Best Audi A3 Mods (8L A3 1996-2005)

"A3 Tuning on the 8L  1996-2005 (90-225hp)"

So when it comes to upgrades which are the best Audi A3 mods? This guide to tuning and mods for your A3 is based on my experience of owning one for 7 years. I found quite a few Audi A3 mods were offered. This was thanks in part to sharing a platform and engine with the popular Golf.

My A3 Mods are documented in this page for your reference and I would encourage you to pass on your experiences with upgrades to your A3 in the comments section below.

It was a great project car and I found a few mods and upgrades that weren't working too well, so I'll steer you through the ones I found most beneficial and give you some A3 modification ideas.

Before we talk about Audi A3 Mods and upgrades it would be good to get an overview of the range, determine the best engines and then build this into a project car guide.

Intro to the Audi A3

In order to compete with the Golf and the Focus, which are two of the most important objectives in the European automotive sector, Audi's design team came up with the A3 (mk1 8L). As a result, the A3 is Audi's response to the Golf niche but done in a more premium Audi manner.

The fact that Audi produces a car in a new class makes people sit up and take attention; they take a popular model and perfect it, giving us a fantastic vehicle to customize and improve.

My A3 tuning and modding experiences and recommendations are detailed on these pages since I've had a total of 5 A3s over the years, one from each generation and with a variety of various engine choices.

It was originally manufactured in 1996, and it had just three doors at the time. Then, in 1999, Audi decided to heed the advice of its critics and introduced a 5-door model. The early cars were excellent efforts, and decent clean 8L A3s are still available on the second-hand market for a reasonable price today.

The body panels were much thicker than on the later 8P version, and despite the fact that the internal capacity was limited, it radiated excellent construction and was very well assembled.

This vehicle was distinguished from the competition by features such as courtesy lights in the doors, lights that turned on when you opened the mirror flap in the sun visor, and other subtle touches. However, many of these features were eliminated when the 8P was introduced.

Avoid the 1.6 litre (non-turbo) engine found in the early mk1 since it seems underpowered and costs a small sum to upgrade even a tiny amount of power.

Audi A3 Mods & Upgrade Guide

The A3 is a great car modification project to take up your weekends. If you do your planning then you can create an awesome A3 but don't be fooled there are lots of sports kits out there that will simply not suit it read our unbiased guides first.

Tuning tips and articles

Audi A3 8L Engine Tuning.

Please watch my video which covers the principles of Audi A3 tuning. Be sure to subscribe and support our new channel.

Best Audi A3 Mods

We get asked a lot of questions like, What upgrades can I do to my Audi A3? Can you remap a Audi A3? Can you mod an Audi A3? and we've summarised the 8 best mods for your A3 here.

  1. Audi A3 Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - forced induction is the most dramatic method to increase air supply, ensuring you are able to combust more fuel and make better power figures. Typically one of the most technically difficult upgrades but provides the best gains.
  2. A3 Suspension Upgrades - Upgrading your suspension dramatically improves A3 handling Coilovers and Bushings are the usual go to mods
  3. Audi A3 Brake Mods - Improve your A3's stopping power should be near the top of your Mods list.
  4. Audi A3 Fast road Camshafts are significant power adders, but they must be fitted by someone who knows what they are doing and they are not always easy to source but you might have a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft .
  5. Audi A3 Head work - The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.
  6. Audi A3 Intake Upgrades and Exhaust Upgrades - NB: on their own these mods won't ADD POWER , but they can help lift power after other mods by losing a restriction.
  7. Audi A3 Mapping - A3 remapping provides the biggest gains for the money, replacement ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
  8. Audi A3 Lighter flywheels - a lower mass flywheel will improve the engines ability to rev freely. But not always suitable for all A3 engines.

Audi A3 8L Tuning Stages

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Alloy wheels, Lighter flywheelSuspension upgrade (drop ), Remap, Panel air filter, Sports exhaust.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: Fast road cam, Ported and polished head, Power/Sport clutch, high flow fuel injector, fuel pump upgrades.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Sports gearbox, Competition cam, Engine balancingInternal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves), Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger).

Which are the best engines? We rate the 1.9TDi and 1.8Twhich suited the car nicely. There are also plenty of tuning options for these engines and it makes for impressive power gains.

