Up: Timeless, aggressive design. Audi understands we want black accents/wheels.
Down: bluetooth pairs with one phone at a time, too many blank switches
Neutral: This is The GTI you actually want.
Technically it’s a 2016 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro Special Edition with Black Optics and S-Line packages, but that’s a lot of crap to say to make a buyer feel special. And I should know because I’m the buyer.
I’m also uniquely tailored to write this review and, because it’s my car, extremely biased. A few years back I owned a 2010 Volkswagen GTI and I absolutely loved it. It was a fun car and, well, you can read that review here. The only thing I wished the GTI had was all wheel drive (since I live in South Dakota), and just a little bit nicer…everything. Both of which the 2016 Audi A3 delivers on across the board.
I’ll start with the styling. The Audi A3 looks great in its base form, and fantastic with all these Special Edition goodies. The Black Optics package gives you the black grille, black roof w/ panorama sunroof, gloss black accents around the windows and interior, and, the cherry on top, Audi’s sexy 19″ RS “Blade” wheels. Pair the black trimmings with the Ibis White paint and Audi has created a timeless head-turner.
But to me there’s more that makes the A3 a head turner besides big wheels and paint. It’s the proportions. In my opinion cars have gotten too big. Like, way to big. Before you yell at me, I realize I don’t have kids or a big dog, but the number of times I’ve ever wished my car was best-in-class on interior space is zero. Even the A4 is considered a “small sedan” and it’s over a foot longer than the A3. Yeesh! The A3 nails the front, side, and rear profiles so well that it really stands out as the leader in looks among all other compact sedans.
Now moving onto the interior. Audi and VW fans alike will know that the interiors of both have always resembled each other. And that’s not a bad thing. VW owners get a great modern-looking interior while Audi owners get the same but with nicer materials and amenities. In this case the 2016 Audi A3 interior is strikingly similar to a Volkswagen Jetta/GTI, except everything is about 50% better from the floor mats to the roof lining. The seats are a softer leather, the metal buttons have a more satisfying click, and even the gauges have a more aggressive font. All-in-all a satisfying upgrade from a VW, and leagues ahead of a Toyota Corolla.
And then there’s the fun factor. The older I get the less I want to tool around doing pulls on a busy road, but I still want a car that can do so at the drop of a hat. The 2016 Audi A3 Quattro is basically a GTI with around 10 – 20 more horsepower (228 hp total) and Audi’s famous Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Mine has the S-Tronic gear selector which immediately drops down a gear and keeps the revs high when put into sport mode. When I drop my foot I always get enough of that tingly filling in my gut before I get put in jail for the night. It’s a hoot to throw around.
The 2016 Audi A3 Quattro is also great in the snow. While my old GTI struggled with small frosty hills, this car plows through inches-thick powder. I have only owned it through one winter but I have yet to feel unsafe and/or out of control. Maybe add some winter tires for the next Polar Run Rally?
And finally, there’s price. Currently a brand new 2020 Audi A3 with Quattro starts at around $36,500 while a brand new 2020 VW GTI starts at around $28,595. With the exception of Audi’s virtual cockpit, VW’s color infotainment screen in the gauge cluster, and minor visual upgrades on both, these cars have been largely unchanged since 2015 (2014 for the Audi). I found this 2016 example with all the desirable bells and whistles for just shy of $22,000 in 2019, and you could probably find one for $20,000 by the time you read this article. A similar year MK8 GTI that’s fully spec’d will run you anything from $17,000 – $18,500. In my opinion, if you can swing it, the Quattro AWD and the design alone are worth the premium.
(The next generation of both are due later this year (or 2021 depending on COVID!) so that will be an argument for a different day.)
In short, everywhere the Volkswagen GTI succeeds, the 2016 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro succeeds; and everywhere the GTI fails, the A3 succeeds as well. It’s the better looking, better equipped, and more prestigious version of its VW counterpart, and makes you feel like a teenager again on the inside while still looking like a grown-ass adult on the outside. I scooped this Audi A3 up in Minneapolis for just under $22,000 and if it were between this and a newer MK8 GTI for the same price, I’d still take the Quattro with big black wheels please.