01 October 2018

2005 Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 FSI (8PA) - Review and Test Drive



Background story

Since this is my first ever attempt at a proper car review I figured it would be fitting to review my own car.

Buying the A3 wasn’t a planned event, it just so happened that I needed a ‘decent’ cheap car to take me to work and back. I didn’t care what it was as long as it was mechanically sound and it wasn’t some dreary econo-box with a tiny engine. Riffling through the on-line ads, out of a sea of different shades of grey cars, this deep blue hatchback with large wheels jumped out at me. Now I’ve never been an Audi fanboy, I’ve always considered them a bit boring but this one looked good enough in the pictures to arouse my interest. The black leather interior, despite the 153k miles on the clock, was in excellent condition, the dual zone climate control worked and the interior trim was real aluminium. It also had a 2 liter petrol engine, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a lot more than most hatchbacks have. Oh, and another important thing, it was within my modest budget, so I bought it.

Exterior



Design wise this is very much an Audi, it has clean, elegant lines and a huge gaping grille in the front. The Sportback was among the first models to receive the, then new, signature Audi look. The 5 door model differs quite a bit from its 3 door brethren in a sense that it was made to resemble a small estate, so they added a third side window after the C pillar. The rear hatch follows the same design language and with its wide and curved rear lights it looks pretty much like the A4 and A6 Avants of the era. This particular model comes in Sport trim so it has the 17 inch five-spoke alloys, no roof rails and no visible radio antenna. Fog lights came standard on this trim and the 2.0 engine got the purposeful look of a double barrelled exhaust.



All in all, it looks very good and, dare I say, modern even. Not bad for a 13-year-old car. Upon closer inspection the age and mileage become a lot more apparent. Scratches, dings, chips and the odd off-colour paint touch-ups are very much real, but for the money I paid, it was never expected or implied to be in concourse condition.




Interior

The black leather interior was arguably the most important selling point of this particular car, it looks upscale, luxurious, no small task for a car in this segment. Real aluminium trim pieces on the doors and centre console reinforce the image, this is not just a badge engineered VW Golf, this is a miniature luxury car. I’m sure the original purchase price reflected this as well. After 153k miles and 7 (seven) previous owners the interior is almost in spotless condition. There are a few wrinkles on the leather in the side bolster of the driver’s seat, a few superficial scratches here and there, on some of the buttons mostly and that’s it. No squeaks, no rattles after all this time. Truly a testament to Audi’s build quality and the materials they used.



The front seats look fairly sporty and offer some lateral support, the leather wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel is small in diameter and aims to be sporty. The dashboard itself is simple and sleek and made completely out of plastic with some aluminium inserts. It looks good but it’s hard to the touch. The same goes for the door panels, although the parts that you actually touch are made of softer stuff and there are real leather inserts. The doors themselves are heavy and close with a reassuring thump, you feel safe behind them.



Equipment on this car includes: dual zone climate control, the original radio with CD and tape deck, heated seats, automatic headlights, rain sensors, parking sensors (rear), electric windows all round, ESP, electric heated mirrors with auto dimming and a host of other small touches that you usually find on more expensive cars, like the large number of curtesy lights, fitted everywhere from the vanity mirrors to the foot wells and bottom of the front doors. Oh, and everything works!



The instrument cluster is fairly simple, with easy to read gauges and a small lcd in the middle. There are no large lcd screens in this 2005 car and the radio with a cassette deck is a dead giveaway of the cars true age. It still sounds good though, if not a bit on the boomy side. All of the gauges and switchgear are illuminated with red backlights which work rather well with the otherwise dark colour scheme. A multifunction trip computer is present but its MPG estimates are specious at best.

Now, there were a couple of small imperfections with the interior when I bought it. The centre armrest latch was broken (as apparently is on most Audis), I’ve managed to fix this with a new latch off E-Bay for just £2. It’s not perfect but it fits and it works. The other was a missing trim piece that surrounds the rear-view mirror, replaced it too with a new one for £16.

Mechanical

This generation of A3 (the 8PA) shares its underpinnings with the Mk. 5 Golf, which means that every single mechanical component is shared by the 2 models (and a long list of other VAG cars). Now, such an arrangement has its disadvantages, like the transversally mounted engine (more on that later) and its advantages, like reliability, readily available parts and of course the main one being the price of said parts.

Getting back to my car, the 2.0 FSI Sport comes with a 4 cylinder, 16 valve, DOHC, naturally aspirated 2 liter petrol engine. It produces a decent 150 HP at 6000 rpm and 200 NM of torque at 3500 rpm. FSI stands for fuel stratified injection which means nothing other than it identifies all direct injected VAG petrol engines. Back in the day this was a fairly high-tech engine. Apart from the obvious direct injection it also had variable valve timing and a variable length intake manifold. Direct injection enables it to run a high-ish 11.5:1 compression ratio on 95 octane. The whole thing is mated to a 6 speed manual gearbox that sends power to the front wheels. The gearbox itself, even after all these miles, works great, the shifter is precise and the clutch is light. Not so great is the tall gearing.

