Tuning the Audi A3

"Thanks for reading my Audi A3 tuning tips."

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.

I've actually owned 4 A3's now, a mk1 a mk2 a mk2 diesel and now the mk3. So I've picked up some pointers and you can learn from my mistakes and discoveries.

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 rivalled 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.

The A3 is the Audi attack on the Golf market done in an upmarket Audi way. The A3 has very nice handling and a wide range of engine choices making it a great tuning project choice.

On the Mk2 range we would choose the petrol 1.8T every time (See our 1.8T tuning guide for more tips on this excellent engine)

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 but are engaging to drive.

The revision to the range in 2012 brought in many welcome improvements and a return to traditional Audi build quality.

The 1.4 TFSi and 1.5 TFSi engines would be our pick of this range as a credible alternative to the diesel options.

I chose the 1.4TFSi on my latest A3, and am really pleased with it.

The 2012 RS3 is a stunning car, and wears the RS badge very well. Interior space and equipment have all been improved over previous models.

Tuning modifications.

This list of the stages and uprated modifications are usually carried out by our members, decide how far you wish to go in your tuning project before you start.

Getting the correct grade of tuning mods for your planned usage of the car is essential. Stage 3 (competition) mods just don't work well on the road difficult in stop start traffic.

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Alloy wheels, Sports exhaust, Remap, Panel air filter, Lighter flywheel, Suspension upgrade (drop 30-40mm).

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

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

Peak power is nice in motorsport but for a daily driven car you need a long power band and perhaps extending the rev range.


Tuning tips and articles

Engine tuning Transmission tuning Care care Intake & exhaust mods Improve handling Forums

We love the Tiptronic autoboxes, they are so efficient and sporty it makes having a manual stick redundant.

Audi A3 engine Tuning

Avoid the early mk1's 1.6 liter engine (no turbo) as it feels too underpowered and costs a small fortune to make even a small power hike.

I have taken the time to cover as many popular A3 engines as I can, here are links to the engine tuning guides.

On the Mk2's and Mk3's the 1.8T and the later 2.0TFSi and 2.5 TFSi are the best propositions although the 2.0 TDI's and all Quattro models give a good mix of power and economy.

The early 1.4TSi and TFSi was an interesting a lively engine, with a twincharge option on some models and remapping these yields fantastic results.

From 2012 anything producing 150bhp feels incredibly lively, the smaller lighter TFSI  engines just add to the experience

The later 1.4 TFSi and 1.5 TFSi are simply amazing, small light revvy and pretty powerful, for a person looking for power and economy there is no other choice. (We are working on the guides for the 1.5 engines at the moment.)

The RS engine is the range topping go to model but even the new diesel engines have become quite refined and clean burning now.

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.

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 airflow and should be considered essential if you are after large power gains.

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.

The 2.0 TDI is a great engine, if a little agricultural compared to other more refined diesels, with a slight lump on tick over.

It is a solid performer and returns stellar levels of fuel economy even when pushed hard. Our 2.0TDI tuning guide has more information on this engine and what to look out for.

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.

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 (I've tried it myself and wasted my money so you don't have to).

The standard airboxes flow really well (the same goes for exhausts on the diesel, although a better flowing DPF will help if yours has one fitted).

Handling mods.

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.

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.

Good suspension tweaks that dramatically benefit handling for the A3 include a couple of degrees negative camber and 1-1.5 degrees of toe in or out on the front wheels.

Toe in for stability, or Toe out to improve cornering. It would also pay to improve the brakes, by adding larger discs and or higher friction pads..

We would go to a maximum drop of 27mm - 40 mm on most models. You risk rubbing on the arches if you go lower than this.

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.

Purple A3 tuning

You can use polyurethane bushes but we would suggest the main rear bushes are left as VAG spec rubber ones.

We have not tried and tested all tyres but in our experience the best tires for the A3 are...

  • Mk1 A3 are the Goodyear Eagle F1 which, although they wear quite quickly they do add a lot of cornering grip and feel. Conti Sports and Michelin Pilots also work very well and are great in wet conditions.
  • The Mk2 A3 works well with Pirelli Pzero Rossa, and Continental Conti sport 5 or 6.
  • Mk3 A3's follow the Mk2 tyre recommendations but we would also add the Goodyear SP Sport MAX as an option we have tried and really liked.

A strut brace will help to give a little more front end rigidity.

Brake upgrades

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.

Alloy wheel upgrades.

The benefits of alloys include lowering your unsprung weight and more efficient brake cooling.

We can't go into too much detail here about tires but they are how the car puts the power down on the road so are a critical choice. directional tread pattern tires work well on A3, and make a big difference over budget tires. Large A3 alloy wheels can decrease performance. If you get big alloy wheels you will be changing your final drive ratio.

With this in mind aim to keep the overall rolling diameter of the wheel the standard factory sizes. In all cases we do not recommend going larger than 17 inches.

The 18's feel too heavy and mars the cars excellent handling, and I only discovered this when I got to drive a similar A3 with 17's and it felt so much better.

I would happily run with 18's if I needed to fit larger brakes, but I do prefer the handling on the 17's. Weight is a big factor here and perhaps light 18's will not feel much different to 17's.

If you would like to know more, or just get some friendly advice on Tuning your car please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss A3 options in more detail with our A3 owners.

It would also be worth reading our unbiased Audi tuning articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

Buyers guide, weakspots and things to look out for.

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.

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.

This was improved on the MK2 models we have tried and a MK3 gearbox in my current car works perfectly without any notchy gear changes.

Suspension in S line models is hard and crashy, perfect for a thrash around in the countryside but quite wearing for long drives with the family in toe.

A set of adjustable coil overs would hit the compromise between ride quality and handling. We would also bias the toe out a little more on the fronts, with a 1-2 degrees of camber on the front suspension to improve cornering and handling.

The MK2 S line springs tend to break, I had a full set break in the space of a year when the car had hit 90,000 miles, my mechanic told me he's had to change loads of these.

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.

The early 2.0 TFsi engines had a carbon build up issue & potential timing chain problem, see our 2.0 TFSi article for this engine for more info on how to diagnose, fix this.

Join us in the forum to swap tuning tips with other Audi owners and browse the tuning section for tips and the latest modifications to get the most out of your Audi A3 tuning project.

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Your Constructive comments on this article

4 Responses to “A3 tuning”

  1. Gordon Morison says:

    All points very succinct and well covered.My own wheels is an A3 2L Spotrback FSI. I suppose I was expecting too much for this model to be covered , however the main content was excellent .

  2. andy knott says:

    great artical do you have anything on the 3.2 v6 a3 as i was thinking of supercharging mine but struggling to find something.

  3. James says:

    Absolutely brilliant articles! Tell me more about the CFFB ea189 140 TDI engine / clutch and gearbox! Id love to hear about reoccurring problems & is it worth getting a rebuilt cffb & adding my own ancillaries? Then tuning after?

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