Audi A3 1.8T (1996 – 2003), tirelessly chic, from €2,500

Apparue en 1996, l

We did not immediately understand the importance of the Audi A3, when it was released at the end of 1996. Indeed, the VW Golf III was selling very well, already benefiting from a premium side as we did not say not yet, so we wondered what was the point of the Ingolstadt car. In fact, at the time, the A3 inaugurated the Group’s PQ34 platform VWwhich will later equip the Golf IV and the Seat León.

It's crazy to think that the first Audi A3 came out 26 years ago: it doesn't look its age.  Was it that far ahead, or have the builders since been sorely lacking in imagination?  Here, on its production line.
It’s crazy to think that the first Audi A3 came out 26 years ago: it doesn’t look its age. Was it that far ahead, or have the builders since been sorely lacking in imagination? Here, on its production line.

It is therefore more modern than its Wolfsburg cousin, much better drawn and benefits from a superior finish. It’s not the first chic compact, since the Lancia Delta cleared the segment in 1979, but the Audi very skilfully renews the genre. By its seductive design first, due to the Belgian Dirk van Braeckel to whom we will later have the Bentley Continental GT. Then by its large choice of engines from the launch, including the famous TDi blocks in diesel, and in gasoline the excellent 1.8 l appeared in 1983.

Modernized, it is topped with a very original cylinder head with 5 valves per cylinder, something unique at this level of the range. Developing 125 hp in atmosphere, it increases to 150 hp once boosted by a turbo. A power not impressive, but here, the 1.8 l turbo engine has been worked for maximum flexibility. Thus, the maximum torque of 210 Nm is obtained at the very low speed of 1,750 rpm. As the car weighs only 1,145 kg, the performance is interesting: 217 km/h maximum, for a 0 to 100 km/h run in 8.1 s. As standard, the 1.8T receives a manual 5-speed gearbox, a 4-speed automatic being offered as an option.

The 1.8T engine of the Audi A3 already equips the A4 released two years earlier, in 1994. It is powerful and reliable, but a little greedy.
The 1.8T engine of the Audi A3 already equips the A4 released two years earlier, in 1994. It is powerful and reliable, but a little greedy.

The 150 hp is only available in a superior Ambiente finish, including ABS, of course, but also auto air conditioning, alloy wheels, Sport chassis and Alcantara upholstery. It is displayed at 158,900 F, or 33,600 € today. In 1997, the A3 1.8T was available in Ambition, a more upscale variant with equipment enriched with leather upholstery, a car radio, cruise control and even Sport seats. At 181,700 F (current €37,800 according to INSEE), it is expensive. And yet! The A3s are selling very well, so much so that a waiting list is forming. Subsequently, Audi will raise prices without it hindering commercial success.

In 1999, the Audi A3 was available in 5 doors: one wonders why this body did not appear before.
In 1999, the Audi A3 was available in 5 doors: one wonders why this body did not appear before.

In 1999, a 1.8T 180 hp 180 hp 6-box was offered, in traction or Quattro, and a 5-door body appeared. At the end of 2000, the A3 was slightly restyled and saw its endowment progress. Indeed, the ESP comes standard, wooden applications adorn the dashboard. The Ambition is also fitted with a parking aid and a 6-CD changer in the trunk. Furthermore, a 5-speed Tiptronic auto box replaces the old 4-speed unit. At the end of 2003, the first generation A3, coded 8L, bowed out.

At the end of 2000, the Audi underwent a slight restyling, notable for example with the new headlamps.
At the end of 2000, the Audi underwent a slight restyling, notable for example with the new headlamps.

How much does it cost ?

An A3 1.8T in good condition can be found from €2,000, with more than 200,000 km. Better to add 500 € to get a better copy, sticking to 150,000 km. At 3,500 €, you can find a 180 hp with equivalent mileage, and by adding another 1,000 €, a well-equipped Quattro is available to you. A car with 60,000 km can claim €7,500 in perfect condition.

During restyling, the central part of the taillights became grayed out.  Audi did well not to touch a successful design.
During restyling, the central part of the taillights became grayed out. Audi did well not to touch a successful design.

Which version to choose?

There is no bad one. A 150 hp is more than enough given its already estimable performance and its attractive price.

A well-equipped A3 1.8 T 180 Quattro sporting an unusual color is already a collector's item, in perfect original condition.
A well-equipped A3 1.8 T 180 Quattro sporting an unusual color is already a collector’s item, in perfect original condition.

