Tidy handling, a simple-to-use cabin and interfaces, good build quality, a solid ride, and pleasing steering.
Compact luxury sedan
The so-called 8V generation of the compact Audi A3 hit Canadian roads in 2014 as a 2015 model, and has now been on the scene for over four years. An entry model, this generation of the A3 offered shoppers access to signature Audi technologies and design, available Quattro AWD, and a variety of engines, with compact sizing and relatively affordable pricing.
Feature content may include a sunroof, premium audio provisions, a fully digital “Virtual Cockpit” instrument cluster, Bluetooth, automatic multi-zone climate control, the MMI multimedia interface, automatic lights, heated leather seating, push-button ignition, and plenty more. A full driver computer, multifunction steering wheel and premium lighting provisions were also on board. Ditto a back-up camera.
Trim grades included Komfort, Progressiv, and Technik, representing basic, mid-grade and top-line variants, respectively.
This generation A3 offered up numerous engine choices, but fairly limited driveline options. Both a 2.0L turbodiesel four-cylinder (designated TDI) and a 1.8L turbocharged gasoline engine (designated 1.8T) were on offer. The TDI engine offered up 140 horsepower (and nearly 260 lb-ft of torque), with the 1.8L gas engine developing about 170 horsepower. Both of these engines were available exclusively with front-wheel drive.
The popular 2.0L turbocharged gas engine (220 horsepower) could be specified, and was the only engine option available in conjunction with the Quattro AWD system. Put simply, if you’re after a Quattro-equipped A3, you’ll need to opt for one with the 2.0T powerplant. All models got an automatic transmission with manual mode.
What Owners Like
Tidy handling, a simple-to-use cabin and interfaces, good build quality, a solid ride, and pleasing steering are noted by owners, as well as a good all-around blending of affordability and feature content. Owners of TDI-powered models rave about great fuel efficiency, and most owners say the A3 feels safe, planted, solid, and sturdy.
What Owners Dislike
Common complaints include tight rear-seat provisions, the initial learning curve to some of the controls and interfaces, the lack of availability with a manual transmission, and a curiously large turning circle.
Here are some owner reviews.
Is it big enough? As a small four-door, A3 shoppers are advised to confirm acceptance of the space in all seats for all occupants, and to confirm that the A3’s trunk space will accommodate their needs. If you’re dead-set on an Audi A3 but need a little more room, a roof-mounted cargo carrier can be added on the relative cheap for more versatility. Also, note that leggier front-seat passengers may accidentally operate the volume control knob with their knee, as it’s strangely located on the passenger side of the centre console.
Here’s Your Test Drive To-Do List
Check All Tires and Wheels
When approaching any used Audi A3, be sure to inspect all tires and wheels closely for signs of damage. Use a flashlight to inspect the inward-facing tire sidewall and wheel-rim surface, as well as the outer. Cracks, splits, or rips in the tire sidewall, as well as denting, scraping, cracking, or deformation of the rims are a problem, possibly caused by pothole damage. Though this is a possibility on any vehicle, some A3 owners have reported that the sportier (up-sized) wheels, in combination with low-profile tires, may be vulnerable to pothole damage. Here’s some more reading.
Note that damage similar to that shown in the initial photo at the link warrants immediate replacement of the affected tires. If possible, and especially if you live in a locale with poorly-maintained roads, avoid a model with the big wheels and thin tires. Also, run your hand over the sidewall surface (inner and outer) of all four tires, feeling for bumps and bubbles, possibly about the size of a halved golf-ball. These bubbles, if present, are a sign of damage that should be assessed by a professional, and likely requires tire replacement.
Though reports are relatively rare and sporadic, some owners have reported coolant loss, possibly accompanied by a visible coolant leak or coolant puddle, from some A3 variants from this generation. Confirm that coolant levels are satisfactory, asking a technician for help if required. Further, continue to monitor coolant levels, as per the instructions in the owner’s manual, on a regular basis. If detected, coolant loss or coolant leaks are typically traced to a bad water pump, or a faulty overflow tank. Neither issue is massively expensive to fix, and both should be covered by remaining warranty coverage if applicable.
Dealers have access to Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs), like Audi TSB #2039777/3, which are issued by Audi to help technicians diagnose and repair the problem quickly. For maximum peace of mind, ensure that any service work to the cooling system is carried out only by an Audi trained technician. Further, during ownership, note that a “coolant level” warning or “engine overheat” warning is an instruction to pull over immediately and check the owner’s manual for further instructions. Driving a vehicle that’s overheating or low on coolant can quickly cause extensive engine damage.
