The Audi A3 has almost everything I want in a new car. Its TDI engine is both economical (with a 34 mpg combined EPA rating) and responsive, with a decent amount of power and lots of torque. All-wheel drive would be nice, but with how well this car handled on snowy roads I really didn’t miss it all that much, plus the added weight of the all-wheel-drive system would likely drag down fuel economy. The car is small but not cramped, and the handy wagon configuration means that you can still haul bulky items in the rear cargo compartment with the second row folded. The interior is nicely laid out and seemingly designed for someone my size. Still, at almost $33,000, this car is hardly inexpensive. And that’s without the $6500 it would cost to add a panoramic sunroof, a sport package, MMI navigation, and a premium package. No wonder it’s not flying off dealer lots.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
This was the perfect little snowmobile for the Greatest Storm of the Century (that wasn’t really). I hoped for Quattro when I went to the parking garage, but front-wheel drive proved to be just fine. I blazed a trail in the post-apocalyptic early morning with barely a squiggle. There were several uphill runs that proved to be no problem. The torque of the turbo-diesel added to the snow-going prowess, and on the evening’s much clearer commute home, I had a better chance to enjoy the sportiness of the powertrain.
And did I mention how grateful I was for the thoughtful addition of the cold-weather package? Add a heated steering wheel, and I could take this weather all winter.
Jean Jennings, President and Editor-in-Chief
When I drove the A3 last, in Southern California, I wondered why someone would pay more than $30,000 for an Audi A3 TDI when the very similar VW Golf TDI is both newer and cheaper. I got my answer when I jumped into this car, teeth chattering. The A3 has a space heater! Whereas the VW diesels take seemingly forever to generate enough heat to warm the cabin, the Audi has a separate electric element that automatically flips on when temps are below 43 degrees; it warms the cabin until the engine warms enough to take over.
Like Jean, I didn’t mind that the A3 lacked Quattro. The diesel pulled me through snow with no slippage, except when I got bored, shut off stability control, and slid across a blanketed empty parking lot. There I discovered that the Audi has quite good chassis balance for a front-wheel-drive wagon. Like the Golf, it also has nicely weighted steering. The best part of the TDI for an enthusiast, though, is the dual-clutch automatic. Put it in sport mode, and it expertly keeps the diesel in its sweet spot, all but completely disguising its narrow power band.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
You could view the Audi A3 TDI as an overpriced, undersized car that makes little sense financially, especially next to the impressive Volkswagen Golf TDI. Or, you can view the diesel A3 is a high-mileage, versatile, easy-to-park compact car that looks very good and has a prestigious badge. I like to think of it as the latter, but the fact that the A3 was outsold in 2010 by the likes of discontinued models such as the Kia Borrego, the Chrysler PT Cruiser, and the Jeep Commander makes me think that most consumers — if they’re aware of the A3 at all — tend to hold the former opinion.
After shivering for the first ten miles of my morning commute, I didn’t believe what David Zenlea wrote about the A3 having a space heater, but it is indeed true. Thank God for those quick-warming heated seats, although, like Jean, I’d also love to have a heated steering wheel in this car. Also wonderfully quick is that dual-clutch automatic, which deserves all the praise Zenlea heaped upon it.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Audi of America wisely equipped our Michigan-based test car with Dunlop SP Winter Sport tires. With those and this poised front-wheel-drive chassis, the A3 was a boon companion to us all during the recent big snows, and no one really missed the optional Quattro all-wheel-drive system. As Rusty mentions, the A3 is not a big seller, but this is no surprise. This is, after all, a small, diesel-powered, premium-priced wagon. It’s the very epitome of a niche vehicle. But if you’re one of the rare people for whom the A3 diesel formula works, have at it. You’ll love it. I know I do.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Like Rusty, I was also not particularly impressed with the time it took for the heater to start blowing warm air, which was nearly 10 minutes. Granted, it was a bitterly cold morning with temperatures hovering around zero, but these are the mornings that the extra $5000 you’ve spent to get the space-heater-equipped A3 instead of the Jetta, should really pay off. The seat heaters were a bit anemic as well, which I found particularly surprising considering that within minutes the warmers in our recently departed VW GTI could almost set your pants on fire.
Otherwise, the A3 is near perfect in my book. The interior is comfortable, logical, and seemingly made for someone my size as every switch and button is well within my reach. It may be a on the small size for a family, but for me it would likely be large enough to tackle any shopping trip that I could throw at it, and it’s still able to squeeze into a compact car space. Of course, it’s difficult to justify over $30,000 for a small-ish wagon when you could get any number of crossovers or SUVs that offer more room for people and stuff. For me, the TDI engine is justification enough. With a combined EPA rating of 34 mpg (with an amazing 30 mpg in the city!), this car will reap remarkable savings at the gas, er, diesel station.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
The A3 has been on my short list of cars I’d like to own since its debut. This TDI powertrain just moves it up the list. Coupled with this excellent automatic, the car felt plenty torque-y and after merging into traffic I was pushing 90 before I realized it. The interior is more VW than Audi, but that still puts it at the top of its class.
The Jetta TDI wagon is a better deal and offers more space and similar performance, but I’m not sold on the appearance of that car, and I have yet to check out one of the new, cheaper Jettas. A year ago, it might have been foolish to pick an A3 over a Jetta. I’m not so sure anymore.
I’d need to peel those ghastly TDI graphics off the doors, and add the optional rear seat airbags, otherwise I’d happily take this car as equipped.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
I like the Audi A3 TDI’s
responsive and efficient turbo-diesel, engaging six-speed dual-clutch automatic, and practical hatchback packaging. But it hardly feels like a luxury car to me, especially in this day when mainstream brands offer such well-trimmed cars. The A3’s age and its similarity to the Volkswagen Golf really undermine its appeal as a unique compact luxury car. Without hesitation, I’d give up the leather seats and Audi badge for a well-equipped Golf TDI that still delivers navigation, heated seats, and a sunroof at a $5000 discount.
Rumor has it that we’ll see a new Audi A3 at the 2011 Geneva auto show in early March and I’m fully expecting the next generation car to establish a meaningful distinction with its Volkswagen sibling. While Audi will likely continues with its subdued body styling, I hope we’ll get the more aggressive styling cues in the fascias, like on the A6. The big change, though, should come inside where Audi needs to modernize the controls and bring the interior up to the new standard that the German automaker has set for itself.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2011 Audi A3 TDI
Base price (with destination): $31,125
Price as tested: $32,700
2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC diesel I-4 engine
6-speed S-tronic automatic transmission
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Electronic stability program
17-inch alloy wheels
S line exterior trim
Dual-zone automatic climate control
60/40 split-folding rear seat
Audi concert AM/FM radio with in-dash CD player
Sirius satellite radio
Auxiliary audio input
Tire pressure monitoring system
Options on this vehicle:
Bluetooth value package — $600
4-spoke multi-function steering wheel
Power driver seat
Cold weather package — $500
Heated front seats
Heated windshield washer nozzles
Heated outside mirrors
Scuba metallic exterior paint — $475
Key options not on vehicle:
Sport package — $1400
Open sky panorama sunroof — $1100
Premium plus trim level — $2000
HID xenon headlights
LED daytime running lights
MMI navigation with 6-CD changer — $2000
30 / 42 / 34 mpg
Size: 2.0L turbocharged diesel I-4
Horsepower: 140 hp @ 4200 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750-2500 rpm
6-speed S tronic automatic
Curb weight: 3318 lb
225/45R17 Dunlop SP winter sport 3D tires