Audi A3 Engine Codes and Specs

1.6 8v 1996–2000 AEH/AKL/APF 101 PS (74 kW; 100 hp) at 5,600 rpm 145 Nm (107 lbft) at 3,800 rpm
1.6 8v 2000–2003 AVU/BFQ 102 PS (75 kW; 101 hp) at 5,600 rpm 148 Nm (109 lbft) at 3,800 rpm
1.8 20v 1996–2003 AGN/APG 125 PS (92 kW; 123 hp) at 6,000 rpm 170 Nm (125 lbft) at 4,200 rpm
1.8 20vT 1996–2003 AGU/ARZ/ARX/AUM 150 PS (110 kW; 148 hp) at 5,700 rpm 210 Nm (155 lbft) at 1,750–4,600 rpm
1.8 20vT 1999–2003 AJQ/APP/ARY/AUQ 180 PS (132 kW; 178 hp) at 5,500 rpm 235 Nm (173 lbft) at 1,950–5,000 rpm
1.8 20vT (S3) 1999–2001 APY, AMK 210 PS (154 kW; 207 hp) at 5,800 rpm 270 Nm (199 lbft) at 2,100 rpm
1.8 20vT (S3) 2001–2003 BAM 225 PS (165 kW; 222 hp) at 5,900 rpm 280 Nm (207 lbft) at 2,200 rpm
Diesel engines
1.9 8v TDI 1996–2001 AGR/ALH 90 PS (66 kW; 89 hp) at 4,000 rpm 210 Nm (155 lbft) at 1,900 rpm
1.9 8v TDI 2001–2003 ATD/AXR 100 PS (74 kW; 99 hp) at 4,000 rpm 240 Nm (177 lbft) at 1,800–2,400 rpm
1.9 8v TDI 1997–2000 AHF/ASV 110 PS (81 kW; 108 hp) at 4,150 rpm 235 Nm (173 lbft) at 1,900 rpm
1.9 8v TDI 2000–2003 ASZ 130 PS (96 kW; 128 hp) at 4,000 rpm 310 Nm (229 lbft) at 1,900 rpm

I've taken the effort to cover as many popular A3 engines & Audi A3 mods as I possibly can; here are links to our A3 engine tuning guides, which provide lots of ideas on how to modify these engines. Many of these would be good candidates for engine swaps, although it is often simpler to change engines from the same generation as the vehicle in question.

Audi A3 Modifications

Is the Audi A3 turbo charged? Not all had the turbo, but to be frank the naturally aspirated engines are underpowered and do not offer great returns when tuned. The best 1st gen models were the 1.8 Turbo and the Turbo Diesel engines and these are our recommended engines for your A3 tuning project.

For all generations I would recommend at least 140hp, anything less just feels slow.

Interestingly the VW Golf of this same generation has a bigger choice of engines.

How can I make my Audi s3 faster? The same applies to tuning an A3 - get a remap done and upgrade the turbo for larger power gains. We will create a dedicated S3 tuning article for this.

A3 Handling/Suspension Upgrades

Improving the handling for loads of people first priority in your A3 tuning project.

A decent set of coilovers will make a big difference to the handlign on the A3 8L. They were prone to lift off oversteer, thanks mainly to the rear suspension design (torsion beam), but they do suffer from excessive body roll.

We would go to a maximum drop of 23 - 39 on most models. You risk handling compromises if you go lower than this. Bear in mind the sport models already have lowered suspension.

Upgrades to the A3's suspension and handling

Handling tweaks are often the initial step for the A3 tuner, and there are many options to choose from. We would go with a front strut brace to tighten up the suspension geometry.

What considerations must you make when setting up and selecting your suspension if your A3 serves as a daily car as well?

Uprated Bushes

Rear suspension bushes are usually the culprit if you have a rattle from the rear and is quite common as they age.

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.

Enhancements to the A3 bushings: Things you need to know

It is possible to connect the A3's suspension components to the chassis of the A3 using poly bushes, which are replacements for the factory mounts. The rubber ones will wear out with time and need replacing anyway so why not upgrade.

New OEM rubber bushings may have a major impact on the performance of your vehicle and is a mod I would recommend.

Because the polyurethane bushes are firmer, the ride may be a bit bumpier, but they will last longer and maintain the handling.

I found that it was best to use OEM rubber bushings on the rear suspension mounts, as poly ones were too hard, but that said we can get softer poly bushes now and I'll report back if these work well (if you've tried this please let us know in the comments below).

With a new set of polyeyurothane bushes, the excessive play associated with rubber bushes may be lessened and this will sharpen up the Audi A3 handling characteristics.

How low should you go on the A3?

TorqueCars research and testing indicate that the maximum suspension drop for most road vehicles is 23 - 39 millimetres, whereas the maximum suspension drop for cars that are factory fitted with lowered springs is 20 millimetres.

These tolerances may be drastically lowered if the wheel size is changed. Even with 17" wheels and stock suspension, lowering the vehicle might result in lots of complications.

Stability may be improved by lowering the A3, but the ultimate goal should always be to enhance handling. It is critical to use the right shocks when employing lower springs.

We found that most A3 factory suspension setups need tweaking, a few degrees of toe (set some toe out to improve cornering or use toe in for better stability) and you only need around degrees, and a tiny bit of negative camber will usually benefit your cornering and handling.

