The earlier generations of Audi A3 were manufactured from 1996 to 2013 under the A-series platform for small family/subcompact executive cars, Volkswagen Group’s most prolific platform. This was the same platform used for Audi Q3, Audi TT, VW VW Golf, VW Jetta, VW Tiguan, VW Touran, SEAT Altea, and SEAT León, to name a few.
From 2013 onwards, the production of the third-generation Audi A3 was based on a more flexible platform—the MQB platform—which Volkswagen uses for the assembly of its various cars from super-mini to mid-size.
The production of Audi A3 marked the return of Volkswagen to small cars manufacturing after almost two decades. Per Volkswagen’s description of the different cars they build, A-series models are small family cars, B-series are mid-size cars, while C-series are extended mid-size executive cars.
This period also ushered in Volkswagen’s new nomenclature system. In the B- and C-series, the names of the Audi cars were based on the car’s nominal power in PS (such as Audi 80 and Audi 100). The A-series and the succeeding models were named differently.
The letter “A” in Audi A3 refers to hatchbacks and sedans. The number “3” signifies the size of the car relative to other Audi models in the same body style. Thus, an Audi A3 would be bigger than an Audi A1 but smaller than an Audi A8. Different letters would be used for other car/body types.
1st Generation: A-series platform, Typ 8L (1996-2003)
The first-generation A3 was a 3-door hatchback. It was available in front-wheel and four-wheel drives, with transversely-mounted inline 4-cylinder engines. It was designed by Belgian car designer Dirk van Braeckel to look like a sporty VW Golf, but what happened was it looked like the precursor of the 4th-generation VW Golf which came out one year after the A3’s launching.
The Audi A3 was internally coded as Typ 8L and was manufactured and marketed from 1996 to 2003. The 5-door variant later became available. It was given restyled interiors and new headlights and rear lamps. Three years after it was launched, the A3 had the following upgrades and versions:
1. 1.8L turbo engine; power rated at 180 PS (132 kW)
2. 1.9L TDI diesel engine using Pumpe Düse technology and a variable-geometry turbocharger
3. 1.8T Quattro 4-cyl turbocharged inline transverse front-engine; available in 150 PS (110 kW) and 180 PS (132 kW); non-permanent all-wheel drive; 5-speed manual
4. 1.8L Turbo 20v turbo engine; 6-speed manual transmission; power rated at 180 PS (132 kW)
5. 1.9L TDI inline 4-cyl diesel engine; 6-speed manual transmission; power rated at 130 PS (96 kW)
As to safety to adult occupants, the A3 was rated 4 out of 5 by the Euro NCAP. One star was removed due to the hazards presented by the column lock, adjuster lever, and bracket to the driver’s knee area. It scored 2 out of 4 for lack of protective features to pedestrians.
In accordance with the new VW nomenclature, “S” refers to a sports model. So the Audi S3 was the sports variant of the A3 hatchback. It was initially available as a 3-door hatchback. It was fitted with a 1.8L inline 4-cyl 20v turbocharged petrol engine, available in 210 PS (154 kW) and 225 PS (165 kW), 4-wheel drive.
In 2002, the S3 underwent some cosmetic facelifts, both exterior and interior, including one-piece headlights and indicator units, restyled front wings, and other redesigned trims.
2nd Generation: A-series platform, Typ 8P (2003-2013)
The second-generation Audi A3 (Typ 8P) was designed by Gary Telaak and launched in 2003. The following were the three variants offered:
Audi A3 Base Design
The base A3 was initially launched in 2003 as a 3-door hatchback (coded as Typ 8P1). It was modified with a more spacious interior than the earlier models. Several engines were available for the 3-door A3 including new petrol engines with fuel-stratified injection and 6-speed manual transmission. Two years after its launching, it received a facelift including the sporty S-line trims of the Sportback and the Cabriolet.
Several upgraded versions became available after the initial release, such as:
1. 2.0L Turbo-FSI engine rated at 200 PS (147 kW); with options for quattro on-demand 4-wheel drive and semi-automatic transmission
2. 3.2L VR6 engine rated at 250 PS (184 kW); comes with quattro 4-wheel drive and option for semi-automatic transmission
Audi A3 Sportback
The A3 Sportback, coded as Typ 8PA, was a 5-door sporty hatchback. It was introduced in 2004, and in 2005, it became the first second-generation A3 that reached the North American market. The sporty A3 was 8 centimeters longer than the 3-door base design. It had a more spacious luggage compartment and rear cabin space. It was the first A3 variant to wear the single-frame front grille that would later become the restyled grille for all A3 models.
