A3 Audi Quattro suspension and other "expedition" mods

Camuyano

New member
Hello All,

I needed a new daily driver that was better for city driving and started looking around at crossover wagons such as the Volvo XC70 or the Audi Allroad but ended up with something completely different and bit off-the-wall: a 2008 A3 Quattro 3.2 S-line.

While I must admit that was hooked the instant I heard the rumble of that V6 coming from the S-line sport exhaust, I was also intrigued by the prospect of a compact all-purpose sport wagon that would be a decent commuter, a lightweight "expedition vehicle" for civilized camping near urban areas and accessible unpaved roads as well perhaps even a fun car for track days, rallycross and autocross. I know this is a tall order and there will plenty of naysayers but I have nothing better to do at the moment.

I've already ordered an authentic Westfalia trailer hitch and wiring package from Eurohitches.com so I can tow a lightweight trailer. This kit was expensive but much more heavy duty than the Northamerican alternatives such as Curt as the Westy is rated for up to 4,000 pounds. The "official" story is that I need it to tow a utility trailer for household shores and trash runs but I'm already dreaming of off-road teardrop or pop-up trailer and/or small toyhawler for bikes or boats.

I also ordered the Yakima Q-clips and towers for use some bars I have and plan to equip it with a basket for hauling camping gear and to give it an "off-road" rally look. I would also like to equip it with a front light bar and some underbody protection down the road. (If someone knows of a good source for these, please let me know. There are some suppliers out there for VWs and Volvos but not much for Audi - perhaps they are too "upmarket" to be considered practical rally cars.)

Which brings me to my main question: what to do about the suspension. Ideally, I would like to have adjustable suspension so I can convert the car from street/track to "off-road" configuration relatively easily. This doesn't have to be a push button operation but realistically it should not take more than a couple of hours for it to be practical at all. It also does not have to be a huge lift since I do not plan to go rock crawling with this thing. (Perhaps an inch or two?) I would also want not to compromise the handling and ride quality too much while on street mode. (Ideally, it would be like a WRC car going from tarmac to gravel configuration without all those expensive bits and teams of technicians.)

I have seen airlift suspension kits for these cars but it is more of a "slam kit" for dropping the car down to the floor like a low rider. I don't know if such kits could be modified for my purpose or how this would compromise the reliability and ride over either paved or unpaved roads. Also, I have no idea of what is involved in changing a regular rally suspension from tarmac to gravel or even if such a thing is possible on an A3.

Any information and/or ideas welcome even if they are highly speculative.
 

WagoneerSX4

Adventurer
I use my SX4 AWD as an expedition vehicle, but it sounds like I'm geared more towards off roading it than you are. But all I have is 2.5" lift kit, 28" AT tires and full front/rear skids and the little thing is unstoppable (I like to think it is).

Some simple strut spacers is an easy way and probably the best way to get some lift. I can almost guarantee there is nothing off-the-shelf to lift an A3, but anyone can fab up custom strut spacers. Just check that the suspension geometry is still within spec if you lift it and probably need longer camber bolts to get the alignment within spec. I think the s-line springs are already shorter than the stock springs so maybe going to a taller spring might be a good idea first. Then after that, the most important thing, get some good AT tires. They're doing some amazing things with tires these days. You really no longer have to sacrifice road manners because you want some grip off the Tarmac. Tons of good choices out there. And I assume the s-line comes with big wheels and low-profile tires. It would probably be a good idea to have a dedicated set of wheels that are a smaller diameter to get some more sidewall.

Good choice on the 3.2, probably much better for your needs than the 2.0T which has zero off-boost torque. Don't let people tell you that you need a jeep or a land cruiser to enjoy the outdoors!
 

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Redrock

Observer
So....the short answer is that the A3 isn't going to really do what you want it to. Hate to say it, but there it is.

The long answer is that I, at one time, considered offroad modding a Golf TDI for economical long-distance travel, did a ton of research, and ultimately rejected it as too compromised. The A3 is even more so. You can car-camp in anything, and an A3 won't have too much trouble on a graded gravel road, but you bought a street-oriented luxury performance compact and it'll be hard to make it what it's not. Ultimately, a WRX/STi would have been a better option for what you're looking to do, because there's a considerable Subaru aftermarket, but that's neither here nor there.

