It’s rare to have an Audi without Quattro pass through our garage. As all-wheel drive has become synonymous with the brand, it seems a front-wheel example of any Audi is an oddity. I happened to take this front-wheel-drive A3 TDI home on the night of Michigan’s biggest winter storm. With a set of Michelin winter tires on, though, I hardly noticed that I had only two wheels to power through the slippery spots. Aside from the torquey engine occasionally spinning the front wheels, the A3 was composed and stable through thick city slush and at highway speeds.
The Audi A3 is a unique vehicle at a reasonable price, offering a nice alternative to a hybrid or even a gas-powered premium compact. However, it fails to convey the character embodied in the rest of Audi’s range. I blame that partly on the A3’s relative age and its dated interior. And while it’s good to drive, comfortable, and practical, there’s little that makes the A3 TDI better than a Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Audi of America was kind enough to equip our A3 TDI test vehicle with a set of snow tires, so I felt well-equipped to tackle an early-February snowstorm in this front-wheel-drive oil burner. I was not disappointed: the Audi churned through the white stuff with ease.
I love the packaging of the A3: it’s the perfect size for urban driving yet the car is solid and composed on the freeway. Yep, the A3’s interior is a little dated, especially when compared with most of Audi’s lineup, but it’s not at all offensive.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
An Audi with manual seats and no steering-wheel audio controls! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this before. But it’s not hard to swallow, however, in a $31,000 Audi that’s truly an excellent car that’s fun to drive, stylish, exceptionally fuel-efficient, and still plenty luxurious.
Eric has a good point that the VW Jetta SportWagen TDI is an easier sell than this A3, but the A3 is clearly superior in the appearance, prestige, and fun-to-drive departments. Unlike Eric and Joe, I drove the A3 in nice weather, and I had quite a bit of fun flying down some remote rural roads. I could have done without the marketing department’s TDI Clean Diesel graphics, though.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
After an overnight dump of six or so inches of wet, heavy snow, I was interested to see how whether the A3 would make it out of my neighborhood on unplowed roads (and uphill, to boot). The front-wheel-drive model tracked through the snow so well that if I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought it was equipped with Quattro.
This particular A3 doesn’t come with any extras (other than the relatively inexpensive $500 cold weather package), but it doesn’t feel downmarket. And while it’s not cheap at $31,000, it offers good performance, stellar fuel mileage, and a touch of Audi panache (even if it is starting to show its age). In our fleet at the same time as the A3 was the Toyota Camry Hybrid, which priced out at about the same as the Audi. To me, this A3 is a much more desirable package.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
While it is nice to drive an Audi that I can actually afford; it’d be hard to justify spending $31,000 on a base, I mean base, A3 TDI when you can get a fully loaded Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen for about the same price. But I think there’s room in the market for both. The Jetta TDI SportWagen makes more sense if you want more bang for the buck, but the A3 TDI is a way for Audi brand loyalists to get a diesel wagon too, or for buyers who are looking for a bit more luxury than the Jetta can offer.
From a daily driver standpoint, I much prefer the Audi A3 TDI to a Toyota Prius or Honda Insight as far as fuel sippers go. You can take off the giant TDI Clean Diesel stickers from the A3 for a more discreet appearance. Whereas the Prius and Insight, you’re stuck with the “hey, look at my hybrid” exterior styling.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
Our office is in universal agreement — the Audi A3 TDI is far more involving than any hybrid currently on the market and even a bit sportier than its Volkswagen cousins. Just for fun I built a Volkswagen Golf TDI on the VW site. I had a hard time keeping the car under $27,000 with just a few luxury touches like DSG, nicer wheels, heated seats, and an upgraded audio system. When you consider that, $31,000 for an A3 doesn’t seem outrageous. I much prefer this hatchback body to a sedan or wagon because it offers a lot of the utility of a wagon with a smaller footprint.
One minor difference between the VW and Audi TDI vehicles is Audi went through the effort of adding an electric heater to the A3 TDI to warm the cabin more quickly after a cold start. This makes a noticeable difference when the temperature is below freezing. It’s always the little differences that differentiate a nice mainstream car from a luxury car and this feature proves you can save the environment and still have some luxury touches.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
It’s enlightening to drive the Volkswagen Jetta TDI wagon and the Audi A3 TDI within a few days of each other. While the Jetta has nothing to be ashamed of, the A3 improves on it in nearly every way. It’s sportier, more refined, and far more attractive while still managing to be affordable. And, though, some people may not consider more than $30,000 for a mid-size wagon affordable, if you consider the long-term savings on fuel that achieving 30/42 mpg (city/highway) yields, the A3 TDI’s overall cost of ownership drops considerably.
I agree that this A3’s interior is in need of an update to bring it more in line with the rest of the Audi lineup. That being said, it is by no means unattractive or lacking in style and fit and finish are excellent. The manual seat controls seem a bit out of place, but they still allow for all the necessary adjustments and it wasn’t difficult for me to find a comfortable position.
Although power is more than adequate, the “S-line” badges-which normally denote a step up in performance in the Audi naming dictionary-placed on the front fender panels had me expecting a bit more forward thrust when I flattened the gas pedal. But on A3 TDIs, these badges are merely part of a standard appearance package that also includes a body kit and a discreet rear spoiler. These add-ons are most likely an easy way to align the A3’s exterior with the rest of Audi’s vehicles. In fact, when parked side-by-side, the A3 is the Q5’s mini-me.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
2010 Audi A3 TDI FWD S-Tronic Premium
Base price (with destination): $30,775
Price as tested: $31,275
2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder TDI diesel engine
S-Tronic automatic transmission
Electronic stability control
17-inch aluminum wheels
S line exterior appearance
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Leather seating surfaces
AM/FM radio with in-dash CD player
Sirius satellite radio
Options on this vehicle:
Cold weather package – $500
– Heated front seats
– Heated windshield washer nozzles
– Heated exterior mirrors
Key options not on vehicle:
Sport package – $1400
Premium Plus model – $2000
30 / 42 / 34 mpg
Size: 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel
Horsepower: 140 hp @ 4200 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750-2500 rpm
6-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch automatic
Weight: 3318 lb
17-inch alloy wheels
225/45R17 Michelin Pilot Alpin winter tires