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2006 Audi A3 2.0T and 2006 Volkswagen GTI

The Audi A3 2.0T and Volkswagen GTI are like identical twins separated at birth. When they finally come together we see they both look different and are good at different things, but there's a discernible link between the two that can't be denied. In this case, it's the engine. Both the entry-level A3 and hot-hatch GTI use Volkswagen's turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder with FSI direct injection. The turbo-four produces 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm, and 207 ft-lbs. of torque at a very low 1,800 rpm.

Since the same heart is pumping power down the drivelines of these two vehicles, how different can they really be? Styling and packaging aside, does the Audi A3 drive like a four-door Volkswagen GTI?

Let's first talk about that engine, since any praise or criticism we give it can be applied to its application in both vehicles. Volkswagen has become very good at mass-producing turbocharged engines, and the 2.0T FSI benefits from the company's years of practice. We like the beefy torque curve that makes the motor feel stronger than its displacement suggests. You can spin the wheels at will with the ESP turned off, point the car and shoot, and pass without breaking a sweat (often without downshifting). Make no mistake, though, the 2.0T FSI in both applications is a small engine in a relatively heavy car. It can take you right up to the edge of exhilaration, but remains well mannered and tractable when asked to run errands.

Audi and Volkswagen have each found areas where their version can differentiate itself. Volkswagen, for instance, uses a tube that runs along the left side of the engine to pump some extra decibels back into the cabin. This creates a much louder aural experience in the GTI than the A3. It's a small addition to the GTI (some have argued pointless), but creates a major difference in how the car is experienced from behind the wheel.

Our GTI also has the optional 18-inch Hufeisen alloy wheels wearing summer performance tires. Combine those with stiffer springs and firmer damping and the Volkswagen definitely feels like a sport compact compared to the Audi.

Despite offering a sportier ride than the A3, the GTI is not the sportiest ride in town. It still has a bearable around town demeanor that soaks up bumps well, but that also contributes to a fair amount of body roll. The GTI is a tall two-door (See Dr. Woo's comment on this), which means it tends to lean in corners to a degree that might make you lift off the gas. The Euro-spec model, which sits .6 inches lower than our own GTI, no doubt feels more buttoned down. Depending on your inclination, however, this may or may not be a bad thing. Most of us on the Autoblog staff appreciate a nice ride that than can carve corners when called upon, although one or two of us are always carving and could care less about soaking up potholes.

The A3's handling, meanwhile, feels more like that of a luxury car than a sport compact. Our tester came equipped with 17-inch alloys, also wearing summer performance tires, so we hardly felt as if the A3 had much less grip than the GTI, at least in around town driving. The A3 also sits significantly lower than the GTI, which helped to offset the lean produced by its more compliant ride. What can be said is that the A3 trades some of the GTI's sharpness for a ride that's remarkably smooth yet very controllable. We felt the A3 shined particularly well on the highway where it absorbed road irregularities and rolled over potholes like they weren't there, effectively behaving like a car with a much longer wheelbase.

Volkswagen GTI shifter

We wish we could have gotten these two with the same transmission, but instead the A3 divides the 2.0T's power with a traditional six-speed manual while the GTI uses the company's six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG. Volkswagen/Audi has already hinted at replacing all of its automatics with DSG transmissions, so these may be our only two options before too long.

Audi A3 stick

Commenter verdegrrl noted that the A3's clutch is tricky to operate smoothly, and we couldn't agree more. It's not very firm and the uninitiated will be surprised at how quickly the gears engage, which results in some nice jumps and bucks when taking off from a standstill. This isn't a short-throw shifter either, so the effort to change gears is a longish arm motion. Mechanically speaking, the Audi's stick and clutch were the car's biggest weak points.

The DSG in the GTI, however, works like a charm every time. In automatic mode it's shifts are quicker and less perceptible than those in an actual automatic transmission, so we couldn't agree more with a Volkswagen decision to replace all auto shifters with DSGs in the future. It truly is a better automatic than an automatic.

Volkswagen GTI paddle shifter

The DSG is also remarkable in manual mode, despite this reviewer's distaste for most types of manumatic-type trannies. The DSG is no auto posing as a manual, however. For those who've never had the opportunity to "row" your own gears via DSG, the experience is quite satisfying and unusual. With most manuals there is a lag between shifts where the tachometer's needle is in free fall for a split second. There is no lag with a DSG, so instead of falling, the needle whips down to match the next gear's rotating speed. Completely absent, however, is the lurch one expects with every shift. Volkswagen includes two paddles mounted on the steering wheel to control upshifting and downshifting the DSG, the location of which versus mounting them on the steering column is still a big debate among enthusiasts.

