To many, the Volkswagen Golf is the epitome of the family hatchback. Volkswagen literally stands for “people’s car” after all. The Golf has been a UK favourite for decades, resting on its reputation for reliability, roominess, and relaxed driving experience.
But what’s on offer for those seeking something a cut above the standard? In steps the Audi A3 Sportback. Rather than accepting that Volkswagen had their roots firmly in the family hatchback segment, Audi developed the rival A3 in order to claim a slice for themselves. Audi translates to “listen” in Latin, as in “listen to me! Look at me! I have an Audi A3!”
The Golf and A3 actually share many component parts but they come in at different price points. Does the Audi A3 offer more that merits its higher price tag? Or are you simply paying a premium for the badge? We’re going to decide who wins in the Audi A3 vs Golf battle.
If you’ve got your eyes set on an A3 and want to know how it squares up to other competitor cars, we’ve also looked at the BMW 1 Series vs Audi A3, Seat Leon vs Audi A3 and Audi A1 vs Audi A3. Check them out! If your heart is already set on the A3, you can read our A3 Saloon review, A3 Sportback review, and A3 Cabriolet review! If you're open to a little variation, our Audi A3 alternatives post makes for great reading.
Audi A3 vs Golf
Before we dig deeper into the review, here’s a quick overview of the specs, pros and cons of the Golf and the A3.
- Doors: 5
- Engine: 3.2
- Fuel: P, D, H
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 250g/km
- Doors: 3 - 5
- Engine: 3.2
- Fuel: P, D, H
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 278g/km
Sporty, stylish interior
Infotainment graphics are poor.
Expensive to insure.
Slightly higher NCAP safety rating.
Cheap to run.
Touchscreen infotainment is tricky to use.
Nothing special to look at.
Noone can argue that the Audi A3 is better looking than the Golf. Volkswagen focuses on practicality. Audi focuses on aesthetics.
Styling of the Golf is definitely understated. Onto its eight generation, VW have introduced a more flamboyant design with flashy LED headlights and a defined swage line from the front doors to the rear lights. It still looks like a family hatchback, so if you want something sportier for your next new car, the Golf isn’t best in class.
The A3, on the other hand, is undeniably the product of a premium brand. It has an imposing front grille, stylish side-sweeping headlights and indicators, and that famous four-ring logo. The A3 is on its fourth generation and in its most recent revisions, it has adopted the Matrix LED headlamps that its much pricier A8 sister sports. If you’re on the hunt for an athletic family hatchback, there is no competition between the two cars here, really.
First impressions aside, let’s get down to what you really care about - how do they drive?
Both have a similar range of TFSI and TDI engines with high levels of power while keeping your fuel tank fuller for longer. The cheapest 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine in the A3 is nippy but a little noisy. The 1.5-litre engine on the Golf obviously packs more of a punch and is also a grand cheaper. If you decide on the Audi, it’s worth investing in a pricier engine with quattro all wheel-drive capabilities.
Both have a good driving position and we have no complaints about the handling on either. Suspension is where you see a more noticeable difference between the two. The Golf comes with a standard rear suspension which makes for a choppy ride at points, but you can upgrade to Dynamic Chassis Control (Volkswagen’s name for adaptive suspension). Every A3 trim comes a better rear suspension as standard - but the Sports suspension is a bit iffy, so steer clear of it if you can.
Both the A3 and the Golf are graced with high quality interiors for their price point, decked out in soft-touch squidgy plastics. In terms of styling, the A3 has the edge, and many claim it has the nicest interior in the entire family hatchback class.
On the base trim, the seats are covered in Index cloth but if you want something with a touch more sophistication, you can upgrade to the Sport trim, which comes with front sport seats in Twin Leather (or if you’re feeling even flashier, the S Line sport seats in Sequence cloth/leather with the S embossing). Audi’s interior quality is always impressive.
