Audi A3 2003-2012 used car review

The Audi A3 is a European alternative to other small hatchback options.

Richard Edwards
Richard Edwards
Expert Reviewer | Auto Media Group

The Audi A3 is a European alternative to other small hatchback options. It is sporty but practical. The dual-clutch transmission must be checked before purchase.

Exterior , 4 out of 5 Drive , 3.5 out of 5 Safety , 5 out of 5 Value , 3.5 out of 5 Interior , 2.5 out of 5

Overall score , 3.7 out of 5

The good
  • Premium feel to the interior
  • Comfortable ride and handling
  • Good-sized boot with handy tie-downs and hooks
The not-so-good
  • Concerns about the transmission’s durability
  • Rear legroom is restricted

The Audi A3 was launched in the mid-1990s among a wave of new small models from premium manufacturers such as the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-class. The first generation was solid though basic and conservative compared to the rest of Audi's range. The second generation was far more stylish, with better performance, handling and build quality. Three and five-door A3 hatchback versions were offered, along with a two-door convertible.

Inside and out

The thing that stands out when you look at the A3 is the big front grille. It dips right down into the front bumper and is a nod to Audi race cars of the past. The headlights are angled and aggressive. The rest of the car is very conventional, a simple hatchback style that from the side looks stretched and slightly like a station wagon. Our review vehicle features chunky alloy wheels and a small spoiler over the rear window. S-Line badging appears on the grille.

Inside, the S-line model gets leather seats. These are big, soft and comfortable, not common in a sports-focused car. The front seats are height adjustable with a manual lever for lift. Between them is an armrest with storage space inside it. The armrest can be tilted up and down to suit the user. The rear seat is broad and wide, with enough space for three smaller adults. They could find legroom a little tight. At 1.8-metres tall, our reviewer’s knees were uncomfortably pushed up against the hard black plastic of the front seat.

The dashboard and most other interior surfaces are made of a soft black plastic that has a quality feel. The steering wheel and transmission shifter are also clad in leather. The gauges feature metallic ring surrounds and there is a red digital screen between them which shows the trip computer and other vehicle information. Our review car has an aftermarket touchscreen infotainment unit. Most have a simple CD player radio and used import cars will require a band expander to receive local stations.

The standard climate control features metallic trims around its dials.

The boot is big for a car of this size – at 370 litres it will take three medium suitcases. The rear seat backs are very flexible – you can split and fold them 60/40 and fold them flat for large items. A ski port in the middle caters for long narrow items. Audi has fitted tie-downs to the boot floor to keep items in place and there’s a large hook under the parcel shelf for hanging shopping bags.

On the road

Although the ‘S-line’ name indicates this A3 is a sports model, we found it comfortable on the road. It handled broken road surfaces well. The steering was direct, although it took more turns than you would expect to take a corner. The brakes were excellent and brought the A3 to a stop quickly.

A huge range of engines is available for this car – from 1.4-litres in size to 3.2-litres. Most are turbocharged and a diesel option is available. Our review vehicle uses a 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It also has direct fuel injection for efficiency. This engine produces 118kW and 250Nm.

Although there are more powerful engines, this one still feels reasonably quick and can sprint to 100kmh in 7.4 seconds.

It has a lot of pulling power and should not be bothered by loads. It also has a sporty note to its exhaust. While a six-speed manual is available, most cars with this engine use a six-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission. This is very quick to shift though it can feel a little harsh at low speed. These early dual-clutch transmissions can also feel a little jerky when attempting to reverse up hills at very slow speeds.

Forward visibility is good but visibility to the rear is compromised by thick rear pillars. Our review vehicle did not have a reversing camera and they are not standard. We would recommend getting a camera fitted or seeking one when shopping. A camera to fit yourself costs from $50 or a professional will do it from $200. The A3's 10-metre turning circle is excellent.

The Audi A3 has a good tow rating for a small hatchback. The 1.8-litre version can tow 670kg (unbraked), a small-to-medium trailer, or 1400kg (braked), a small boat.


RightCar lists the A3 as having a five-star Used Car Safety Rating (2003–2012). New Zealand–new versions, with the same safety specifications as our review vehicle, were rated as five-star under the ANCAP system.

Safety equipment standard on the A3 includes driver and passenger airbags, side airbags and curtain airbags that cover the front and rear seats, traction control, electronic stability control and emergency brake assist.

ISOFIX child seat mounts and top tethers are found in the window positions at the back. All three rear seats feature full shoulder-type belts, which offer more protection than the lap-only type.


This generation Audi A3 has a cambelt which will require regular replacement. It has developed a worrying reputation for issues that appear as the model ages.