The aftermarket for this sort of thing for A3s in particular and Audis in general is extremely limited, as it's really a luxury car, not in any way a "rally" car. You might be able to lift it a bit, but you're not going to find what you're looking for unless you're willing to pay for extensive custom fabrication and testing, or do it yourself. You may be able to fit Euro-market "rough road" springs from the VW Golf and get perhaps 3/4in-1in of lift, and you may be able to find some shocks like the Koni FSD with user-modifiable ride height to go with them. I'd expect a significant degradation in roll control from that setup, unfortunately, and you will lose the S-line's excellent handling (which you already paid for). I'd also look into bump stops, because performance shocks are meant for smooth tarmac, not for sharp jolts, and you'll wreck them offroad if you bottom out. You can probably also get some more clearance with smaller wheels and a set of more rugged tires with meatier sidewalls, but make sure to check things like tire clearance while turning. You will not find a light bar of any description besides, perhaps, the Carr Light Wing - of course you could get one made, but..... There's a skid plate called the Panzer Plate that fits MK5/6 Golf TDIs and four-cylinder TSIs, but it does not fit the 3.2 V6's underbody at all. There is no Allroad-style air suspension kit for this generation A3 or Golf platform; there are options for airbags, but they are typically aimed at the "stance" kids who want to lay their frame rails on the ground for shows and whatnot.
 
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Camuyano

New member
Gelandegolf,

That is my inspiration! Now, if I could only get the good folks at Ingolstadt to build a kit to do that to mine, I'll be all set... :wings:

BTW: Glad to see someone else appreciates lifted compact wagons. Is that your golf in your profile pic? If so, do have a build thread or other details? I would love to see how it was done.
 

Camuyano

New member
WagoneerSX4 said:
Some simple strut spacers is an easy way and probably the best way to get some lift. I can almost guarantee there is nothing off-the-shelf to lift an A3, but anyone can fab up custom strut spacers. Just check that the suspension geometry is still within spec if you lift it and probably need longer camber bolts to get the alignment within spec.
Thanks for the tip. I agree that in order to do this I will have to do some research and have the parts fabricated as there will be nothing off-the-shelf that will work.

Redrock said:
The long answer is that I, at one time, considered offroad modding a Golf TDI for economical long-distance travel, did a ton of research, and ultimately rejected it as too compromised. The A3 is even more so.
I know that all vehicles are a compromise and that, by choosing a luxury vehicle like this, I have severely limited it's "modificability". In the end, I may decide like you that the compromises are too great and leave the car alone as a camping rig with a few slight mods. Nevertheless, as a guy that appreciates German engineering as well as improbable vehicles, this is a fun project even if it is mostly theoretical at this point. Thanks for your input as well.
 

psykokid

Explorer
Being a VW guy and the amount of suspension overlap between the audi A3 and the MKV/ volkswagen R32 you may be able to find a set of coilovers that will allow you to raise the car some, that and a tires with a higher aspect ratio than stock will help get a little more ground clearance. The VR6 motor is a nice powerplant and and has a great exhaust note. First thing you'll want to do is get a skid plate to protect the paper thin aluminum oil pan that VAG tends to use on the newer cars. They dont bend, they just crack and dump all of your oil. I'm getting ready to replace the third pan on my wife's 2000 passat, and it's stock height.

Here's a thread you can check out: http://forums.vwvortex.com/showthread.php?5188491-Non-Stanced-Rabbit This guy has a FWD MKV rabbit and IIRC it shares a lot of the front suspension parts of the A3. Might give you some ideas..
 

mapper

Explorer
Taller narrow, tires are going to be your best bet for easy, swappable increased clearance. Be sure to check clearance of the tires to the spring perches..that will be your biggest limiting factor for tire size. spacers with narrower tires may help a lot. Beyond that it's wheel wells you have to worry about. I think you could also have another shock set up with springs for, say a Jetta Tdi wagon (Tdi front is heavier/heaviest, I think, and wagons inherently have more rear capacity) and swap that in/out...its the same basic platform so I could see it working. That probably would be a lot of work though...honestly rather than swap shocks everytime I wanted to go on rougher roads I'd just get a cheap 4x4 for those trips and keep the A3 for trips on pavement and graded dirt/gravel roads.

I used a 2wd 98 passat wagon, unmodified in any way aside from bilstein shocks and Nokian extra load (xl) tires to cove A LOT of rather treacherous roads. Some I did were rated as 4x4 only and I was fully loaded traveling cross country with gear on the roof. There will always be naysayers but VW builds a pretty solid vehicle. I abused that passat for years of daily driving and trips on PNW forest service roads. With regular maintenance it still drives nicer than subarus with half the age and miles and it sits at 250k miles. I recently bought an XC70 and noticed it is rated for less payload than my passat even though it is significantly larger and more powerful. I'm planning to lift the XC and people keep saying it can't handle the abuse. Well, maybe they are correct but I've found that basic cars, driven smartly, can take A LOT more abuse than people think.
 

Redrock

Observer
So as you modify it and don't abuse it, a stock car can take plenty of abuse? :D

There's a bit of a contradiction there, but if you mean to say what I think you mean, I still disagree. If you're planning on driving on rough roads and other extreme usage regimes, buy a car that you know can handle it. What you're suggesting is tantamount to "if you watch your step, you can hike fourteeners in tennis shoes no problem!" I don't think there's any glory or style points in making a car do what it wasn't designed to do.