Suspension is independent all round with McPherson struts in the front and multi-link in the back. Steering is electro-mechanically assisted, where basically a small electric motor pushes and pulls the steering rack left and right to reduce steering effort. Brakes are disks on all 4 corners and fortunately mine came with fairly new looking disks and pads. One of the joys of a high mileage car, wear items will have been replaced at some point out of necessity. I’ve checked the MOT history and at some point it received an advisory for weak breaks. I suspect they fixed them up sometime after that.

Driving

I’ve mentioned earlier that I didn’t want to buy a car with a small one-point-something engine, knowing that I’ll end up hating it. This 2 liter promised to be at least satisfactory in terms of performance. Most cars of this size make due with a lot less, in fact I’ve seen similarly priced 1-series BMWs and all of them sported a meager 1.6 liters of displacement. So you may think this is a bit of a hot hatch. You’d think, but remember this is not a Peugeot from the late ‘80s, it’s a modern Audi, it’s made of steel, and a lot of it. It weighs in a hefty 1320 kgs; not so long ago you could buy a car twice the size of this one and it would still weigh less. So it’s not fast by any means, it’s, shall we call it, brisk. Official 0-60 time is 9 seconds flat, not bad for this segment and more than enough for daily driving. Weight is not the whole story though, remember that tall gearing I was talking about earlier? That kills acceleration, or the seat of the pants feel of it, even more than the weight. First gear is about average, but with the 17” wheels and wide 225 tyres don’t expect a lot of wheel spin. Torque comes in at a high 3500 rpm, so you really need to give it the beans if you want to launch it properly. Second seems to be too far behind, but once you’re there and you keep the revs above thee and a half grand, you are moving. The sound is phenomenal, for a 4 banger. High revs are rewarded with deep, throaty induction noise. I suspect 3.5k is where the variable length intake switches to the short runners, the air travels a shorter distance and you can hear it screaming as it’s being sucked onto certain death in the combustion chamber. The rest of the gears are nothing to write home about, or anywhere else, for that matter. They’re long and they provide good fuel economy on long trips and contribute to low cabin noise levels. But then we have sixth gear. There is no doubt in my mind that this gear was simply an afterthought on an existing 5 speed unit. The difference in gearing between 5th and 6th is so small that is barely noticeable in engine speed. But since you have it, you might as well use it at high speeds, it probably saves a few drops of fuel. The hydraulic clutch, as mentioned is incredibly light and you can’t feel the biting point in the pedal, you have to rely on your left leg’s motor memory to operate it smoothly.

Handling is where the Sport trim level earns its stripes. From what I could divine on the Internet, the Sport actually comes with slightly lowered and much stiffer springs than standard, and it shows. It corners flat and there is no understeer. In fact, you can go around a corner as fast as you dare, you’ll run out of guts far sooner than the ESP light will make its presence known. Brakes are good with little nosedive and a progressive pedal feel, so it’s easy to apply just the right amount for any given situation. Steering is direct and precise, the small diameter wheel is thick and even has modest thumb bolsters. If, however you’re the kind of person who wants to feel every little bump under the front wheels and is looking for ‘feedback’, well, keep looking cause there isn’t any. The electro-mechanical steering is not a tactile experience, it’s rather visual and gravitational. You see the corner coming, you turn the wheel and hold on for dear life as the g-forces are pulling you left or right. It’s not going to lose grip anyway so it doesn’t really matter. The turning radius is unbelievably bad for a small car, the large transversally mounted engine block and big wheels leave little space for the wheels in the wheel wells, so they turn in at a very shallow angle. All the larger Audis have their engines mounted longitudinally leaving more room for the wheels to turn.

Once you’re done monkeying around and you start driving normally, shifting at low revs, feeding in the throttle and so on, the whole car transforms. There are no vibrations or noises coming from the outside. The large wheels make a good job of ironing out small bumps and the bolstered seats are hard but comfortable, like a modern office chair. Did I mention how quiet it is? When I bought it, every time I stopped at the traffic lights, I quickly gave the tachometer a glance, convinced that it stalled. So yeah... overall it’s a compromise between a good hot hatch and a premium car, posited on the market as the Golf’s more affluent cousin, and you know what, it works.

