Rebadge Round: VW Golf vs. Audi A3

Rebadge Round is going to be a series which takes vehicles based on the same platform (or is a kissing-cousin) and sees which one I’d subjectively find more appealing.  Feel free to comment below as to whether or not you’d agree.

In 2006, Volkswagen Auto Group (or VAG) gave us a couple of vehicles that make a compelling Rebadged Round.  VAG owns Bentley, Lamborghini, Audi, Porsche, VW of course, Skoda (from the Czech Republic), and a Spanish car company called SEAT (pronounced like Fiat), so there could be any number of Rebadge Rounds from that conglomerate.  For now, we’re going to look at the two least expensive sold in the U.S.

Forget the retro-named Rabbit (a throwback to the American-market VW Golf of the 1970’s and ‘80s), because the base Rabbit’s 2.5L inline-five engine wasn’t shared between the two cars.  Instead, the sporty MkV GTI with the 2.0L turbo charged, direct injected FSI engine was the basis of the upscale brother—the Audi A3.  Just so those out of the loop know, “Mk” followed by a numeral is the way the Golf generations are separated among enthusiasts.

While the Golf GTI had long been in the VW lineup in America, a practical Audi smaller than the A4 had been a thing of the past until 2006 (the TT isn’t what one could call “practical”).  The A3 did indeed have the same architecture underneath as the MkV GTI, the same 2.0 FSI engine, and the same six-speed manual or dual-clutch automated manual (DSG, called S-Tronic at Audi).

The Golf/A3 differences in size were found in length, width and height (the audi being 3.8” longer, .8” wider, and .6” shorter).  The distance between the front and rear wheels was identical, keeping things like legroom nearly equal (the Audi gives up .5” in rear legroom to the MkV Golf).  The Audi, with the larger overall footprint, obviously gained a little more weight (up to 300lbs more), but at least has more cargo space (55.6 cuft vs. 41.8cuft).  Elsewhere the Audi overtook the GTI was its five-doors-only approach (that is, until the 2007 GTI gained rear doors), and available Quattro AWD—an Audi exclusive.  It also could be had with a 3.2L, 250hp V6 engine shared with the Audi TT.  The Quattro was limited to the V6 until 2009, when the 2.0T could finally turn all four wheels.  As with the V6, the 2.0T AWD was DSG only.

Come 2008, the Golf could be had in an AWD, V6 powered model dubbed the R32, but unlike the Audi, it had a three-door or five-door choice at American dealerships.  The VW R32 was a limited production model gone the next year.  Like the A3 3.2L, this R32 had just DSG (the MkIV Golf R32 was down 10hp, but had a six-speed manual).

MkV R32 line; MkIV R32 it replaced

By the 2010 model year, the Audi had dropped the 3.2L V6 from the A3 in leiu of the TDI diesel found in the Golf line, which by ’10 had freshly hit the MkVI generation to further stagnate the A3.

One could say this is a complicated sibling rivalry, with a mix-match of body styles and transmissions being bumped between the two.  Making matters worse, there’s the Golf R of the MkVI generation.  Golf R took the concept of the R32’s—AWD, stiffer suspension, grippier seats—but replaced the 3.2L V6 with a hopped up version of the 2.0T of the GTI.  Good for around the same power of the V6, but with less weight on the nose (and a manual-transmission only), the Golf R takes the lost chance of the 2.0T matched with a hatchback and AWD in one place.  On the downside, the stability control has been called intrusive at too early a point, and isn’t defeatable from the factory.

Golf R model

If one was to split the cars in a respective powertrain course of engine and transmission, there would be varied results for me.  The GTI vs. A4 2.0T manual’s with FWD, for starters, would go to the GTI.  The price of the GTI, along with the relative simplicity and liquid-nitro cool feature of retro-plaid seats is a win all its own.

Throw in the DSG 2.0T and AWD of later A3, and the Audi would get it for fact the GTI didn’t offer that combo.

The 3.2L and AWD goes to A3 yet again, as it was a bargain R32 before the second iteration R32 came out.  Add in the fact it was a bit more of a sleeper stylistically, and fun is a-go.

Where the A3 becomes a loser is when the V6 was dropped, and the MkVI Golf came along.  The same power was used better, the car became larger, and of course it brought the AWD, manual, and added power back into the equation (albeit in a sedated fashion—the GTI still gives a Golf R a good run dollar-for-dollar).

No matter what, the Audi interior appeals to those wanting a slightly nicer interior, and a more niche machine than simply taking a standard compact car and adding go-fast parts.  If you want a hoon car, the GTI and R32’s are it.  To be more mature and dignified with some speed and handling still available in a different wrapper, the A3’s are a good bet, but at the risk of a still-old car until the new one comes in 2013 based off the MkVII Golf.

Image sources as follows:
GTI Front
A3 front
GTI Rear
A3 Rear
GTI Interior
A3 Interior
GTI Five-door
MkV R32’s
MkIV R32 Front
MkIV R32 Rear (how I don’t know)
Golf R Front
Golf R Rear
Golf R Interior
’13 A3 front
-’13 A3 rear
’13 A3 interior

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3 thoughts on “Rebadge Round: VW Golf vs. Audi A3

  1. Very well written. Two great cars that have done great over the years. I personally prefer the Golf in this “battle”.

    I’ve driven a Golf GTI before and was very shocked at the power of that little car. I’ve also rode shotgun with another guy in a GTI as he red lined it in first gear and then slammed it into Reverse. That GTI made a huge smoke show. The car smelt like rubber all day.

  2. Pingback: How can Lexus get so wrong when doing right? | Manually Shifted Soul

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