Also, I have no idea how you managed to get 250k out of your VW - at 100k, my Jetta wagon was on its last legs and shedding expensive parts left and right.
 

mapper

Explorer
Ha, hiking a 14er in tennis shoes is easy! Done it plenty and it's more comfortable than huge azz boots. Just know where to place your feet.

I said drive smart...that is don't go full speed ahead on rough roads, pick your line, move smart. Just know when you reach the limit. Maintain your rig to keep it reliable then it can handle plenty of abuse through use, NOT abuse through neglect. The glory comes from using what you have an not wasting time/money building something that is unnecessary for 99.9% of what you do. He's not talking about rock crawling in an A3, just exploring.

I daily drive my Passat and maintain it. Everything works like it should and there isn't a spec of rust on it. Not sure what vintage you managed to drive into the ground in 100k, sounds like neglect to me. My Passat is German built, maybe that's the difference? Nah, it's just a different philosophy about what is "needed".
 

Cee-Jay

Sasquatch
More inspiration:
image.jpg

Of course, you could go big. :sombrero:

I am interested in how this turns out. Best of luck to you.
 

mapper

Explorer
Another oft overlooked feature of VW/Audi cars is the electronic diff lock (EDL). Not sure if this got phased out with traction control programs (ASR/ESP) which I don't have but my 2wd VW does have a factory fitted front differential lock. It activates automatically if wheel slip is detected at speeds below 25mph. Only reason I know it's there is because when I first bought it I would occasionally hear a pump run when accelerating in snowy conditions. I checked the owners manual and learned about the EDL. I've subsequently learned it was fitted to many VW/Audi models and I've seen some cars with an EDL switch on the dash. Mine has no switch, it is fully automatic. Combined with a good set of tires it makes for an extremely stable platform in slippery conditions. No one wheel drive, ever. That's more than you can say for many 4x4s or early AWD cars/SUVs.

Most of these cars are also true "world cars" with abundant dealers/parts suppliers. The A3 platform is shared with the Jetta/Golf...pretty popular worldwide.

Edit: A little googling and I found out that EDL is ABS system braking the spinning wheel to use the "open" diff to direct power the non-spinning wheel. ASR is the same except it adds a throttle cut in drive-by-wire cars. ESP adds in the directional stability program, not just traction control. Regardless, the system works well and I think not having throttle cut is quite nice. The EDL aspect of the system is functional up to about 25mph in 2wd cars and about 50mph in AWD cars.
 
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evilfij

Explorer
I have a jetta sportwagen tdi (same family as the A3) and the best I could do was a front skid plate and Firestone air helper springs in the back and a hitch with a small pop up. I sold the trailer and I fitted a roof top tent (bolted right on to the factory roof rack) and then I determined it was sort of pointless when I had a fleet of land rovers and can afford the gas in them so I thought better of making it any more expo cool, but as configured the jsw would be great for long gravel roads with the range and fuel economy of the tdi.
 

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Redrock

Observer
Ha, hiking a 14er in tennis shoes is easy! Done it plenty and it's more comfortable than huge azz boots. Just know where to place your feet.
It may be more comfortable than huge-*** boots, until you roll an ankle, step on a sharp rock, skid while scrambling, stub a toe, and so on. And I guarantee they're not as comfortable or as secure as the trail-runner based mid-height boots I hike in, which are the best of both worlds.

But hey, keep it up! SAR will always be there for you. :D

I daily drive my Passat and maintain it. Everything works like it should and there isn't a spec of rust on it. Not sure what vintage you managed to drive into the ground in 100k, sounds like neglect to me. My Passat is German built, maybe that's the difference? Nah, it's just a different philosophy about what is "needed".
No, you just got lucky. Neglect results in failure of common wear items and consumables. Neglect had nothing to do with failing window regulators, fuel pumps, HVAC and dash electronics, peeling and rattling interior parts, various sensors, PCV, ignition coil packs (multiple), and starter motors. Those are components that should last at least 150,00 miles, and I was swapping out ignition coils and fuel pumps before I rolled over 20k. Far and away the most expensive car to own I've ever had the displeasure to deal with, even though it was half the price of my current car.

German-built or not, German cars are overrated. They have terrible supplier quality control and process control, so while the car itself is robust, anything built by a supplier is generally built to variable standards, so you're playing Russian roulette. You were fortunate; so was my dad with his A4. I drew the short straw, as did my mom with her X5.
 

flexinxj

New member
front and rear suspension on the a3 is the same as mk6 jetta/golf just little different spring rates. Most lowering kits for these cars come with adjustable cups with 1-2" of adjustment, you can get your hands on a set of these for the rear and some coilovers for the front. For a more permanent solution is have spacers made for the rear subframe ( very simple to remove if your familiar with these cars, if you have Quattro then the rear diff will have to be dropped) and for the front do the same but include a spacer for the top strut hat. doing this will give the lift you want and allow the alignment to stay in specs, it would still drive and handle as now but it will raise the center of gravity slightly.
 
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