Audi A3 vs VW Golf – Side by Side UK Comparison

James Allen / April 10, 2013

With Volkswagen presiding over a phenomenally large automotive empire – no less than eight active car brands are currently sheltered under the VAG umbrella – it was only a matter of time before sibling rivalry began to emerge.

Such unintentional, in-house head-to-heads have been going on for years now, but arguably the most prominent current duel is the one between two of the VW Group’s expected best sellers – the Audi A3 and VW Golf.

As a result, we believe the time is right to compare these two family hatchback step-sisters...

Drivetrain

Volkswagen Golf exterior

As with most cars in the VW Group, a majority of the engines that are available in the Audi and the Volkswagen are identical to each other.

For instance, both cars are available with the same 1.6 and 2.0 diesel engines, as well as the 1.2 and 1.4 petrol range, the latter of which includes the variant with cylinder deactivation technology.

The Audi A3, though, does have exclusive rights (for the time being, at least) on the 1.8 TFSI petrol engine.

The same transmission choice options are also shared, with the Golf and the A3 both being offered with the same six-speed manual and seven-speed ‘DSG’/’S-Tronic’ automatic transmission, depending on which powerplant you go for.

Audi A3 exterior

And, to top it all off, both cars use an almost identical version of the new, modular MQB platform, which will be altered to underpin a vast majority of the VW Group’s mainstream car catalogue.

In fact, the only big difference lies in the suspension – all sub-150bhp Golfs come with a more cost-effective torsion beam unit at the back, whilst the rest of the range gets the same multi-link rear suspension setup that all A3s come with as standard.

Judging by what the critics who’ve reviewed the new Golf say, though, that the torsion beam’s deficiencies to the multi-link’s when it comes to ride and handling don’t appear to be that noticeable out on the open road.

Interior

Volkswagen Golf interior

Ever since the days of the Mk 4 Golf, the plucky little Volkswagen has been the thorn in the A3’s side when it comes to matching the Audi for overall build quality.

Indeed, the Mk 7 Golf’s overall fit-and-finish is exemplary for the class standard, with some testers going as far to say it “puts some cars in the class above to shame”.

As admirable as Volkswagen’s efforts have been, though, Audi’s managed to keep the Vee-Dub at bay.

Audi A3 interior

The overall design may be a tad too minimalist for some, and the quality gap between the Golf and the A3 isn’t exactly vast, but the general consensus is that very few rivals come close to matching the Audi for interior opulence.

There are also some novel features that help elevate the A3 beyond the realms of the Golf, such as the multimedia display unit that rises out from the top of the dashboard.

Value for money

Volkswagen Golf technology

With the general consensus being that Audi is a more up-market brand than Volkswagen, you’d think the A3 would retail for considerably more money than the Golf. However, whilst the Audi does charge a higher premium, a closer look at the price lists reveals there isn’t much difference between the two when it comes to how much they cost to buy.

At time of writing, the most affordable A3 on sale is the three-door, 105bhp 1.2 petrol variant, fitted with a six-speed manual transmission and in the boggo ‘SE’ trim specification, which comes in at an OTR price of £17,905

In comparison, the cheapest equivalent Golf model comes in at £17,295 (though a less powerful, 85bhp version of the same 1.2 engine is also available in the VW’s range at an entry price of £16,285).

Not even adding an extra set of apertures does much to separate the duo, as the fees to turn your Golf and A3 into a five-door or a Sportback are £655 and £620 respectively.

Audi A3 technology

Like-for-like for a majority of the time, though, it’s the A3 that’s the more expensive of the duo, especially for the models that are fitted with the top-spec ‘S-Line’ trim (Golfs in the equivalent ‘GT’ trim tend to be considerably cheaper).

The only big exception to that rule, though, is with regards to the Golf when it has the 1.4 cylinder-deactivation engine fitted. Not only are the Golf GT and A3 S-Line versions almost identical when it comes to RRP (£22,960 for the VW versus £23,430 for the Audi), but – as this engine isn’t restricted to the top trim level in the A3 range, unlike the Golf’s – you can equip an entry-level A3 with this nifty new engine for a whisker over £20k.

Which leaves you with a nice £2,000 or so to either save away for a rainy day, or use to fit your sparsely-specified Audi hatch with a few nice options...

The hot versions

Volkswagen Golf GTI

As is the mainstay with most hatchbacks nowadays, a performance-orientated flagship adorns the current Golf and A3 ranges, with the GTI and S3 models respectively.

In fact, it’s with these hot hatch models that the Golf and A3 ranges are at their most different from each other. And, as Audi has yet to confirm any official prices for the S3, we can finally stop ranting on about how similar their OTR RRPs are.

Though both cars come straight out of the box with 2.0 turbocharged engines, the referenced power figures for both cars couldn’t be more different – whilst the Golf GTI in its most powerful ‘Performance Pack’ guise churns out a not-inconsiderable 220bhp, its Audi half-sibling monsters that with a claimed 296bhp.

Audi S3 Sportback

And, whilst the top-tier GTI and the S3 share the same 155mph top speed, the Audi’s claimed 0-62mph time of 5 seconds comprehensively trounces the 6.5 seconds VW quotes for the hot Golf.

Going on Volkswagen history, there’ll almost certainly be a more potent ‘R’ version joining the range sometime soon to rain on Audi’s parade. For the time being, though, the S3 has the GTI will and truly top trumped.

Conclusion

Volkswagen Golf badge

Choosing a clear winner between such closely matched cars will always be incredibly difficult. In fact, the only model that’s clearly superior from a statistic perspective to its arch nemesis is the GTI-rivalling S3. Which – if we’re honest – isn’t exactly the A3 variant that’ll be lighting up the sales charts anytime soon...

Judging by the critics’ opinions, it’s the Golf that has the clear edge over the A3. However, having experienced both cars ourselves, we’re pretty satisfied and impressed overall with both the Audi and the VW, and the differences between the two certainly aren’t as apparent as their respective, review-aggregated buzzScores suggest.

Audi A3 badge

In all fairness, personal preference will be the big deciding factor for this head-to-head; when both cars can be praised for pretty much the exact same merits, it’s really down to whether you’d rather have an Audi or a Volkswagen on your drive, and whether the ever-so-slight premium most of the A3 range has over the Golf is worth it.

Check out our full guide to the new Audi A3 and our guide to the new VW Golf

Considering buying a new A3 or Golf? Save around £2,000 and compare dealer prices and buy from an official Audi or VW dealer. Audi A3 saving or VW Golf saving.
 

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