Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3? If you’re searching for a family hatchback with a bit of class, it’s probably a question that’s crossed your mind.
Do you go for the Golf’s classless image and vast range of models and options, or spend a little extra to get those four rings on the bonnet and one of the classiest interiors this side of… well, a larger Audi?
Choosing isn’t easy, but carwow is here to help. We’ve trawled the expert reviews, stared at the stats and poured over the spec sheets to bring you all the details in our head-to-head guide. We can’t change personal preference, but if you’re looking at either car the information below could help you decide.
Put every generation of Volkswagen Golf side-by-side – we’re on the seventh now – and you’ll spot a clear lineage running through each car. From the Giugiaro-designed original to the sharp-suited seventh-generation car, each Golf shares distinct family DNA – and that distinct “Golfness” is really appealing to some buyers.
On the flip side, others may consider the Golf a little dull. There’s little doubt the latest car is an improvement on its predecessor, but isn’t a car you’ll be buying to stand out from the crowd.
The Audi isn’t massively outlandish, in fairness – you’ll not have failed to notice just how many A3s roam the roads these days. Like the Golf, it’s a handsome car and, while the A3 doesn’t quite have the heritage of the Golf, there are clear links between it and its mid-1990s ancestor.
The A3 is a little more aggressive than the Golf from the front, and a little more rounded at the rear. Whichever body style you choose – be it the three door, five-door Sportback, the Saloon or the elegant Cabriolet, it still exudes a classy image.
Just as the Golf’s exterior styling has evolved over time, so too has the interior. Quality has always remained high, the materials have always been soft-touch and the ergonomics always ruthlessly logical. There’s little in here to offend, but little to really excite either. Sportier models like the GTI are distinguished with the tartan cloth sports seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Where the Golf lacks a little style, the A3 oozes it from every internal fixture and trim material. From the ringed instruments to the contemporary design of the round air vents, the A3 has a minimalist design more akin to Audi’s TT coupe than a family hatchback. Everything operates with precision and of course, sharing its basic layout with the Golf, the ergonomics are equally good. Refinement in both cars is excellent, too.
What’s certainly apparent is the Golf is a large enough vehicle to swallow four full-sized adults in comfort, as well as the bits and pieces they might have brought along. The 380-litre boot is more than respectable for a car in this class – large enough to creep into the top ten largest family car boots.
As it sits on the same platform, perhaps unsurprisingly, the A3 offers similar levels of interior accommodation – at least in five-door Sportback form. Like the Golf, it has a 380-litre boot (for the record, so does the mechanically similar SEAT Leon), and is more than up to the task of transporting four adults. Pick the three-door model, though, and rear passengers have to clamber into the back in an undignified fashion, and the boot is marginally smaller at 365 litres.
Both cars are available in slightly more roomy forms, too. The Audi is available as a four door saloon, while the Golf Estate is the one to go for if load-lugging is a priority. Thanks to a 605-litre boot with a wide, square opening – in this form, the Golf is among the most practical wagons in the class.
As with most cars in the VW Group, engine choice is nearly identical between the two cars. Both are available with the same 1.6 and 2.0 diesel engines, as well as the 1.2 and 1.4 petrol range. Certain 1.4s also include cylinder deactivation technology to save fuel.
The Audi A3 does have exclusive rights (for the time being, at least) on the 1.8 TFSI petrol engine, but we’re not sure that’s such a good thing – it seems to be criticised in reviews for its engine noise and lack of smoothness. Gearboxes are also shared, both the Golf and the A3 offered with the same six-speed manual and seven-speed DSG/S-Tronic automatic gearbox, depending on which powerplant you go for.
The Golf wins if you’re looking at outright economy – VW’s 88.3 mpg Golf Bluemotion comfortably tops the mid-70s mpg that Audi’s 1.6 diesel models achieves. On performance, there’s less to choose between the two – the VW Golf R and Audi S3 quattro both offer 300hp and four-wheel drive, with a sub-5-second 0-60 mph sprint. VW offers the iconic GTI, too – to which there’s no real equivalent A3.