Practicality

Ergonomics are typically German, among the best. Everything is where it should be and all the switchgear operate with a satisfying, positive feel. There are exceptions of course, the tilt and telescoping steering column doesn’t tilt as high as I’d like and the center armrest collides with the handbrake. Seating position is almost sports car low, coupled with the high belt-line and small side windows, visibility suffers. My car’s heavily tinted windows do provide that coveted drug dealer look, but it reduces visibility even further, especially at night. The exterior mirrors are mostly useless with their diminutive size, so easy to park it isn’t, parking sensors are a must.

Interior space is… adequate. Front seats will accommodate anyone with room to spare, but the back ones are only suitable for slim short people or children. Boot space is plentiful as the car is longer than most hatchbacks (that baby Avant look I mentioned earlier), plus the back seats fold almost flat in a 30/60 split.



As far as fuel economy goes, a 2 liter petrol in a heavy car is not going to be stellar. The deliberate actions of my size 10 is not helping matters. Factory quoted numbers of 40 mpg (imperial) combined are extremely optimistic. The best you’ll get on the motorway is 36 mpg, using 6th gear and obeying the speed limit. Around town you’ll get about 24 mpg instead of the quoted 29 mpg. In my experience these numbers are pretty realistic, expected even. You have been warned.

Reliability/Durability

The question of durability is an interesting one as it can only be answered in retrospect, by which time the car is long out of production and all existing ones have been driven into the ground. Nonetheless if you’re fishing this far downstream it might be worth the effort to seek out a good one. As I mentioned above my high-mileage example is truly a testament to Audi’s build quality, but you have to put that into the correct context. It doesn’t mean that all Audi’s, before or since, have been great, or that all engines run forever. It simply means that this particular model, from this era in this combination was a durable and reliable choice, nothing less, nothing more.

Rust doesn’t seem to be a problem on these cars, but we are in the south of England, where it newer snows, so the roads are not covered in salt for 3 months a year.

As far as reliability goes, most stuff in the engine bay and underneath seem to be factory original. When I bought mine, it had a small oil leak from a stripped sump plug that needed to be fixed pronto. It wasn’t really a defect, but something to be expected on an old car that’s being sold for cheap. A local garage re-threaded the sump and fitted a new plug for £50. The parking sensors had a mind of their own, working on odd days but not on even ones. I tracked down the problem to the sensors themselves and decided to replace all 4 with cheap ones off E-bay (£40 the lot). Painted and fitted them myself, they work great ever since. Add to this the armrest latch and the missing trim mentioned above and that is pretty much it. I’m not listing here general service items like oil, filters, spark plugs that I replaced, since you have to do that on any car. Oh, and remember the myriad of courtesy lights? I had to replace 2 of them for £1 apiece.

Verdict

So what is the final word? If I’d have to re-live the same situation would I buy this car again? Absolutely, for the budget I had it was a great buy. I genuinely like it, no regrets.

Should you buy one? That’s for you to decide. Nevertheless, here is some free advice: do not buy the base 1.6 version, in a heavy car like this it will be a complete dog. It’s also highly unlikely to find a small engine variant with all the nice options, certainly no Sport trim. After the 2007 facelift the entire line-up became turbocharged, except the V6. The 2.0 FSI was replaced by a 1.8 T FSI which comes with 160 HP and the promise of more low end grunt. For more power you could go for the turbo 2.0 T FSI (200 HP) or the whole hog 3.2 V6 (240 HP). Those will all likely have the nice interiors, the big wheels but will also be priced well over what I paid for mine.


Walkaround and short test-drive videos of this car on YouTube:











Technical specs               
                        
Model designation
8PA
Doors/Seats
5/5
Length
4286 mm
Width
1765 mm
Height
1423 mm
Wheelbase
2578 mm
Front track
1531 mm
Rear track
1515 mm
Curb weight
1315 kg
Max weight
1875 kg
Boot volume
370/1120 liters
Fuel tank
55 liters (12 gal. imp)
Engine
2.0 FSI - Petrol
Engine size
1984 cc
Engine placement
Front - transversely
Fuel delivery
Direct injection, NA
No cylinders - formation
4 - inline
Valves/cylinder
4
Valvetrain
DOHC
Bore
82.5 mm
Stroke
92.8 mm
Compression ratio
11.5 : 1
Max power
150 HP/6000 rpm
Max torque
200 NM/3500 rpm
Redline
6500 rpm
Gearbox
6 speed manual
Driveline
FWD
Brakes front/rear
Ventilated disc/disc, ABS
Front suspension
McPherson struts
Rear suspension
Multi-link
Steering
Rack and pinion - electric PAS
Wheels -Tyres
7.5J x 17 - 225/45 R17
0-60 Mph (0-100 km/h)
9 (9.1) sec.
Top Speed
133 Mph (214 km/h)
Fuel economy (claimed)
Urban/Motorway/Comb.
MPG imp.
29/51/40
L/100 km
9.6/5.5/6.9