Which of these cars is better than the other is also still an unsettled debate, as the comments left on the two previous parts of this review (1, 2) indicate. Some go for the GTI's sportier character while others want the Audi's sophistication. All seem to enjoy how much utility each vehicle offers and the superlative 2.0T FSI engine. What we've learned is that the Audi A3 2.0T and Volkswagen GTI are really as different as they are the same. For each variation between the two you can find something else in common. If we had to choose, though, we'd go with the A3 over the GTI. An extra pair of doors and an Audi badge for the around the same price seems like a pretty good deal to us.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      I drove both of these cars really hard on several visits. In the end the A3 with dsg and sport package felt better and more planted - the lower center of gravity played a big part in my decision. The GTI felt tall and wobbly, even with the 18s.

      If I had to choose, it'd be the A3. An A3 2.0 with quattro would have won my purchase but alas the A3 in AWD form is only available with the 3.2 engine and a huge price tag. In the end the I opted for a different car altogether. The A3 2.0 is a great package and with AWD it would have been in my garage...I simply can't live with a FWD car.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I could not agree with your decision more. Sure the GTI is a great car, but it just costs too much for what it is. The GTI should be less luxury and more no-frills. Leave the luxury to Audi.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Hey VW where are the twincharger engines?
      • 8 Years Ago

      I think BGDC and I are having a perfectly valid discussion about marketing and content - especially in context of this article. A lot of people don't know the reasoning behind why a manufacturer offers packages one way vs another.

      As for the power package being a stand-alone item, when I worked for the dealer, we actually had some very odd people (former/current VW owners) who professed to not trust power windows and wouldn't buy a car with them - so this was one car we had to offer them. Since that was a option matrix already available in other markets, it was easy to just order up some cars in that configuration.

      VWoA places an order with VAG each year for a certain number of cars - and specifies what option packages they think will sell best. In the case of the Golf, the overall sales volume was so low I think they didn't wanted the extra expense (yes, VAoA "buys" the cars from VAG) of a custom options matrix. They did include ABS, side airbags, tilt and telescoping wheel, etc.

      Hopefully the Rabbit will be what the bargain hunters want.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Something to ponder for all who are waiting for the 4 door GTI - I drove both the sunroof (Oepn Sky) version A3 and one without. When pitching into the turn or recovering from one, you could really feel the extra weight up high. Now I can only imagine this is the case for the GTI, and even more so once you factor in the taller roofline. So a stiffer suspension is probably how to counter some of that.

      Also keep in mind that Bluetooth, Open Sky, and sleek integrated roof rails are available on the A3, but not the GTI. Certain A3 packages offer alloy shifter paddles. It's the little details all over the car that add up to the difference in prices - and not everyone notices or appreciates them, so to them I say to not "waste" the money.

      Charlie, I've heard rumours of a Club Sport edition that is stripped out with wind up windows, no stereo, no xenons, less sound deadening, etc, is being considered. Now they'll probably upgrade the power, suspension, and brakes, so it won't be any cheaper, but it will be a more "pure" driving experience for those who prefer to wear a heair shirt when they drive;-) It is likely to come late in the model cycle though, well after the R32.

      For those who are looking for GTI on a budget, buy the new Rabbit and upgrade selectively from there.

      Twincharging was just introduced last year. It's very complex. Given our longer warranties (much of the rest of the world gets 12 months to 24 months) and propensity for people to chip the cars and try to get the warranty to cover related failures, I think they are going to test it for a while in other markets first. Manufacturers are on the hook for major emissions related items for up to 8 years or 80,000 miles, so this may be another aspect that could delay things. Here's a link for those unfamiliar with the system: http://www.autozine.org/technical_school/engine/tech_engine_3.htm

      As for the tricky clutch, it is tricky. Treat it like you would most any highly strung exotic car, and you'll do fine. That means a tiny blip of the throttle as you release the clutch, and then catch it as the revs fall. Not something everyone will figure out, or care to employ. Drove a new BMW 330 Sport, and the clutch felt like it was perfectly honed and oiled - but you couldn't feel where the clutch began to bite. You just had to pay attention to engine revs and how quickly you were taking off. So I guess that's the opposite extreme. The A3's clutch felt a bit gritty in action after that, but very direct. DSG is the logical way to go for most folks until VAG figures out a way to make the drive-by-wire throttle and clutch play together better.
      • 8 Years Ago
      this is more in response to the first post in the series but applies to them all...

