As we mentioned in the first part of our Sibling Rivalry review, we're comparing a base-model Audi A3 to an upper-end Volkswagen GTI. "What's best for VW is just the beginning for Audi" is the tagline we used earlier, and that sentiment carries over into the interiors of these two vehicles, as well.
The Volkswagen/Audi Group is well known as a builder of the best interiors in town for its simple yet useful designs and high quality materials throughout. While it's plain to see these vehicles don't share any exterior components, we were anxious to learn if there would be any part swapping taking place behind closed car doors where it's not so obvious.
We were concerned that the second part of this review would be sparse on details since we were expecting both interiors to be very similar. We're used to the Taurus/Sable philosophy of parts sharing and expect one climate control knob to be like another to be like another. Fortunately we found that wasn't the case at all for these two German cars after spending some time in both.
Volkswagen GTI right, Audi A3 left
In fact, let's just be up front and divulge what we did find inside that was common between these two vehicles. One thing pops out as soon as you sit in either car, and that's the "flying buttresses" that connect the center console with the shifter. More of a design element than a part, they look good in either vehicle and we didn't mind seeing them used twice. Also, the removable rear shelf in the back of each vehicle and the handles that release the rear folding seats also show up in both vehicles. While we're sure these interiors have many more parts in common, our point is that they're mostly hidden or not often used. On account of this, the interior of each feels unique and not mass-produced across countless model lines.
Audi A3 interior
Climb into either the either A3 or GTI and your backside will be greeted by a comfortable seat with substantial side bolsters and adjustments for height and lumbar support (also heated in the case of our GTI tester). One would think the front seats would have been an obvious component to use in both vehicles, but Audi and Volkswagen both chose their own chairs for use in the A3 and GTI. That's a good thing too, as the seats in each vehicle match the personalities of these cars very well.
Audi A3 top, Volkswagen GTI bottom
The A3 seats are plusher and let you sink in, though deep within those bolsters are metal frames that will catch you when inertia's trying to eject you from your captain's chair. The GTI, meanwhile, has firmer padding that you sit on top of, not in. It's bolstering is also a little more aggressive than the Audi's, and thus a little more annoying if the car will be a daily driver.
When you're ready to get going in these vehicles you'll notice both have steering wheels with integrated controls, the VW also adding discrete paddle shifters behind its wheel for the DSG transmission. We liked the smaller yet chunkier wheel used to steer the GTI the most, as well as the VW's integrated controls. The Audi's steering wheel mounted controls feature little rocker wheels that proved to be less simple to use while driving than the VW's traditional buttons. Peering through each steering wheel we did notice this pair uses awfully similar gauge pods with identical trip computers yet different gauge faces.
Glancing across the dashes of these two vehicles illustrate just how different their interiors are. While not many would've faulted these two companies for sharing at least the main dash layout, we found each to have completely different components and personalities. Since our Audi A3 was entry-level, it did not have the optional satellite navigation system occupying real estate in the center console. Instead we encountered a traditional stereo with a CD player and rotary controls for the HVAC unit. In usual Audi fashion every button and switch felt solid, damped and wiggle-free. Our tester also came equipped with Sirius satellite radio, and we have to thank Audi for activating the subscription so we could hear Howard Stern for the first time in months. The one minor complaint we had was the parking brake, which often came in contact with the adjustable center armrest when engaged.
The Volkswagen GTI's dash layout was also a straightforward affair lacking filigree, though the center console is dominated by the navigation system. A six-disc CD changer is also tucked away with the center armrest. The materials used within the GTI are likewise made of high quality materials as in the Audi, with rich textures, soft rubber and solid plastics at the tip of every finger. Our major complaint with the GTI, however, is the navigation system that's difficult to decipher. The large 7-inch display is flanked on both sides by unmarked buttons, the functions of which change depending on what the screen displays. Call us spoiled, but touchscreen displays are fast becoming standard in the sat nav biz, and having one here would allow for less buttons and a better user interface.
Audi A3 loaded with cargo
While in our possession both the Audi A3 and VW GTI were tested in different ways. On one trip the Audi swallowed weeks worth of dirty laundry, some groceries and more thanks to the fold flat rear seats. While the seats don't actually fold all the way flat, the A3's extra length allowed the hatch to easily swallow our cargo without chewing.
Volkswagen GTI back seat
The GTI accompanied us to a wedding where various friends and family were begging for a ride. The back seat garnered no complaints from our guests, though getting in and out of the back forced a few of the ladies to compromise their poise. The A3 does have two more doors than the GTI, but we were surprised how little legroom it offers backseat passengers. (see pic at right)
Though the Audi A3 and Volkswagen GTI interiors don't share very many components, they both did provide a high level of comfort and were pleasant environments in which to spend a morning commute or cross-country jaunt. While we would choose the Audi over the Volkswagen as a daily driver based solely on interior ambiance, there's a lot more these two rides have to offer besides their domiciles. In the third and final part of our Sibling Rivalry review we'll explore the fun to drive factor offered by the Audi A3 and Volkswagen GTI. Will the GTI's more aggressive nature put it firmly in front of the softer sprung A3 on our must have meters? Keep an eye out for the final review to find out.
Volkswagen GTI pedals
Audi A3 pedals
Volkswagen GTI cargo area with seats folded
Audi A3 cargo area with seats folded
Volkswagen GTI front passenger door
Audi A3 front driver door
Volkswagen GTI gauges
Audi A3 gauges
Volkswagen GTI center console
Audi A3 center console