The biggest issues are with the dual-clutch transmissions which have been subject to major recalls worldwide. Widespread complaints include failure to shift, harsh shift patterns, loss of ratios and excessive shudder. If the transmission in the A3 you are looking at shifts harshly or shudders on take-off, walk away.

Repair out of warranty is costly so we firmly recommend any purchase is accompanied by an extended mechanical breakdown insurance policy.

Other issues to seek professional checks for are wheel bearings, rocker-cover gasket oil seeping, noisy cambelt tensioner pulley bearings, and air-conditioning pump failure. All of those are common to Audis of the time and all come with repair bills.

Carefully check the interior too because the glue holding the roof lining and door trim fabric in place can fail over time. The only solution is to have new head-lining installed by an automotive trimmer at a cost of several hundred dollars.

Cost of ownership

Audi recommends servicing the 1.8-litre turbocharged A3 every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. This service costs $676, according to our local Audi dealer, and is pricier than for mainstream small hatchbacks. The cambelt and water pump will need to be replaced every six years or 120,000km. This will cost around $1,700. The dual-clutch gearbox will require a service every 60,000km at a cost of up to $1,000.

RightCar estimates that over 14,000km of driving a year, an A3 will cost $2,380 to fuel. The 55-litre fuel tank will cost $110 to fill and should take you 590km before the fuel light comes on.

A vehicle licence for the A3 costs $76.20 a year, with the car in the cheapest ACC levy group.

Trade Me Insurance estimates insurance for an A3 valued at $11,360 will cost $56.78* per month. That’s $1 more than for a BMW 120i hatchback.

Buyers' guide

On Trade Me, Audi A3s range from $5,500 to $25,000 for later and lower mileage vehicles. Early three-door cars are worth the least; late model S-Line and TDI cars fetch the most money.

As stated in our reliability section, if you are buying a car with a dual-clutch gearbox, which includes almost all A3s on the market, it is wise to have the transmission checked by a professional.


Specification differences between New Zealand-new and used import A3s are usually minor cosmetic and convenience options.

Initially, the A3 was available only as a three-door model. After less than a year, it was launched as the five-door ‘Sportsback’ shape and the three-door virtually disappeared as an option. All-wheel drive – known as Quattro – is an option.

  • 1.6-litre FSI – Available from 2003-2007. Powered by a non-turbocharged 1.6-litre engine. Features steel wheels, fabric interior, climate control air-conditioning, front, side and curtain airbags, automatic headlights and electronic stability control.
  • 2-litre FSI – Available 2003-2008. Powered by a non-turbocharged 2-litre engine. Similar to 1.6-litre FSI with the addition of alloy wheels.
  • 1.4-litre TFSI – Available from 2007-2013. Powered by a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine. Also adds fog lights.
  • 1.4-TFSI S-Line – Adds part leather sports seats, steering wheel controls for the stereo, 18-inch alloy wheels.
  • 2-litre TFSI – Powered by a 2-litre turbocharged engine. Adds paddle shifters for the transmission.
  • 1.8-litre TFSI – Powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine. Similar specifications to 1.4-litre TFSI.
  • 1.8-litre TFSI S-Line - Powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine. Similar specification to 1.4-TFSI S-Line
  • 2-litre TDI S – Same as 2-litre TFSI. Powered by a 2-litre turbocharged diesel engine.
  • Cabriolet – Based on the 1.8-litre TFSI S-Line with an electrically retractable convertible roof.
  • 3.2-litre Quattro – Powered by a 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine with standard all-wheel drive. Specification is similar to 1.8-litre TFSI S-line.


  • 2003 Launched as a three-door hatchback
  • 2004 More popular five-door hatchback launched
  • 2005 Facelift version launched
  • 2005 S-line version becomes available
  • 2007 1.8-litre turbocharged engine replaces 2-litre engine
  • 2008 Facelift version launched
  • 2008 Cabriolet version launched
  • 2013 Replaced by new model


Review vehicle

2008 Audi A3 1.8 TFSI S-line


$5,000 to $20,000 for models which have travelled 70,000 to 120,000km


1.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged, 118kW and 250NM


Six-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive

Safety rating

Five-star Used Car Safety Rating


15,000km or twelve months

Spare wheel

Space saver

Fuel economy

3.7-litres per 100km (claimed)

Fuel type








Towing capacity

670kg (unbraked), 1400kg (braked)

Turning circle


This review covers the Audi A3 for model years 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Review vehicle supplied by Turners Cars.

*Our insurance estimates are based on a 35-year-old male with no accidents in the last two years, garaging the car in Mission Bay, Auckland. The car is not used for business and will cover 10,000km to 20,000km a year. We estimate with no option add-ons and $500 excess. Customise your estimate at Trade Me Insurance.

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