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Used Audi A3 review: 1997-2012

EXPERT RATING
7

Audi is often in the vanguard of vehicle design and the A3 is a classic example. Audi was the first of the iconic German makers to make the bold move of moving down into smaller, relatively affordable cars.

Prior to the Audi A3 you had to find something north of $60,000 to get into one of the big make Germans. The A3 dropped the starting price to the sub-40 grand region. There were mutterings that this would devalue the prestige rating of the larger, more expensive models in the range. That didn’t happen and soon arch rivals Mercedes and BMW joined Audi in introducing smaller, affordable cars.

Though the Audi A3 is considered a small car by Australians, in Europe it’s often used as a family car. Four adults are more comfortable than you might expect given the relatively small size of the car. Rear-seat access in the three-door is better than in just about any other car of its type with front seats that move right out of the way in an ingenious fashion. Having said that, the five-door is obviously more practical if the back seat is going to get a lot of use.

The Audi A3 has the solid feel that’s very much part of the marque.

There’s plenty of stowage space in the cabin so this is a practical machine that suits many people living in crowded suburban regions in Australia. Two good sized suitcases can be carried in the boot together with some small bits and pieces. Tie-down clips secure the load in a crash or under heavy braking.

Audi A3 sales were reasonably good from the May 1997 launch of the three-door, but didn’t really get up to full speed until the introduction of the five-door models in October 1999. Many of the earliest A3s are now on the used-car market, but they may be nearing the end of their lives - and they aren’t as cheap to repair or service as more mundane cars of this size.

The Audi A3 has the solid feel that’s very much part of the marque and this has shown up in good durability as the years have gone by. Handling is very good, though there is perhaps just a little too much understeer at the limit to suit the full-on driving enthusiast.

Engine choices in the original A3 were a 1.6-litre single-cam unit with two valves per cylinder and two 1.8-litre twin-cam models with the Audi trademark of five valves per cylinder (three intakes and two exhausts). The 1.8 came with or without a turbocharger, with the turbo engine tuned to give flexible torque and economy at low to mid-range engine speeds, rather than flat-out sports performance.

Power in most Audi A3 models is transmitted to the front wheels.

The second-generation cars retained the 1.6-litre in the entry level models, but also offer a 2.0-litre FSI petrol unit, with or without a turbo. It was also available with a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel. Best of all is a 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine that gives a huge amount of get-up-and-go in a relatively small car like this one.

Power in most Audi A3 models is transmitted to the front wheels, the 2.0 turbo-petrol can be specified with Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel-drive system. It comes as no surprise that quattro is mandatory with the big V6 engine.

Audi S3 is the high-performance variant. The S3 has a sporting three-door body and uses a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine driving all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox.

Audi has been on fire in the Australian sales race over the last few years and the number of authorised dealers has increased as a result. Naturally, there’s a concentration on the major metropolitan areas, but some regional areas are starting to get into the act as well.

Spare parts and servicing are reasonably priced for a prestige car but fairly expensive for a machine of this size. If you are shifting up to an Audi from an Asian or lower priced European car ask the dealer about servicing costs.

Check your insurance company’s policy on turbo-petrol engines as some charge very high premiums that can add significantly to the purchase price of a used car.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Make sure the engine starts quickly and idles smoothly even when it’s cold. If there’s any hesitation from the engine under hard acceleration there could be computer problems.

Check that a manual gearbox changes smoothly and quietly and that an automatic transmission doesn't hunt up and down the gears when climbing moderate hills with light to medium throttle openings.

Uneven front tyre wear probably means the car has been the subject of some hard driving, so is more likely in one of the high-performance models.

Uneven tyre wear may also mean one of the wheels is out of alignment as the result of a crash, though that crash may have simply been a hard thump against a kerb.

CAR BUYING TIP

Upmarket cars almost invariably cost more to run than everyday ones, be sure to factor this into your purchasing budget.

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2012 $9,130 $26,400
2011 $7,260 $24,310
2010 $6,820 $21,560
2009 $6,600 $18,370
2008 $6,380 $17,600
2007 $5,830 $16,170
2006 $4,620 $13,420
2005 $4,070 $15,180
2004 $4,070 $14,300
2003 $4,290 $8,250
2002 $4,290 $8,250
2001 $4,290 $8,250
2000 $3,960 $7,810
1999 $3,960 $7,700
1998 $4,180 $7,700
1997 $4,180 $7,040

View all Audi A3 pricing and specifications

Pricing Guides

$5,610
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$4,180
Highest Price
$7,040

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
1.6 1.6L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $4,400 – 6,490 1997 Audi A3 1997 1.6 Pricing and Specs
1.8 1.8L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $4,510 – 6,710 1997 Audi A3 1997 1.8 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7

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