Collector’s versions

Any A3 8L with less than 50,000 km in perfect original condition and well equipped has already become a collector’s item. A fortiori in 180 hp Quattro Ambition.

Intrinsically robust, the 1.8T EA113 block of the A3 still needs oil changes ideally every 10,000 km maximum, otherwise deposits can form in the crankcase and cause problems.
Intrinsically robust, the 1.8T EA113 block of the A3 still needs oil changes ideally every 10,000 km maximum, otherwise deposits can form in the crankcase and cause problems.

What to monitor?

The A3 1.8T, extremely well built and equipped with a proven engine, is very reliable. It must, of course, have benefited from adequate maintenance, including the regular change of the timing belt, accompanied by regular oil changes of the engine but also of the gearbox and the Haldex differential of the Quattro versions.

At high mileage, we will change the small chain that synchronizes the two camshafts. Well managed, this under-exploited block easily passes 300,000 km. The wheel bearings are not as durable, far from it, nor the air conditioning and especially the ignition coils. And, after 200,000 km, the various sensors (injection, ABS, oil) fail regularly: annoying but not abnormal. In the passenger compartment, with age, the headlining ends up collapsing and the door panels warp.

Finally, the body is remarkably resistant to rust, but this eventually reaches the roof, at the junction with the tailgate. Also beware of the many tweaked copies, in order to grab horsepower: this has consequences on the life of the turbo and the transmission.

Dynamically, the A3 1.8T is initially reassuring and fast, rather than lively and dynamic.
Dynamically, the A3 1.8T is initially reassuring and fast, rather than lively and dynamic.

Driving

The interior design of the A3 has aged rather better than that of contemporary compacts, and the driving position is impeccable. That said, we already feel cramped because of the very high waistline. Fortunately, the ergonomics are well thought out. As expected, the engine delights with its flexibility. But its softness is also appreciable, as well as its vigor, at least up to 5,000 rpm.

Remarkably well finished, the cockpit of the A3 1.8T ends up aging, but less quickly than that of its rivals.
Remarkably well finished, the cockpit of the A3 1.8T ends up aging, but less quickly than that of its rivals.

Then, the thrust dries up significantly on the 150 hp, but we are already going fast! The box, well staged, sometimes catches but remains quite pleasant to handle, so that the mechanical approval is obvious. The chassis? He does the job efficiently, but without any particular talent. Far from the agility of a Peugeot 306, the Audi A3 appears a bit clumsy, firmly suspended and not very well damped.

Nevertheless, it proves to be extremely safe and of a suitable precision. The comfort is more than enough, so that we benefit from a car with an already outdated scent but which remains reassuring. On the consumption side, count 8.0 l/100 km on a light foot and more than 10 l/100 km while enjoying yourself. A turbo from the 90s what…

The newtimer alternative*

Audi A3 2.0 TFSI (2003 – 2011)

Appeared in 2003, the Audi A3 8P looks a lot like the 8L but benefits from a brand new platform embellished with a multi-link rear axle.
Appeared in 2003, the Audi A3 8P looks a lot like the 8L but benefits from a brand new platform embellished with a multi-link rear axle.

Replacing the A3 8L in 2003, the A3 8P benefits from a new platform (the PQ35), combined with a multi-link rear axle, which greatly improves road handling. In addition, it receives direct injection blocks, including the 2.0 l TFSI which offers some 200 hp (it will be found in the VW Golf V GTI) and allows remarkable performance (0 to 100 km / h in 6.8 s). It is combined with a manual 6 or DSG gearbox, with double clutch, ultra-fast. Restyled in 2008, this generation of A3 will remain on sale until 2012. From €5,000.

Audi A3 1.8T 150 (1997) specs

  • Engine: 4-cylinder in line, 1781 cc
  • Feeding: injection, turbo
  • Suspension: McPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (AV); torsion axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar (rear).
  • Transmission: 5 manual gearbox (4 or 5 automatic), traction
  • Power: 150 hp at 5,700 rpm
  • Torque: 210 Nm at 1,750 rpm
  • Weight: 1145kg
  • Maximum speed: 217 km/h (manufacturer data)
  • 0 to 100 km/h: 8.1 seconds (manufacturer data)

> To find announcements of Audi A3 1.8T, go to the site of The power plant.

* Newtimers are iconic or sports vehicles that are more recent than youngtimers, but whose value is rising. More reliable and easier to use on a daily basis, they owe their development to technical characteristics that have often disappeared, such as large atmospheric engines.

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