The version for North America was initially produced with the base A3 2.0 inline-4 FSI engine, but the 3.2 VR6 quattro was also offered later.
The second-generation Audi S3 came out in 2006, and was available in 3- and 5-door hatchbacks. It was powered by a 2.0L turbocharged FSI petrol engine rated for 265 PS (195 kW), Quattro 4-wheel drive, and offered for 6-speed MT and 6-speed S-tronic AT.
Audi A3 Cabriolet
In 2008, the A3 Cabriolet (coded as Typ 8P7) was introduced to the market. It was a 2-door convertible similar in size to the 3-door base A3 and came in a two-box design.
The Cabriolet received S-line trims and upgrades as the A3 Cabriolet Sport Final Edition in 2013. It marked the final production of the A3 Cabriolet. Modifications included automatic activation for headlights and wipers, Bluetooth interface, front-seat heating, and leather upholstery, among many changes.
RS 3 Sportback
The “RS” designation in the A3-derivative RS 3 Sportback refers to Racing Sport. It was produced in 2011 until 2012 and was powered by a 2.5L 5-cyl turbocharged engine with a power rating of 340 PS (250 kW). It was fitted with 7-speed S-tronic gearbox, quattro on-demand 4-wheel drive system.
3rd Generation: MQB platform, Typ 8V (2013-present)
The third-generation Audi A3 cars (coded as Typ 8V) were the first vehicles to be produced under the MQB system. They were introduced to the European market in 2012 in four variants:
1. 3-door hatchback
2. 5-door Sportback
3. 4-door sedan/saloon
4. 2-door Cabriolet
The new A3 featured:
1. Radar-guided collision avoidance system
2. In-car multi-media interface
3. 4G broadband internet
4. Adaptive cruise control (ACC)
5. Lane departure warning system
6. Blind spot monitor
Audi A3 Sedan/Saloon
The third-generation A3 sedan/saloon was the first sedan in the A3 series. It came out in 2013 featuring a slightly wider body than the Sportback variant, but slightly lower, too.
For the German and UK markets, the initial models were available in the following engine versions:
1. 1.4L TFSI; with output power of 140 PS (103 kW)
2. 1.8L TFSI; with output power of 180 PS (132 kW)
3. 2.0L TDI; with output power of 150 PS (110 kW)
Audi A3 Sportback
The A3 Sportback came back under the MQB platform, and it was longer by 35 mm than the second-generation version. It also had a wheelbase that was 58 mm longer and a front axle that was moved forward by 40 mm. It was available in thirteen body colors, 6-speed MT gearbox for all engine models with S-tronic option, and 16” or 17” wheels with 18” option. The engine versions were:
1. 1.4L TFSI; with output power of 122 PS (90 kW)
2. 1.8L TFSI; with output power of 180 PS (132 kW)
3. 1.8L TFSI quattro; with output power of 180 PS (132 kW)
4. 1.2L TFSI; with output power of 105 PS (77 kW)
5. 1.4L TFSI; with output power of 140 PS (103 kW)
6. 2.0L TDI; with output power of 150 PS (110 kW)
7. 2.0L TDI quattro; with output power of 150 PS (110 kW)
8. 2.0L TDI; with output power of 184 PS (135 kW)
The third-generation S3 was produced in sedan, hatchback, Sportback, and Cabriolet variants. It was powered by 2.0L TFSI inline-4 engine with a power rating of 300 PS (221 kW). It had a top speed of 249 kilometers per hour.
RS 3 Sportback and Sedan
The third-generation RS 3 was produced in two variants, but it initially came out with only the RS 3 Sportback. It was made available to the market in 2015, while the sedan variant only became available in 2017. The RS 3 was powered by a 2.5L straight-5 engine, 7-speed S-tronic gearbox, and quattro all-wheel drive, with a power rating of 367 PS (270 kW).
Two decades after the first Audi 3 rolled off from the production lines, major facelifts were given to its third-generation siblings. These modifications included:
1. LED headlights similar to the A8 sedan and R8 supercar
2. Restyled front grille
3. New LED treatment on the taillights
4. Updated interiors
World Car of the Year
In 2014, the Audi A3 bested its rivals Mazda 3 and BMW 4 series, and won the World Car of the Year (WCOTY) award at the New York International Auto Show.
Get the latest news and insights about the automotive industry, learn about car maintenance, and find the auto parts that you need at CarPart!
By Patrick Lumontod