1 May 1997
AUDI seized a golden opportunity with its A3. Erroneously billed as the first prestige small car (BMW’s 1995 E36 Compact disproves that falsehood), it was built on the fourth-generation front-wheel drive A4-series Golf platform, but shared no body components.
Mechanically they were identical though, with the A3 benefiting from sportier suspension tuning, exemplary quality control and increased refinement.
Initially it was a three-door only model, in 74kW/145Nm 1.6-litre single-cam and (superior) 92kW/173Nm 1.8 twin-cam 20-valve four-cylinder guises, tied to a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual gearbox.
February ’98 saw the introduction of the 110kW/220Nm turbocharged version of the latter power plant in the rapid A3 1.8 Turbo, but that was overshadowed by December ‘99’s rorty 154kW/270Nm S3 1.8 three-door hatchback.
It came complete with Haldex part-time all-wheel drive, and a six-speed manual gearbox.
Meanwhile the five-door A3 usurped all three-doors (bar the S3) from October ’99, and proved more popular than ever.