For many people, the VW Golf is the go-to family hatchback, simply because it does pretty much everything very well. But it has stiff competition from the Audi A3, which shares many mechanical parts with the Golf. But which should you choose?
First things first – the A3 costs more than the Golf. The Audi’s four-ring badge carries a more premium air than VW’s, so this isn’t a surprise. So if having a premium brand is important to you and you can justify the extra cost then the Audi’s a better bet.
An entry-level A3 Sportback – that’s the five-door version – will set you back £21,805 at the time of writing. For that you get a 1.0-litre petrol engine with 115hp, a manual gearbox, satellite navigation, xenon headlights and rear parking sensors.
The entry-level five-door Golf costs £18,885 and also gets a 1.0-litre engine, but with 85hp. To get closer to the same power as the entry-level Audi you can get the Golf with the same 1.0-litre engine, but with a puncher 110hp. This costs £19,975 – still £1,850 less than the Audi. It doesn’t get satellite navigation as standard, but does get smartphone mirroring so you can use your phone’s navigation and media apps on the Golf’s screen and save paying for VW’s own sat-nav.
The Golf looks smart, but there’s no doubt that the Audi A3 Sportback looks posher and sharper, thanks to more stylish headlights and a more imposing front grille. Whereas the Golf looks understated, the A3 has fancy details that go some way to justifying its extra cost – the way the indicators appear to sweep out from the centre of the car as they light up is guaranteed to make you smile.
Interior quality in both cars is remarkably good, and both have soft-touch plastics across the dashboard that feel posher than anything you’d find in a Vauxhall Astra.
That said, the Golf’s interior design is more functional than eye-catching, and yes, the A3’s cabin feels more special. It’s more minimalist than the Golf’s, but the infotainment screen that rises up out of the dashboard does feel a bit old-school. Its graphics aren’t that great, but it’s controlled by a swivel wheel that’s easier to use on the move than the Golf’s touchscreen.
Despite that, the Golf’s system looks better than the A3’s, and menus at the bottom of the screen pop up as you wave your hand towards the screen – a cool magic trick that’s sure to entertain the kids for at least a minute.
Both cars have similarly generous rear headroom and legroom, so a pair of adults will fit in the back and won’t be left wanting for space. The view out of both cars is decent as well, so either is a good choice if you have kids who are prone to car sickness.
The Golf and A3 are alike in terms of boot space too – the five-door VW and A3 Sportback have the same 380-litre boot capacity. This means you’ll be able to fit a few suitcases and soft bags in the boot of each, or quite a few big boxes once you’ve flipped the rear seats down.
Both also have decent in-car storage and are easy to fit a child seat to.
The A3’s dead easy to drive – it’s easy to see out of, the steering’s not too heavy or light, the brakes are sharp but not grabby and it’s comfy over bumps. But it grips well in corners too – so you can drive it quickly if you like.
The Golf feels almost identical to drive – with a caveat. Lower-powered models such as the 1.6-litre diesel and 85hp 1.0-litre petrol get basic rear suspension that doesn’t iron out bumps so well as the independent rear suspension you get in higher powered models. All A3s get this fancier suspension setup.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol in the cheapest Audi A3 is nippy enough but it does grumble noisily when you accelerate. The 1.5-litre engine in the £1,000-cheaper Golf is smooth and faster, and will prove more economical because you don’t have to rev it so much to accelerate. If you’re after an A3 then it’s worth paying extra for this engine just because it feels more premium than the three-cylinder.
As you’d expect, both these cars feel very similar – and which is best largely comes down to how much you’re willing to pay for the Audi’s posher look and feel. The Golf gives you more for your money and will have lower monthly finance repayments than an equivalent A3 – and that’s why it wins this test.