Audi A3 8L Brake Upgrades

Brake improvements are an excellent choice for any tuning effort, regardless of the vehicle. It is important not to overlook the brake pads, which are even more important than the discs, and selecting the incorrect pad material might have a significant influence on the braking capabilities of your A3 as well as the longevity of your discs.

Brake Pad recommendations

Improve your A3's stopping power by simply installing high-quality brake pads. Audi A3 brake pad mods make great sense and can do quite a bit to improve your stopping even though it is a stage 1 bolt on mod.

Drivers should keep in mind that race-spec pads are intended to operate at greater temperatures. As a result, even when they are blazing hot, they maintain their effectiveness on the track.

They aren't recommended for road usage due to their lack of bite while cold; In reality, it may only take a second or two for them to warm up and begin biting, but this results in a greater stopping distance than other options.

Pad friction decreases with age, in part because of the many heating and cooling cycles. So don't buy new pads when they're completely worn out an earlier replacement will stop this degradation.

Pagid brake pads, which I installed on my A3, perform well on the road while also providing respectable performance on the racetrack. The EBC Greenstuff pads, which were low-dust and functioned effectively, were also good, but I still prefer the Pagid pads, despite the dust they produce. Our users have tested a variety of others and have given them high ratings and recommendations so please join our forums to ask for their recommendations.

For dramatically enhanced braking you should get better performance pads and mate this with bigger discs.

Note that motorsport pads can grind and will have to be hot before they bite.

In every day driving the brakes are only applied now and then, therefore won't stop you as well so specify friction pads which have a low working temperature.

Tips for cheap brake Mods on your A3 8L

Before purchasing an upgrade, measure the 1.6's 256 or 288mm discs to see whether they fit a hub swap may be required if you have the smaller size. If you are on the larger size then you have many upgrade options.

For example you can upgrade your A3 to the 2.8 Golf and the R32, which both need 312mm and 334mm, respectively.

Fortunately, there are a wide range of alternatives to pick from, including vented, drilled, and grooved, and 4 and 6 pot calliper conversions and even expensive aftermarket big brake kits.

When compared to the expense of an aftermarket arrangement, a slightly bigger set from the S or RS series will be more than enough for the majority of A3 drivers. These may be found at breakers yards and on the second-hand market for much less money (see our store link at the top to find sources of these). Many Porsche brakes are also fairly easy to fit, providing you have the alloy wheel space.

Don't go overboard with your brake enhancements; you just need to stop the automobile, not crumple up the tarmac the car is running on!

It is preferable for the disc to be a more efficient cooler since the pad spreads braking heat across it. Look at vented, grooved and drilled brake discs to improve this cooling ability. New callipers and pads are needed to fit larger discs in order to increase a cars' braking power.

Discs and pads should be swapped out in most cases. You'll see an instant benefit from going with a larger disc due to the increased friction and heat dissipation that comes with it.

Remapping your A3 8L

How much does it cost to remap a Audi A3? It depends on who you go to and where you live, expect to pay around £250-£400 for a decent remap, or $350 to $600 in US money.

Performance tuning table for A3 Mods

We are assuming a 1400kgs kerb weight, & Manual transmission for the performance tuning figures in the table below - 225 is a sensible aim for the 1.8T.

Base power Quarter
Mile
Tuned
to
Kerb
Weight
Quarter
Mile
115hp 18.27 120hp 1400kg 18.02
150hp 16.77 170hp 1400kg 16.1
185hp 15.67 225hp 1400kg 14.71
640hp 1400kg 10.98
550hp 1200kg 10.97

Anything over 225hp will require all wheel drive or rear wheel drive due to traction issues, even with a clever setup and differential you'll be hard pressed to get that power down on a FWD A3 so go with a quattro drivetrain instead.

When Tuning your A3 choose your remapper carefully.

What is it about original equipment manufacturer (OEM) maps that makes them so subpar? In most cases, adjusting fuel, spark and boost to meet local fuel emission regulations and temperatures is necessary to get a single configuration for everyone.

There is a need for a universal rule of thumb since different countries utilise different gasoline grades and experience varying degrees of inclement weather.

Be careful of high peak hp and Torque claims. As a side note, some tuners are known to produce a brief power spike in order to grab attention and get headline power figures and cover up the inadequacy of their map profile.

An illustration of this may be seen in the graph below.

The Red graph has the headline power spike of 200hp but when you compare it with the 175hp green trace you see a different story entirely.

For an engine that reaches its redline at 7000 rpm, knowing that its peak power is at 4000 rpm is quite helpful.

Maps should show us a steady increase in torque with no dips or troughs like the green line above.

A3 8L Alloy Wheel Upgrades & Mods

Upgrades for A3 Alloy Wheels are one of the most popular mods, so what do we recommend you choose size wise?

What are the benefits of upgrading your alloy wheels?

