Audi is celebrating the anniversary of its mainstay, the Audi A3. The successful Audi model debuted 20 years ago at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany. Today the premium compact is available in a choice of four body styles, four drive systems and a broad selection of trim lines.
Audi launched the A3 in 1996. The car was developed on the basis of the Golf IV platform, which followed in 1997. From the first generation, the Audi A3 had innovations and quality features from higher model classes, making it the founder of the premium compact class. The A3 was initially available only as a three-door hatchback in three trim lines and with four different petrol and diesel engines. In September 1998, Audi brought quattro permanent all-wheel drive to the compact segment for the first time in the A3. A five-door variant joined in March 1999.
And the brand reached a milestone with the first generation of the high-performance Audi S3 in the spring of that same year: the 1.8 litre, inline four-cylinder engine with turbocharging and five valves per cylinder produced 210PS.
The split grille still used in the second-generation Audi A3 was replaced in 2005 by the Singleframe, which went on to become the brand’s defining design element. Audi also expanded the A3 family to include its first open-topped variant: The A3 Cabriolet launched in 2008 with a classic cloth top.
Now in the third generation, the Audi A3 is available as a saloon as well. This version of the A3 celebrated its premiere at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. In 2016, every variant in the model series received a technology update.
The Audi RS 3 Sportback is the spearhead of the model series. The first generation was launched in 2011 with a 340PS, five-cylinder engine. The second edition of the RS 3 Sportback with 367PS followed in 2015.
At this year’s Paris Motor Show, Audi presented the RS 3 Saloon powered by a 2.5 TFSI engine with 400PS, making it the most powerful five-cylinder engine on the market.
The first and second generation of the Audi A3 rolled off the assembly line with an analogue speedometer and rev counter. The current A3 is available with the optional Audi virtual cockpit. The all-digital cockpit depicts the most important driving-relevant information in high resolution on a TFT screen with a 12.3-inch diagonal.
The driver can switch between two views by pressing the “View” button on the multifunction steering wheel. In Classic mode, the instruments are as large as conventional analogue instruments. In Infotainment mode, however, a central window dominates. It provides more space for the navigation map or displays easy-to-read lists from the Telephone, Radio and Audio functions. Tachometer and speedometer are displayed here as small round gauges.
Besides eight conventional petrol and diesel engines, the A3 has also been available in the UK with two alternative drive systems since the launch of the third generation: a natural gas-powered model available and a plug-in hybrid.
The Audi A3 e-tron is the premium brand’s first plug-in hybrid, pairing a 1.4 TFSI with an electric motor. The combustion engine produces 150PS and delivers 250 Nm of torque; these figures for the electric motor are 75 kW and 330 Nm, resulting in overall system power of 204PS. When connected to a 380 volt three-phase outlet, it takes just over two hours to fully recharge the lithium-ion battery (8.8 kWh).
An electrohydraulic dual-clutch transmission made its debut in an Audi series production model with the second-generation A3. It enabled lightning-fast gear changes with no break in propulsive power. Today the S tronic dual-clutch transmission is firmly established and is available in nearly every model family.
The A3 reflects the development of lighting technology over the last 20 years. The first Audi A3 was equipped with halogen lights. Today the premium compact comes standard with xenon headlights. Optional Matrix LED headlights illuminate the road with a light very similar to daylight without causing glare for other road users.
15 LEDs in each Matrix LED headlight radiate from three reflectors to produce the high beam. A camera on the interior mirror feeds information to the controller. The controller turns individual LEDs on or off as needed, or dims them in 64 steps. The Matrix LED headlights can thus realise several million different light distributions. They specifically illuminate road signs with 30 percent less power to prevent glare caused by reflections.
Audi produces the Audi A3, A3 Sportback, A3 Sportback e-tron and A3 Sportback g-tron models at its site in Ingolstadt. In 2001, the Audi Group expanded portions of A3 production with a facility in Győr, Hungary. Today, the Audi A3 Saloon and A3 Cabriolet come off the assembly line there. Audi produces the A3 Sportback and the A3 Saloon for the Chinese market at its factory in Foshan. Total production volume since the car made its debut 20 years ago is more than four million A3 models.