For various reasons, A3 owners from this generation have reported often-frustrating water leaks, which may result in visible dampness on the carpeting at various locations in the vehicle. Shoppers are advised to press their hand into all carpeted surfaces, and especially around the edges of the vehicle’s floor, next to the door sills. Reported causes vary, and may include a leak from the A3’s climate control system, a leak from a sunroof drain tube, or a leak through a plastic or rubber sealing grommet that passes through the A3’s floor. Water leaks of this nature should be addressed as soon as possible, ideally by an Audi technician.
In minutes, an Audi technician can link a piece of diagnostic equipment to the A3 you’re considering and preform an electronic scan of a multitude of vehicle systems and features, including safety systems, powertrain components, and more. This scan is likely performed on the buyer’s dime, during a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) at an Audi dealer. It’s the single best way to quickly, comprehensively and effectively reveal any potentially hidden problems with the A3’s advanced electronic systems. Consider this scan to be well worth your investment, as it’s an extremely effective way to confirm the overall health of the vehicle, and to reveal any possible problems that may not be apparent. Note that a vehicle sold as part of an Audi Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program has likely had this scan performed, and any detected issues addressed, before the vehicle is offered up for sale.
Though the TDI engine used in this generation of A3 is too new to ascertain any solid reliability information or pre-purchase checks, shoppers may wish to consider having the engine’s fuel system (pump, lines, etc.) and emissions system checked visually, and via a diagnostic scan, by an Audi technician before their purchase, for maximum peace of mind.
If one or more smartphones or similar devices will be hooked up to your A3 for communication or media playback, bring them along for the test drive, connect each one, and confirm proper functionality. Most modern cars can, at times, be fussy about consistently connecting to certain devices, and you’ll want to find any issues before you buy. Note that issues with compatibility can typically be resolved with updated dealer-installed software, or a hard reset of the system – but may also require pricey component replacement. Here’s some more reading.
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Pay close attention to the transmission on the A3 you’re considering and be on the lookout for possible trouble signs, including a shuddering or hesitation sensation, or any sign that the transmission is having trouble smoothly and quickly engaging the proper gear for the situation. Though most A3 owners have not reported transmission-related issues, shoppers should be aware that problems like those listed above are typically remedied with the installation of revised software applied to the vehicle’s computer brain. Do not attempt to effect some “reset” of the transmission (or any other computer-controlled system), by unplugging and reconnecting the battery.
Other Useful Information
Bring the VIN
Provide the VIN number of the A3 you’re considering to a service advisor at an Audi dealer and ask whether any software updates or recall campaigns may be outstanding. Software updates can address or prevent possible issues with a multitude of vehicle components, fixing issues with anything from battery drain to poor fuel mileage to hard shifting from the transmission, and more. Recall campaigns involve some corrective action performed by the dealer, free of charge, to address issues that may affect vehicle safety. Just remember that a dealer may require consent of the vehicle’s owner to look up recall or software update information if you visit before buying the vehicle.
Avoid Modified Models
Like many sporty, turbocharged cars, Audi A3 is a popular candidate for modification. Though some modifications are safe, others can cause problems, negatively affect the durability of engaged components, and may even void remaining warranty coverage. Shoppers are strongly advised to avoid purchasing a used A3 that’s running (or has ever run) a chip, tune, or power programmer, designed to turn up the boost from the A3’s turbocharger for more power: this type of upgrade typically voids any remaining powertrain warranty, even if the part or software is removed before a warranty claim is made.
Use the Good Stuff
According to informal discussions with numerous technical experts in the industry, we offer the following information for potential A3 owners to consider: first, fuel up using premium gasoline of the grade specified in the A3’s owner’s manual. Many owners and experts suggest running Shell V-Power fuel wherever possible, as it contains no ethanol. Second, reduce specified spark plug change intervals by a few thousand kilometres, and replace the A3’s plugs at or before this shortened interval for maximum peace of mind, as well as some potential indirect protection against long-term valve-gunk buildup. Finally, observe all fluid change intervals, including engine oil change intervals, and have fluids changed not a moment later than advised for maximum long-haul peace of mind.
By and large, the A3 owners community seem to love their cars, with most owners reporting few if any issues. Larger issues should be easy to detect, and aren’t reported with enough frequency against overall sales volume to warrant much concern. For peace of mind, have the A3 you’re considering inspected by an Audi technician before you buy, or opt for a model sold via Audi’s CPO program. Buying a used A3 from a private seller without a PPI is not advised. A healthy used model with a thumbs-up from a technician should prove largely worry free for years to come.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Top Safety Pick +
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (2016)