      I find this review rather lame. It the end it basically come down to the badge on the car. As you said in the first post that you would rather take the audi keys because of what other people would think. I find this quite pathetic and having no place in a review.

      that being said I have to agree with the handling remakr above me.... The Audi is nice for its 4 door convenience for some people but as far as sporty goes the GTI is in another league AND it has massive luxury. Its a very nice car and obviosuly over engineered for a typical VW in its range.

      Either way you cant lose with that 2.0T FSI, its brillant
      • 8 Years Ago
      So what odd feature do the VW and Honda have in common? Besides manufacturing cars that both delight teenagers, and ultimately result in the revocation of their licenses.

      According to Car and Driver, the Civic Si has "a tuned air intake that tunnels out of the engine compartment, into the fender area, and back to the intake manifold." It *amplifies* the sound of the intake.

      The GTI also has a pipe that transmits intake sounds right up to the cabin. There is some debate as to whether the tube is connected to the turbocharger or not. And for some reason, Japanese GTI's lack this.

      Nevertheless, we seem to have a trend here. Rumor has it, the BMW Z4 has such a system as well. For years, aftermarket shops have made a killing selling loud obnoxious exhausts. Now cars are being built with stock intake amplifiers to delight or annoy their drivers. From what I've read, some GTI owners are swapping their noise-transmitting pipe with an A3 pipe that doesn't, and vice-versa.

      If I worked for a major car manufacturer, I'd rig a microphone in the engine bay (cheap lo-fi Radio Shack bit should do it), and link it up to the stereo. If you want to hear the engine, just flip a switch, and the speakers play an aria that only a ricer could love. If you've got a headache, activate the CD player, and it cuts out the engine sound, playing whatever wussy music it is that soothes the pain of your migraine. Aaaahhhh, Cliff Richard!

      Just a thought.
      • 8 Years Ago
      About the same price? Hardly. As I noted in a comment on an earlier installment, the price difference is about $5,000 after you adjust for features.

      I created a site to make such comparisons easy:


      I've driven the A3 and Jetta GLI, but unfortunately not close together. If anything I preferred the handling of the A3--as long as it was equipped with the Sport Package. That makes a large difference. The R&T car did not have this package. I'd personally like sharper handling than either car provided.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Verdegrrl & BGDC

      Take the fanchild bickering back to VW-Vortex. Kthx.

      And besides, VW/Audi/USA has always made their money in the US by forcing a premium on strange option packages and then upcharging "slightly" for what seems like a more logical/desireable setup.

      How else do you explain all those base new golf's in 1999 with crank windows... but power-locks, keyless entry and a security system?

      "But it's just $1000 more for power everything!"
      • 8 Years Ago

      Take the extremism and nitpicking back to wherever you came from.

      If I could have afforded an A3 6-speed with a Sport package, I would have gone for it. As it was, I was looking for a base-model GTI 6-speed. No options. Is the Audi a superior car? The price, Audi's ownership experience, Audi quality, and more attractive (relatively) styling would suggest it is. I think so.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Calling me names doesn't change the fact that there were lots of caps and exclamation points and essays about the peculiarities of option pricing which may change from dealer-to-dealer, country-to-country, state-to-state.

      And besides, all auto enthusiasm is extremism... I doubt I'd be able to mention the words "Mazda3" or "Civic Si" without a massive explosion about torque curves, fuel efficiency, styling preference, or the visceral need for heated mirrors and 10 speakers.

      VerdeGrrl. My complaint with the Golf is that it didn't come without a keyless entry system. Honestly, I think a security system that can be reprogrammed with a diagnostic computer is much less trustworthy than a set of window motors. a 1999 Golf I had inherited ended up costing more than a new car because it kept dropping $600 parts and the final nail in the coffin was, in fact, the security system which had started to arm after the car was running.

      VWUSA seemed to be more interested in making money through confusing packages that tried to get people to pay $19-$20K for a Golf/Jetta ("oh, if you want the power windows or cruise control with a gas engine, that's a GLS, so you'll have to get the sunroof too"). Unfortunately it took a while for that money to filter back down to training their dealer and servicing network... or properly reprimanding dealers who tried to pull stunts like "oh, your car is an owner transfer, the warranty is halved... and you're at 30,010 so we won't be able to fix the trunk-latch or power-steering pump.

      And the Rabbit won't be a bargain. If VWUSA was interested in cool bargain cars, they'd have bought some of the Polos years ago rather than waiting 3 years to finally buy the Mark V's and make strange commercials with swedish actors pretending to be german.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The Audi looks like a tur* next to that GTI
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