Conversely, for those looking for the most extreme performance, the Audi offers the only choice. The RS3 makes use of the wonderful 2.5-litre turbocharged unit. With 372hp on tap, it’ll hit 62mph from rest in just 4.3 seconds, and the five-cylinder layout – which harks back to Audi’s rich rallying heritage – sounds brilliant, too.
Both VW and Audi offer a plug-in hybrid variant of each car – Volkswagen fields the Golf GTE and Audi the A3 e-tron. Each has an identical petrol/electric power unit, offering 204hp and official fuel economy in the 188mpg range. Both are fast, refined and able to travel in electric-only mode for about 31 miles – ideal for city driving or if your daily commute is mostly within the city boundaries. They are both fairly expensive, and the claimed fuel economy will be near impossible to match, but the hybrid system makes for a fast, frugal and refined everyday proposition.
There is a pure electric e-Golf which makes do with an electric motor and battery pack. This accelerates briskly in town and claims to be able to cover 118 miles on a charge. If you don’t cover great milages this is a fantastic way to effectively end your fuel costs.
Read reviews of either the Golf or the A3, and predictably each fares similarly. That is to say, each delivers a very competent drive, but neither quite has the handling prowess of the much-praised Ford Focus. Competency and stability is high, fun and feedback is a little lower.
Neither car holds any significant advantage over the other here. Reviewers describe the Golf as having a more compliant ride quality than its predecessor, a complement also levelled at the Audi. The Audi, though, is susceptible to the trim level you choose – the popular S Line models feature stiffer suspension and larger wheels that don’t really improve the handling but do harm its ride over rough surfaces. This can be de-specified for no extra cost and, in the UK, we’d recommend it.
On the Golf, lower-end models can also introduce a little more jiggle, since they use a cheaper and less sophisticated rear suspension setup. On the Audi, testers reckon Sportback models – that’s the five-door – ride a little better than the three-door cars.
Road, wind and tyre noise is suppressed in each car in a manner that wouldn’t be out of place in a luxury car. And all the controls operate with a well-oiled smoothness that make both cars easy to drive whether you’re cruising down a motorway or zipping around town.
Value for money
Take a guess, and you may assume the Audi, with its more upmarket image, costs significantly more than the Golf. It’s true that the Golf is cheaper, but the gulf isn’t as wide as you may expect. In some cases, it’s even reversed.
Take the 150hp, 2.0 diesel found in each car, for example. A five-door Golf in Match trim will set you back £22,905, while a A3 Sportback SE costs just £22,795. As they are powered by the same engine, performance, economy and road tax are identical for each. Essentially, both offer very similar levels of equipment, yet the more prestigious Audi costs £110 less. By the time you get to Golf R and Audi S3, the difference is reversed back in favour of the cheaper VW – although there’s still less than a grand between each, model-for-model.
Where the Golf hits back is it offers a cheaper entry-level price – £17,175 versus £18,575 for the A3 – and in offering a wider range of models, such as the aforementioned Bluemotion and GTI. Golfs aren’t cheap these days, but there’s still one to suit nearly every budget and requirement.
If you turn to our aggregated carwow wowscores alone, the Golf is the winner here. Since going on sale, it’s accrued an average wowscore of 8.8 out of 10 – the A3 Sportback manages 8.5 and the three-door car a lower 7.6. That’s not to say the Audi is a worse car, but the Golf has made quite a stride over its predecessor whereas the A3 has only mildly evolved.
What’s clear is that buying either car will probably come down to subjective criteria in the end, as there’s very little to separate either car on running costs, performance or even price. Audi still has the better badge, VW the wider range of models, Audi the neater interior and VW the iconic GTI badge.
Our choice? We’d be swayed by fringe VW models like the Golf GTI, GTE, or Bluemotion – but if you’re opting for a regular TDI or TSI engine and a mid-level trim, we’d suggest you take a look at the Audi – you might be able to pick up an A3 for just a few quid a month extra.
Want to know more?
If you’d like to know more about either car, then take a look at our detailed reviews of both the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. Then, head over to our car configurator to see how much you could save on you next car and check out our deals page for our latest discounts.