Sibling Rivalry in the Autoblog Garage

2006 Audi A3 2.0T and 2006 Volkswagen GTI in the Autoblog Garage Days 1-2

Recently VW/ Audi blessed the Autoblog Garage with the presence of a 2006 Audi A3 2.0T and a 2006 Volkswagen GTI. These two cars come from the same parent company and rest on the same A5 platform that also underpins at least 10 other cars sold worldwide under the VW Group umbrella. Our testers also share the same engine, a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder with direct injection that produces 200 horsepower and 207 ft-lbs. of torque. While the direct-inject 2.0T is currently the biggest motor available for a Golf variant sold in North America (until the R36 arrives), it represents the base engine for the A3, which can also be had with a 250-hp 3.2L V6. And isn't that how it should be between these two companies? That is, what's best for VW is just the beginning for Audi.

Since we had these brothers back-to-back in the Autoblog Garage, we thought their sibling rivalry would make for a compelling comparison. While the GTI starts at a mere $21,990 and the A3 at $24,740, both can be optioned up into the high $20K range faster than you can say Fahvergnugen and Vorsprung durch Technik. So the question we pose is this, for a similar amount of dough which one do you go for?

Let's set the stage before we pit this pair against each other in Autoblog octagon. The 2006 Audi A3 2.0T we received has the base 6-speed manual transmission. The only options it came with are the Sport Package ($1,800) and Bi-Xenon headlights ($650). The Sport Package adds leather appointments, a multi-function steering wheel and sport seats inside the A3, while dressing up the exterior with 17-inch double-spoke alloy wheels, a roof spoiler and front fog lights. The suspension is also tuned a bit stiffer to reduce roll.

This raised the price of our A3 up to $27,910 including a $720 destination charge. An Audi A3 3.2 S line Quattro with the larger V6, 6-speed DSG transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive tops out in the nosebleed section with a $41,385 price tag. Robert Farago over at The Truth About Cars, however, seems to suggest that steep cost of admission might be worth it for the S line. Clearly, however, the A3 2.0T is the base model, and our tester reflects what's available at the bottom of Ingolstadt's barrel.

Our VW GTI tester, meanwhile, was loaded with every item from Wolfsburg save the kitchen sink. Options included a DVD-based nav system ($1,800), the 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission ($1,075) and the wallet-busting Package 2 ($3,160) that adds a power sunroof, Sirius (or XM) satellite radio, heated front seats and washer nozzles, and heavily bolstered leather sport seats. The last item on the list is a set of 18-inch "Lamborghini-esque" Hufeisen Alloy wheels around which a set of P225/45 H R17 summer performance tires are wrapped liked rubberbands. Just as clearly that our A3 was entry level for Audi, the GTI is the summit of VW's Golf bloodline for the moment.

One would think that because the A3 and GTI share a platform that their dimensions would be extremely similar, but in truth only their wheelbases at 101.4 inches for the A3 and 101.5 inches for the GTI come close to matching. The A3 is actually shorter in height, wider and longer than the GTI by inches in each measurement. Though the GTI's supposed to be the street racer here, its body shape is carried over from a utilitarian economy car and therefore appears a bit thin and tall when compared to the A3. The fact it rides .6 inches higher than its largely identical Euro-spec cousin doesn't help things either.

The GTI, however, is slick and smooth from every angle. VW has added a matte black chin spoiler, side sills and rear valance to make the lower fraction of the car appear invisible to the eye and thus reduce the visual height of the GTI, and the car's rear roof spoiler makes the hot hatch appear swept back as if it were splitting the air at 145 mph all the time. The GTI's visage is also made a bit more serious with a black honeycomb grille bisected by a black rather than chrome crossmember. The front fog lights are also imbedded in their own faux honeycomb inserts located in the lower corners of the front fa├žade.

The A3 wears a similar gaping grille and pugnacious pout to the GTI's, but adds a bit of brightwork in the form of chrome trim. The A3's nose is also wider and shorter than the GTI's, which draws some attention away from the giant grille. The headlights that house halogen projection lamps also give the car a set of "angry eyes" and a seriously aggressive expression . While many have panned Audi for the design aesthetic responsible for its huge grilles (us included), the A3's stern mug won us over. The car's sport wagon proportions are tidy and the high beltline combined with a low roof make the A3 appear larger than it actually is.

Comparing the exteriors of this five-door sport wagon and three-door hatch makes it evident that VW/Audi is not practicing badge reengineering. Both skins incorporate their own brand identity and share few visual cues save for the big grilles up front. Their proportions also suit their purpose, with the GTI standing tall and wearing a roofline that doesn't compromise headroom or cargo volume in the back. The A3 has more room inside with which to work, so it hunkers down to the ground and lets its last pillars slope forward to meet the roofline.

It's hard to crown a winner in this battle of beauty as both cars received the support of fans while in our possession. Admirers approached us during each car's shoot to either ask what it is or say they had one on order.

We have to admit we're drawn to the GTI's smooth lines and lack of filigree. It's appearance even reminds us of what Audi's used to look like a couple generations ago: smooth, graceful, the epitome of tasteful restraint on the designer's part. On the other hand, we think the A3 is Audi's best attempt yet to make its garish grille look good. The key is the shape of the car's headlights that ditch Audi's doe-eyed look for one that's more stern and confident.

In a world where image is everything, we're going to give a slight edge to the Audi at the end of the day. When considering in which we want to be seen by our fellow man, there is no nip/tuck of a designer's pen that can change the fact that one of these cars is an Audi and the other a Volkswagen. All things being equal, we'd ask for the Audi's keys first everytime. Still, VW gets props for the handsome digs on its new hatchback, and the soon-to-be-resurrected Rabbit badge on the base models means an equally good looking Golf isn't far away.

Actually, thanks to Jonathan who snapped this pic in Bridgeport, CT we know the new Rabbits are travelling south on I-95.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of our Sibling Rivalry review later this week...

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