2012 Audi A3 TDI – Review and Test Drive

By Dan Collins on 10 September 2012
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The Audi A3 answered a question that nobody really asked when it was first brought to the U.S in 2006. It stood relatively unchallenged as a compact premium five-door hatchback, with diesel power available starting with the 2010 model year. Now nearing the end of its model cycle, the A3 has forged a new market segment for itself in the U.S. and introduced diesel to small and premium car buyers alike.

The 2012 A3 TDI is unmistakably Audi. It carries the brand’s aggressive, athletic styling and signature LED running lights when equipped with the Bi-Xenon headlights. The A3 TDI is powered by the 2.0 liter four-cylinder turbo diesel also found in its cousin, the Volkswagen Golf, and produces the same 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy of 30 MPG (7.84 l/100km) in the city and 42 MPG (5.6 l/100km) highway has undoubtedly drawn many first-time diesel buyers, combining the premium features of the Audi with the punch that the TDI motor packs.

INSIDE THE AUDI A3 TDI

The interior is clearly Audi.  Ergonomic, supportive seats, switches in the right place, and high-quality materials all scream Ingolstadt.  Still, the A3 is starting to show its age as newer Audis (as well as the competition) have met and exceeded the benchmark it set.

While the A3 is clearly a small car, it is nonetheless roomy, and the wagon can easily handle large items with the rear seats folded down.

DRIVING THE AUDI A3 TDI

The first thing a new diesel driver will undoubtedly notice is the torque.  The amount of power under the hood is unexpected, unless you are already a diesel driver.  For a front-wheel-drive wagon, the A3 feels quite balanced in terms of weight distribution, and the steering has a good feel to it, although as we noted last time around as well, the electric assist provides very little tactile feedback at speed.

The best part about the TDI, however, is the S Tronic dual-clutch DSG (Direkt-Schalt-Getriebe or Direct-Shift Gearbox) transmission, which in sport mode is unparalled.  Audi has programmed it to keep the diesel engine in its sweet spot, and I never felt that all 236 pound-feet of torque weren’t available, even though the diesel (as do most diesels) has a fairly narrow power band.

Although we tested it during warmer weather, the Audi A3 TDI comes with a space heater to make up for the fact that diesels take far longer to warm up the cabin than petrol-powered automobiles.

BOTTOM LINE

Starting at $31,145 including destination fees, the A3 TDI is a solid choice. Based on the increase of smaller, four-cylinder diesels being introduced and new models such as the Lexus CT200H, it appears as though the A3 may have started a trend. If so, then the Ingolstadt automaker’s German slogan, Vorsprung durch Technik (advance through technology) seems to hold true in the U.S. as well.

The A3 TDI was Audi’s second U.S. diesel, following the Q7, but the Audi diesel lineup will grow by 150% in the coming year when Audi adds the A6 TDI, A8 TDI, and Q5 TDI to its lineup… and a new Audi A3 won’t be far behind

THE DETAILS

2010 Audi A3 2.0 TDI
Base price/price-as-tested $30,250/$32,245
Drivetrain Front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine 2.0/140 hp/turbocharged I-4
Transmission 6-speed S Tronic dual-clutch
Curb weight (lbs) 3318
Wheelbase (inches) 101.5
Length x width x height (inches) 168.9 x 78.5 x 56
0-60 mph (seconds) 9.1
City/highway fuel economy (mpg) 30/42