Alloy wheels may reduce your vehicle's unsprung weight and improve the cooling of your brakes. But conversely if they are larger they will diminish these benefits.

Tires aren't something we can go into great length about here but since they are so crucial to the car's ability to put power down on the road we have a separate range of articles and videos on these. Tires with directional tread patterns function well on the A3 and make a considerable difference over inexpensive tyres.

Performance might be hampered by large A3 alloy wheels though. Big alloy wheels will alter your final drive ratio if you choose to upgrade your vehicle as well as make the unsprung wheel mass heavier.

Keeping this in mind, try to maintain the wheel's total diameter at the factory-specified size. In any situations, we do not advocate going bigger than 17 inches.

After driving a comparable A3 with 17-inch wheels, I realised that the 18-inch wheels made the vehicle seem sluggish and detract from its great handling.

If I had to equip bigger brakes, I would gladly run on 18s, but I love the handling of 17s. Weighing in is a huge issue here, and it's possible that light 18s won't feel much different from 17s.

Audi A3 Performance Tuning Mods

A3 8L Turbo Upgrades

For a brief period between 1996 to 2000, the K03 turbo was offered. The K03s turbos are used on the 1.8T engine, which is simpler and less powerful, i.e. AGU. Smaller injectors and a MAF sensor are used in these engines.

They are used in AUM engines with MAF and MAP sensors that have the K03 turbos. Better drive-by-wire throttle is used in these engines, resulting in faster response times, greater fuel economy, and improved performance.

The KO3 turbo has 12 blades and can produce roughly 200 horsepower with the proper upgrades; the K03s, on the other hand, has 8 blades and can sustain 220 to 250 bhp.

The K04 has a bigger turbo and was available in three different models (some suited to the transverse engine layout in the A4)

  • K04-020 In K04-022, there is no temperature gauge aperture;
  • in K04-023, there is a temperature gauge aperture.
  • In K04-022, there is no temperature gauge aperture;

This K04 can flow up to about 300bhp with additional changes and should easily produce 250bhp when remapped on the base 1.8T. When using these turbos to their full potential, you should consider upgrading the air intake and intercooler.

For 1.8T turbos, assume K03 unless otherwise specified; nonetheless, regional variations exist.

K03S  were found in engine codes BBU, BE, BJX, BVP, ARY, AUQ, AWV, K03S BBU, BE, BJX, BVP, ARY, AUQ, AWV,

Owners of KO3 turbos may easily improve their engines by installing a KO4 turbocharger or even the K03s.

Most customers claim that the KO4 turbo works great on the stock manufacturer's ECU Map for optimum power improvements, despite the complexity of the software.

A lot of aftermarket Audi tuners recommend remapping the stock KO3 engine and setting the boost to 1 bar, and then when the K03 gives up on you seek for a better flowing unit like the K04 or a solid hybrid to replace it with.

When the KO3 begins to lose power around 5000 rpm, the KO4 still offers decent power, making it the ideal track day or drag strip turbo.

The KO4 modifies the characteristics of the engine and makes pulling hard more satisfying. When it comes to low-down, low boost power, you may expect the KO4 to be faster, but this isn't the case at all.

Aftermarket turbos that fit the stock down pipe are readily available, and they may be customised to meet your specific needs. Many drivers want a combination of economy below 2500 rpm and substantial power boosts between 3000 and 5500 rpm, and these turbos can provide both.

Turbo limits - those listed below as safe retain factory reliability and lifespan, Maximum however is pushing to the limits and will certainly shorten the lifespan of the turbo so avoid this unless you plan to replace your turbo.

Turbo Safe Max Maximum
K03 190hp 220hp
K03s 215hp 250hp
K04 220hp 350hp

With a few minor adjustments with a Stage 1 remap, you should expect your A3's K03s turbo to produce between 210 and 220 horsepower (Air filter, exhaust, bolt-on modifications).

Living with an Audi A3 8L (Problems and issues)

Gear change on Mk 1 particularly 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.

Yes, that's right you need every mm of clutch pedal travel. I found out the hard way that the clutch travel was compromised by my mats, and was why I was crunching gears!

There are a few problems and issues to look out for on popular vag group engines, but I've split these off into other articles.

  1. 2.0 TFSi carbon buildup issues - direct injection engines require an intake clean.
  2. 2.0 TFSi problems - N75 and N249, high oil consumption,  Cam Follower wear, Water Pump failure, and Turbo issues
  3. 2.0 TDi problems - Flywheel, Oil pump,  Lumpy Idling
  4. 1.8T Problems - Diagnosing the common faults and issues

Please join us in our forum to discuss the A3 8P options in more detail with our A3 8P owners. It would also be worth reading our A3 8L tuning articles to get a full grasp of the pros and cons of each type of modification.

Check out my YouTube channel, we're regularly adding new content...


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