Although it’s not quite time to pop open the champagne corks, we tend to forget that it is 18 years since the first A3 went on sale. Launched in the UK in September 1996, it went toe to toe with not only the 1994 BMW 3 Series Compact, but also the VW Golf which, in 1996, was still in its Mk 3 guise. While the two cars might have looked broadly similar underneath, however, the A3 was in fact based on the new PQ34 platform which would underpin the Mk 4 Golf, due to be launched in 1998. Styled by Dirk van Braeckel (currently chief designer at Bentley), the A3 was another ‘just right’ car from Audi. Van Braeckel had also styled the original A8 concept car that entered production almost unaltered.