The dash on the A3 is very neatly laid out and has a true sporty feel. One of its only let downs is the naff pop-up infotainment screen. Given that you’ll basically always be using it, it seems a bit daft for it to hide away and it gives us very retro James Bond vibes. The graphics are also a little shoddy. If you’ve got a few hundred pounds extra to splash, we highly recommend Audi’s Virtual Cockpit - you’ll never look back. But, if you've gospare grand and a half Audi's esteemed Tech Pack is out of this world.
The interior of the Golf, on the other hand, is functional over stylish. It’s a little dull, to be honest. The infotainment system is decent, with two sharp and responsive touchscreen screens, and if you want a little more, you can pay extra for the Digital Driver’s Dials (the Golf’s response to the Virtual Cockpit), but it doesn’t match Audi’s offerings. Audi’s infotainment system is controlled by a swivel wheel which many find much easier to use than the Golf touchscreen.
There’s not much difference between the Audi A3 and the VW Golf in terms of practicality. Headroom and legroom in both the front and rear seats are comparable. Both models are available with a choice of 3 or 5 doors. Six footers will be comfortable enough in either car, so this won’t be your deciding factor between the two.
In terms of boot space, the Audi A3 Sportback and the VW Golf are almost inseperable. The Audi A3 Sportback boot space holds 380 litres. Otherwise, the A3 Saloon boot space is more practical at 425 litres and the A3 Cabriolet boot space is rather petite at 320 litres.
The A3 and the Golf received 5 stars in their Euro NCAP tests and both received 95% for adult occupants - the A3 was given a score of 87% for child occupants with the Golf ever so slightly ahead with 89%, but really, there is nothing in it.
If you decide to buy outright, the Audi is a good three grand more expensive than the Golf, and costs add up even more with different trims and tech packs. Both cars depreciate around 40% over 3 years, so it’s only the purchase price that pushes the monthly lease costs a smidge higher for Audi.
There’s not much in it between the A3 and the Golf when it comes to fuel economy. With Audi’s aluminium and high-strength steel body, it’s shaved off a decent amount of weight which has boosted its fuel economy. Audi’s petrol engines return a “real world” average of around 48.5 mpg, which is nothing to be sniffed at! The diesel options even shoot up into the 60s range. The Golf isn’t far off, with its frugal 1.5eTSI 150 achieving over 42 mpg.
Insurance premiums are where Audi lags behind. The lowest Audi A3 Sportback insurance group is 14, ranging up to 36. The A3 Saloon insurance group is between 21 and 39 whilst the A3 Cabriolet insurance band starts at group 36. The Golf, however, sits nicely in group 4! Cheap!
Neither return any major issues on the Reliability Index so you don’t need to expect to fork out big bucks on costly repairs over the first few years. The A3 is covered by a three-year, 60,000 mile Audi warranty.
Picking a winner in the Audi A3 vs Golf battle is not easy. If you’re stuck between the two yourself, take our recommendations with a pinch of salt as a lot of it will be down to personal preference!
Audi is a premium manufacturer, so the A3 has been designed to inspire. In the Golf, Volkswagen has targeted those looking for a sturdy, reliable, and practical set of wheels. If style and sportiness is important to you, the A3 is a no-brainer.
If you want something cheap and cheerful to run, with low monthly leasing costs, low insurance premiums, and a base engine that’s punchier and economical, then the Golf is your go-to. Volkswagen has focused on functionality over flash.
There’s not much to separate the two in terms of practicality, safety, and driving experience. It ultimately comes down to prestige. The Golf is familiar. The A3 oozes premium allure. We hate to be those people but we think we have to call this one a draw. Which one appeals more to you?
Interested in learning more about the A3? Check our Audi A3 Sportback review, A3 Saloon review, and A3 Cabriolet review to get a full overview of the range! Want to see what else is out there? Our Audi A3 alternatives is the post for you. And if you think the A3 might be for you, don't sign on the dotted line without reading our BMW 1 Series vs Audi A3, Seat Leon vs Audi A3, Audi A1 vs A3, and Audi A3 vs S3 posts!