of a passenger car instead of an SUV. Feels sporty but comfortable and capable behind the delicate VW wheel, exactly how it should.
Storage options are also good with two large cupholders in the centre console with a sliding cover, a small bay under the climate unit with a helpful rubberised surface, a wide but shallow console box armrest clad in soft-touch materials, and big bottle holders in the doors with additional wide and deep storage bins. The only downside I could find for the ergonomics was a lack of any tactile dials for volume or climate adjustment, with both having been replaced by touch panels.
The back seat builds on this car’s excellent practicality with its very own climate zone, dual adjustable air vents and dual USB outlets on the back of the centre console, huge rear doors for easy access, pockets on the backs of the front seats, and big bottle holders in the doors. The excellent seat trim persists with the leather even wrapped around the very edge of the bulkhead, and there is a rather absurd distance between my knees and my own (182cm tall) driving position in front. This will seat four adults of any height in relative luxury, or five in well above average comfort. The only downside is the high transmission tunnel to facilitate the all-wheel drive impeding centre seat legroom.
Wagons, of course, offer the superior luggage hauling experience to both sedans and SUVs, combining a low loading lip with a flat floor and truly massive 650-litre (VDA) capacity which is far larger than a mid-size SUV. The top-spec Premium adds a tie-down luggage net, and there are practical stowage bays behind the rear wheel arches for securing smaller objects. It’s worth reminding you here wagons are often the ideal vehicle to keep your dog out of the cabin.
A massive boon for those travelling for extended periods or frequently on unsealed surfaces, the Alltrack sports a rare full-size alloy spare wheel under the floor.
Price and features
The A3 isn’t great value for a small car, generally speaking, because while you are getting a high-quality prestige vehicle, it doesn’t come with a mountain of equipment that you might find on a more affordable little hatch or sedan.
Look at it this way: take $40 into a fish and chip shop and you’ll walk out with your arms full of food, take the same amount into a Michelin-starred restaurant and you’ll be lucky to get an entrée. Same with buying a prestige car – and the A3 really is a starter on the Audi menu.
Coming standard on the entry-grade $36,200 1.0 TFSI Sportback are xenon headlights with LED running lights, cloth upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat nav, reversing camera, multimedia system with voice control, eight-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, CD player, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Only the Sportback comes in this 1.0 TFSI grade. The rest of the body styles start with the 1.4 TFSI ($40,300 for the Sportback; $41,900 for Sedan; $49,400 for Cabriolet) which comes with the 1.0 TFSI’s equipment but swaps the cloth seats for leather upholstery and adds paddles shifters, aluminium-look interior elements and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Stepping up to the 2.0 TFSI Sport ($46,400 for Sportback; $48,000 for Sedan; $55,500 for the Cabriolet) adds leather sports front seats, aluminium door sills, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 17-inch alloys with a different design.
The 2.0 TFSI quattro S line ($50,000 for the Sportback; $51,600 for Sedan and $59,100 for the Cabriolet) brings in lowered sports suspension, 18-inch alloys and LED headlights.
Each grade also attains more safety equipment, which we’ll cover further on.
I’ve also reviewed Mercedes-Benz’s new A200, which is a good model comparison for the A3. At a list price of $48,200 the 1.3-litre four-cylinder A200 is pricier than the 1.4 TFSI, but offers better value than the A3 2.0TFSI with more equipment, including two 10.25-inch display screens.
As for paint colours, only 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White' won't cost you a cent more. Optional colours include 'Cosmos Blue', 'Tango Red' and 'Monsoon Grey'.
The Alltrack is available now with just one petrol engine option, the 2.0-litre turbo 162TSI in two trim levels. The standard Alltrack wears a before-on-road cost (MSRP) of $46,990, while the full-fat Alltrack Premium as sampled for this review comes at a significant price hike to $58,790.
The lifted wagon scene has largely given way to SUVs these days, but a few stalwart competitors remain, most famously in the form of the Subaru Outback (the most equivalent spec being the top Touring at $47,790), Volvo V60 (currently only as a wagon from $57,990, but a lifted Cross Country version is imminent), and the Skoda Superb Scout (really just a variation on this tried and tested VW wagon formula, $63,990).
As is frequently becoming the case with these more niche old-world models, even the base specification is well specified as standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, full LED exterior lighting, 8.0-inch multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity (both wired or wireless), a 7.0-inch multifunction display in the dash cluster, cloth interior trim with a leatherbound steering wheel (in the latest VW style) and shifter, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and push-start ignition and the full active safety suite, which we’ll touch on later.
