Tuning the Audi A3
"Audi A3 Tuning"
When Audi produce a car, other manufacturers sit up and take notice.
A credible rival to the Golf and Focus, key targets in the European car market.
It was first produced in 1996 where is was restricted to 3 doors. Then in 1999 Audi saw fit to listen to their critics and add a 5 door version. The early models were a superb effort and good clean MK1 A3's still command a good price on the used market today.
The later Mk2 improved further adding more interior space (the interior of the MK2 A3 is the same as in the A4!), then in 2013 the model was further refined and revised winning Audi many awards and accolades.
Handling and performance easily rivaled the best in its class. The range topping S3 which was revised in 2001 was incredibly lively and fun to drive and addressed most of the unfair criticisms of the earlier S3 model.
The later RS3 is one of our favorite cars offering fantastic handling and performance. They make superb tuning projects and are great track day cars.
On the Mk2 but we would choose the petrol 1.8T everytime, on the Mk2 A3's P7 we would go with the 2.0 TFSi or the 2.0 TDI 140 as these both offer great returns when tuned. 170 turbo diesels can be a real pain if the fuel injectors start playing up and they have the dreaded DPF filters, the smaller twincharged cars are pretty maxed out and don't offer much when tuned.
The early pre 2003 models had little rear legroom and essentially this restricted the rear for young passengers. Boot space is generally very good. Some owners of the 1.8T engine reported problems with early coil packs, although these will most certainly have been replaced by now.
See our 1.8T tuning guide for more tips on this excellent engine.
Using the wrong type of oil can cause the oil pump to clog up and total engine failure so adhere closely to the specified engine servicing regimen and you should be fine. The model range was later revised in 2003 addressing the problem of rear passenger leg room.
Gear change into 1st and sometimes into 2nd can be a little notchy at times when rushed on a cold gearbox combined with short journeys. A quick shift kit can improve this. Check that the gearbox oil level is topped up and don't fit thick car mats.
Audi A3 engine Tuning
In a 1.8T head the exhaust uses 2 valves and the intake uses the 3. This makes the exhaust gas exhalation a weak spot in the engine. Enlarging the exit ports, doing a 3 angle valve job on the ports and flowing the head will greatly help improve the ariflow and should be considered essential if you are after large power gains.
The later 2.0 TFSi engines reportedly suffer from cam follower wear and the intake clogging up with carbon. See our 2.0 TFSi article for details.
See our 1.8T tuning guide for more tips on this excellent engine.
Fitting a larger turbo will be a logical upgrade path on all cars. The KO4 makes sense if you have the KO3 turbo, even diesels will benefit from a turbo upgrade, see our engine specific articles for tips on which turbo's to choose on these. Hybrid turbos are also an option.
Fitting an induction kit or panel filter to the 2.0TFSi engine will give a more relaxed drive, the engine will hold revs more easily and you'll find more top end power.
Panel filters and inductions kits MAKE NO DIFFERENCE on the Diesel models so don't waste time fitting them. The standard airboxes flow really well.
The earlier A3 is prone to lift off oversteer thanks in part to it's torsion beam rear suspension. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on your driving style but this little trait has got me out of trouble a number of times.
The Twincharged engines offer a lot of performance but are not that economical unless driven extremely frugally, and they don't offer massive returns on tuning them.
Handling on later editions of the A3 have been considerably improved. Fit poly bushings and anti roll bars to tighten things up if they are starting to wear.
Rear suspension bushes should be checked if you have a rattle from the rear. This can be quite a big job to do and requires a special tool but your handling will be greatly compromised if you leave the worn bushes on the car.
You can use polyurethane bushes but we would suggest the main rear bushes are left as VAG spec rubber ones.
The best tires I have found for my Mk1 A3 is the Goodyear Eagle F1 which, although they wear quite quickly they do add a lot of cornering grip and feel.
The Mk2 A3 work well with Pirelli Pzero Rossa, and Continental conti sport 5 or 6.
The 2.0T FSI engine is quite remappable but early engines were prone to a few weaknesses which thankfully Audi have now sorted out.
A remap on the 2.0T FSI can push the power to over 250bhp easily. With a bigger or hybrid turbo you can see power figures in the order of 350 to 400bhp.
Fitting a twin intercooler to the A3 like the ones used in the S3 will help to address the problem of heat soak. A front mounted intercooler is better but will require a different intake, like that on the 225bhp TT where the inlet is on the right and this makes it easier to connect a front mounted intercooler.
A strut brace will help to give a little more front end rigidity.
Brake upgrades are a good idea. You can actually source some nice brakes from the VW parts bin. The 1.6 will probably have the 256 or 288mm disc measure them to check this before buying an upgrade. The 2.8 Golf uses 312mm and the R32 334mm both of which make an excellent upgrade path for your A3.
The S3, RS3 and RS4 are also fitted with bigger discs and providing the stud pattern is correct and you have the right clearance within your wheels you could use these as your upgrade. If your A3 has the 256 or 288mm discs then it has different hub carriers and wont allow you fit the larger disks. If this is your situation then you should look for the hubs from the later 1.8t, Octavia VRS, or Seat Leon Cupra. You can usually pick these up from a breakers yard quite cheaply.
Another option for a more radical upgrade is to fit Porsche 996 calipers on the car and go with a Porsche brake setup.
Avoid the 1.6 liter engine as it feels too underpowered. The 1.8T and later 2.0TFSi are the best propositions although the 2.0 TDI's and all Quattro models give a good mix of power and economy.
A remap is your first and most effective choice of a mod if you have an A3 fitted with a turbo. The right map can make a massive difference to the cars performance and handling.
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