Both the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf are great all-rounders and deliver levels of quality a step beyond the majority of their rivals, too. The Audi, updated for 2016, gains a stronger engine lineup than ever before and more in car tech than previous versions, too.
Despite its supposedly less premium badge, the Golf shares many of the same components under the skin. So which is the better choice? We compare the two side-by-side to find out.
Audi A3 vs VW Golf styling
The Audi A3 has long been a popular choice with car buyers, thanks mainly to crisp, smart styling that’s easy on the eye and offends no one. The new-for-2016 model’s grille is sharper and slightly wider, and the bumper has been reprofiled. Likewise, the headlights are slightly more angular than before and include xenon tech as standard, with even brighter LED units optionally available.
At the back, a deep rear bumper, according to Audi, emphasise the car’s width, as do the slim tail lights. It all adds up to an undeniably classy-looking product. Whether you choose the standard three-door, the five-door Sportback, the Saloon or the Cabriolet, the same qualities present themselves.
From the outside, the Golf offers many similar plus points to the A3 – clean lines and understated styling impart a feeling of expense, yet the understated looks don’t make a fuss about it. Some might suggest, however, that the VW is perhaps a little too understated – its looks border on the plain dull, particularly when equipped with smaller alloy wheels.
Audi A3 vs VW Golf interior
If there’s one area of the A3 which receives almost universal praise, it’s the cabin. The contemporary, minimalist theme not only puts many much more expensive cars to shame, but the fit and finish is first rate, too. Advanced technology, such as the fantastic Virtual Cockpit display and wireless phone charging further help sweeten the deal.
The Golf, when compared to more mainstream rivals, feels a huge step up in terms of quality. The build quality, too, stands up well against the Audi but, much like the outside, some might feel it looks a little ordinary. Nevertheless, both cars offer excellent comfort and ergonomics making them easy to use on the move.
Audi A3 vs VW Golf practicality
Boot and cabin space are almost inseparable between the two. Each offers reasonable room for for inside (five at a push) while both cars’ boots measure 380 litres. Getting into the three-door A3’s back seats is a little more of a faff, while the boot shrinks marginally to 365 litres.
The Golf wins out on the practicality front though, courtesy of the estate model. In this shape, it offers an enormous 606-litre load bay, which can be accessed easily through a wide, low opening.
Audi A3 vs VW Golf engines
Both cars hail from the Volkswagen Group umbrella so share a number of the same engines within their respective ranges. The Golf, however, has a slightly broader range of choice at the lower end of the spectrum.
Three petrol and three diesel units make up the A3’s lineup – the cheapest of which is the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol. This 113hp unit is also available in the Golf, where it combines impressive acceleration with a claimed 65.7mpg. A 1.4-litre unit is available further up each range (in several power outputs) and features cylinder-on-demand tech to help save fuel.
A selection of 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel engines are shared between the two, with the smaller unit achieving a deeply impressive 83.1mpg in official tests. The most frugal models, at least on paper, are the plug-in hybrid variants. The A3 e-tron and Golf GTE share the same 1.4-litre petrol engine and electric motor combination to deliver a claimed 176.6mpg (166.2mpg for the Golf) and a pure electric range of 31 miles.
If performance is more your thing, both have you covered. The Golf GTI is a hot hatch icon but the Golf R, thanks to 300hp and four-wheel drive, offers even more devastating acceleration. The S3 and RS3, however, have the Golf covered in a straight line sprint – the former offers 306hp to match the the Golf R, while the extreme RS3 produces a whopping 362hp achieving 0-62mph in just 4.2 seconds. The noise from the 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is wonderful, too.
Audi A3 vs VW Golf driving
Both the A3 and the Golf ride on the same platform as the SEAT Leon, Audi TT Roadster and Skoda Superb so, as a result, boast many of the same strengths. Refinement in either car is among the class best, meaning both make very comfortable motorway cruisers. All the controls operate with a study, reassuring feel, which helps to inspire confidence whether pottering around town or on open roads.
Ride comfort, particularly in the Audi, is dependant on trim level and wheel size. S-Line models, equipped with wheels of up to 19 inches in diameter, can feel a little jiggly at low speeds but, in general, the Audi feels about as settled as the smooth-riding Golf. With similar strengths come the same minor flaws, though. The pair handle with stability and security, but neither feels as agile as the Mazda 3 or the BMW 1 Series.
The exceptions come with the sporting models. The S3 and RS3 offer almost unbeatable cross-country pace, but it’s the sporty Golfs that shine even brighter. The GTI is playful, well-balanced and brilliant fun to drive, while the R offers many of the same qualities but at an even more knuckle-whitening speed.
Audi A3 vs VW Golf value for money
Given the Audi’s more upmarket image, one would expect it to be the more expensive car and, across much of the range, it is. The e-tron hybrid, for example, costs around £1,600 more than the equivalent Golf GTE, while the S3 is undercut by the Golf R by several hundred pounds.
However, lower down the ranges the same doesn’t always apply. The basic diesel models in each range are very similarly priced indeed and, in some cases, the Audi – despite offering largely similar equipment levels – is even cheaper. In terms of fuel economy, performance and road tax costs, like for like engines in each range deliver almost identical costs and figures, so your wallet won’t determine your choice here.
The Golf, courtesy of a less powerful entry-level model, offers the cheapest price overall. At £17,595, it’s around £1,300 cheaper than the most basic A3. The fire-breathing RS3 sits at the top of the hill costing from £38,500.
Audi A3 vs VW Golf verdict
Based purely on wowscores, the Golf just edges the A3, with a score of 8.8 out of 10 versus 8.5. Based on price and ability, however, there is so little to separate the pair that your choice will probably come down to personal preference. We reckon the Audi has the more desirable badge and a better interior in its favour, while the Golf offers more choice.
Comparing the hot hatch options, the Golf ekes out a clearer advantage. The Golf R isn’t just better than the equivalent S3, but it’s one of the best all-round performance cars of any type on sale today – especially with the superbly practical estate body.
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