Adding to this, the 162 TSI Premium justifies its much higher price with 19-inch alloy wheels, a 9.2-inch multimedia system with built-in navigation and a 360-degree camera suite, a fully digitised instrument cluster, more advanced ‘matrix’ LED headlight clusters, full leather interior trim with heating and cooling for the front two seats, electric adjust for the front seats with message function, a panoramic sunroof, electric tailgate, tinted rear windows, and a Harmon Kardon premium audio system. It also scores some interior tweaks like ambient lighting with 30 selectable colours, stainless steel sports pedals, and aluminium-brush dash inserts. The only thing notably missing, especially given the wireless CarPlay connectivity, is a wireless phone charger. There’s even a perfect spot for it under the climate unit.
Suffice to say it’s all you could really ask for in today’s market, with the only option on Alltrack variants being premium paint (all colours except white) at an additional $800.
Engine & trans
Now on to the engines. Yes, I’m doing this in what may seem a strange order, but trust me, it’s to guide you safely through the A3 range without anybody getting lost. We don’t leave anybody behind here, not on my watch.
The grades indicate the engines in the A3 line-up – the higher the grade, the more powerful the engine. So, the range starts with the 1.0 TFSI which has a 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, and steps up to the 1.4 TFSI which has a 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder with cylinder on demand (COD) letting it run on two cylinders when not under load). Both are front-wheel drive (FWD) cars.
Next rung up is the 2.0 TFSI Sport and that has a 2.0-litre four making 140kW/320Nm with drive going to the front wheels. The top of the range is the 2.0 TFSI quattro S line which has the same engine but is all-wheel drive (AWD).
Those are all turbo-petrol engines – yes, no diesels and no manual gearbox option either. All have a seven-speed dual-clutch automatics shifting the gears.
If you’re after something more hardcore in the same package, there are two halo ‘models’ that sit above the A3 range: the S3 with a 213kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four and the RS3 with its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol making 294kW/480Nm.
There is just one engine in the Passat Alltrack range for 2021, the 162 TSI 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which produces the namesake 162kW and 320Nm of torque. This is a tried and tested engine used extensively in other VW group products, and pairs nicely to the brand’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The Alltrack also makes use of VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system which pairs to the taller ride height for some extra off-road capability over the standard low-riding range and many of its competitors. There are also some off-road modes cooked into the car’s transmission software, although without low-range functionality and relatively slim profile tyres we’d stay away from any truly rough stuff.
Fuel usage depends on the engine and body style, with weights varying across the range. The most fuel-efficient engine is the 1.0-litre which is only offered on the Sportback, and Audi says over a combination of urban and open roads you should see it use 4.8L/100km.
The 1.4 TFSI Sportback uses 5.0L/100km, while the Sedan uses 4.9L/100km, but the heavier Cabriolet drinks more at 5.1L/100km.
My most recent A3 test car was a 1.4 TFSI Sportback and the trip computer reported 7.6L/100km over a mix of city and country kays - not bad.
The 2.0 TFSI Sport Sportback uses 5.9L/100km, the Sedan needs 5.8L/100km, the Cabriolet a bit more at 6.0L/100km.
The 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line Sportback uses 6.2L/100km, while the Sedan will go through 6.1L/100km and the Cabriolet again is highest with 6.4L/100km.
That raises the question of how much more does the Cabriolet weigh? About 170kg more than the Sedan and Sportback thanks to the extra reinforcement needed to strengthen the body to compensate for the rigidity it loses by not having a fixed metal roof.
The Passat Alltrack’s official/combined fuel consumption comes in at 8.1L/100km which seems pretty good for an upper mid-size wagon with all-wheel drive. On our launch loan we produced a computer-reported figure of 9.7L/100km which involved a mix of urban and freeway driving, which lands it nicely between this car’s official combined and ‘urban’ figure of 10.1L/100km. It’s likely a more reasonable indicator of what this car will get in the day-to-day.
162 TSI Alltrack variants require mid-shelf 95 RON unleaded fuel and have relatively large 66-litre fuel tanks.
I’ve driven all A3 variants from the 1.0 TFSI to the 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line, plus the S3 and RS3, but most recently I tested the 1.4 TFSI Sportback, which I’ll focus on here.
Our car was fitted with two optional packages – the 'Style Package' which adds LED headlights, 18-inch alloys and sports suspension, and the 'Technik Package' which brings a virtual instrument cluster, an 8.3-inch display and sports steering wheel.
Those larger 18-inch alloys wearing low profile 225/40 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2 tyres look great, but like thin-soled shoes you’ll feel every imperfection on the road giving a harsher texture to the ride, plus they can be noisy on course-chip bitumen.
I’d stick to the standard 16-inch wheels. Sure, they don’t look as racy, but the ride from those, on 55 profile tyres, is a lot more cushioned.
Despite that grittier feel from the tyres the sports suspension is excellent and manages to soften bigger bumps well. Handling is good too, thanks to that suspension keeping the body well controlled.
Good visibility, steering that’s light but offers decent feel, and a comfortable seating position make the A4 pleasant to pilot, but not hugely engaging. If you're after more of a driver’s car, the S3 and RS3 will deliver – trust me.
Acceleration isn’t bad from the 1.4-litre, with 0-100km/h claimed to be 8.2 seconds. That dual-clutch transmission is a quick shifter and smooth even in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but only if you turn off the stop-start engine system (jerky and hard to tolerate).
I’m also not a fan of the way the stop-start system switches the engine off as you coast to a stop at traffic lights and intersections. For me, that borders on a safety issue, particularly when needing to turn on an amber only to find you momentarily lack steering or power.
As mentioned in the engine/transmission section, the 1.4 TFSI Sportback is a FWD car. Put it on a steep hill, as I did on our test incline, and even in dry conditions it’ll lose traction under hard acceleration. Traction control reins the slippage in, but AWD 'quattro' cars won’t struggle for traction in the same circumstances.
The Alltrack possesses a lot of the kinds of positive driving attributes which VWs have become known for, like excellent road holding and a strong turbocharged follow-through on its higher-torque 2.0-litre engines.
Indeed, the Passat can be a hoot in a straight line once a brief moment of turbo lag has been overcome, and our usual dual-clutch woes of jerkiness and hesitation at low-speed are much less noticeable with the 162 TSI engine than they are with lesser powerplants.
It still feels connected to the road via light but appropriate steering, and grip levels granted by the Alltrack’s relatively long wheelbase and all-wheel drive system are superb.
One issue we’ll point out from the outset is how this car is still geared perhaps a little too much toward driving on tarmac. Giant alloys, low-profile tyres, and suspension which seems to favour body control over flexibility might be nice in the every day around Sydney and carving up a curvy but well-sealed countryside road, but the Alltrack claims to be a bit more all-purpose on unsealed surfaces, and I hate to say it still seems a bit firm for extended periods on gravel.
Part of my testing included a gravel track or two, and while our Alltrack Premium did an admirable job of dealing with the road texture despite huge 19-inch alloys (suggesting complaint dampers), it was larger corrugations and potholes which lead to a few moments best classified as “sharp” with shudders sent through the cabin.
I would like to try this car in the standard 162 TSI trim to see if a smaller wheel and larger tyre helps this at all. As a former daily driver of a mid-noughties Volvo XC70, one of the things which was most appealing about the chunky all-wheel drive Swede was its soft suspension and ample tyre, fit for purpose for those unsealed weekend adventures. I still think Subaru’s Outback will be a more robust choice in todays market if you mean to spend much time on gravel tracks.
I don’t mean to be misunderstood. The Passat Alltrack is a lovely car to drive, and on tarmac, possibly even a 9/10. However it’s the whole branding purpose of this car to be a bit more adventurous, and while the extra ride height gives you the confidence to go a bit beyond the capability of a low-riding wagon, it wouldn’t have been hard to make the suspension softer and the tyre larger for a truly transformative ‘Alltrack’ experience.
For those looking for a long-distance tourer, though? Look no further, the Alltrack is lovely even after hours behind the wheel, and the 162 TSI engine leaves a good amount in reserve for overtaking on the freeway.
The A3 has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating from its 2013 crash test, which applies to the Sportback, Sedan and Cabriolet.
While the Sedan and Sportback have seven airbags, the Cabriolet has just five, missing out on the head-level curtain bags.
The amount of advanced safety equipment increases as you step up through the grades, but AEB is standard across the range. Lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert becomes standard from the 2.0 TFSI Sport upwards, while the lower grades can attain these with the optional $1500 'Assistance Package'.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX mounts and two top tether anchor points across the back seats in the Sedan, Sportback and Cabriolet.
The full array of active safety items are becoming standard across VW’s range, with even the base Alltrack scoring items like auto emergency braking (works to freeway speed, detects pedestrians), lane keep assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, driver attention alert, adaptive high beams, and adaptive cruise control.
Combine those with the standard all-wheel drive and expected stability, brake, and traction control systems and you end up with a safe wagon. The Passat range carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from its original pre-facelift launch in 2015.
VW continues to offer its competitive five year and unlimited kilometre warranty promise which puts it ahead of many euro offerings, and on-par with its Japanese and Korean rivals. It also includes one year of roadside assist.
Servicing is also far better than it used to be, with VW offering three- or five-year service packs which can be bundled in at the time of purchase at a significant discount.
Pricing will carry over from the current 162 TSI, with three years setting you back an additional $1300 while five years (claimed to be the best value) comes in at $2400 or $480 per yearly or 15,000km visit.
Not the cheapest generally, but not bad considering its niche. Expect roughly the same costs for Skoda’s mechanically similar Superb, while Subaru and Volvo are hardly paragons of low service pricing in recent years.