2010 Audi A3 TDI Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2010 Audi A3 TDI

Which of the following words doesn't fit with the others: diesel, sport, luxury?

Congratulations! If you answered "diesel", you lose. Big time! All three fit together very well, as exemplified by the newest addition to Audi's A3 compact sport hatchback line, the 2010 A3 TDI.

If you haven't been paying attention to recent automotive developments, especially in Europe, you might think that gasoline-electric hybrids were the only way to go for improved fuel efficiency and consequent decreased emissions and environmental impact. Not necessarily -- the latest diesels, called "clean diesel" -- are clean enough to please even the California Air Resources Board, and offer highway mileage on a par with any similarly-sized hybrid. And better performance and driving enjoyment while doing so.

The 2.0-liter turbodiesel in the A3 TDI is the same one found it its cousins from Volkswagen, the Golf and Jetta TDI models. With 140 horsepower, and more importantly 236 lb-ft of torque driving the front wheels through a six-speed automated dual-clutch manual "S-tronic" gearbox, the turbocharged, direct fuel-injection compression-ignition engine bests the other A3 engine choice, the 2.0-liter FSI direct-injection turbocharged and intercooled gasoline engine by 29 lb-ft in the torque department, although the higher-revving gasoline engine beats the diesel in horsepower, with 200.

The TDI beats gasoline and many a hybrid when it comes to going far on a gallon of fuel. EPA ratings are 30 mpg city, 42 highway -- and are actually conservative. With no attention to fuel economy, I got between 30 and 35 mpg in city driving and between 40 and 47 on the highway. That 47 mpg was on a 120-mile trip with speeds usually around 70 mph, and plenty of steep grades. If you could drive 55, you might even see 55 (mpg) -- when the car was delivered, the readout indicated a 52 mpg trip average.

But the A3 TDI's character is not conducive to low speeds. It's a German sports sedan at heart, with all that means. Its suspension and interior are meant for serious driving, and in style it's no different from other Audi A3s. The lineup is changed a bit this year, with the introduction of the TDI, the discontinuation of the 3.2-liter V6, and the availability of quattro all-wheel drive in with the 2.0-liter turbo gasoline four.

Having just finished a week with a rather well-equipped A3 TDI, I should probably recuse myself from reviewing it as it offers, to me, a nearly perfect combination of sports-sedan handling and performance, four-door hatchback versatility, and elegantly understated styling inside and out. Plus excellent fuel economy. But deadlines loom. Yes, there are quicker, faster, and even better handling cars. And there are less-expensive (and also considerably more expensive!) ones. And even a few that get better fuel economy. But no other car currently available in this country combines performance, handling, comfort, interior usefulness and versatility, and economy as well as does the Audi A3 TDI.

APPEARANCE: As ever with Audis, the A3 is tastefully conservative in style, with simple lines and forms. After a minor freshening last year, it is unchanged except in detail. It's a space-efficient five-door hatchback (or "sportback" in Audispeak) that is longer, lower, and more graceful than your typical hatch, but still shorter than a wagon. All models get "S-Line" trim as standard equipment, and, if the optional bi-Xenon lights are specified, LED daytime running lights in the manner of those of larger and more expensive high-performance Audis add an unmistakeable look. At the rear, fiber-optic rods in the taillights mimic the effect of the front LEDs.

COMFORT: Inside as well as out, the A3 is distinctively Audi. And Audi has been a benchmark for automotive interior design since at least the mid-1990s. Influence from the company's TT coupe and roadster is apparent, especially in the air vents and the bars at the juncture of the console and center stack. It may be the "entry-level" Audi, but the A3 is as stylish, well-equipped, and comfortable as any car in the lineup. Leather seats are standard, with suede-like (but far more manageable) alcantara inserts available, and wood inserts are available for the first time this year.

My test car didn't have the alcantara, but did have the wood, a pleasant touch. In all models, the steering wheel is adjustable for both tilt and reach, allowing the perfect driving position for all drivers. Seat comfort in front is very good, with six-level seat heaters available for winter warmth. There's enough room in the rear for two average-sized adults, at least for a while. And no sedan trunk opening can compare to the rear hatch for ease in loading bulky items, with the 60//40 folding rear seat and rear doors allowing capacity and access.

SAFETY: The A3's lightweight but strong and rigid unibody structure is designed and built not only to provide an optimal base for the suspension, for the best handling possible, but to protect passengers. Front and rear crush zones, front, front-seat side, and full-length side-curtain airbags add further protection, as do four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution, the ESP stability control program, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: If it might be thought comparable to a small crossover in interior configurability and versatility, the A3 is worlds apart in the ride and handling departments. A lower center of gravity and sport-intended MacPherson strut/four-link suspension, even in standard trim as on my test car, will see to that. With P225/45R17 tires, it's firm, with little body roll when playing hard. There is no disconnect from the road, and, allied with the TDI engine's great torque, driving is a full-time pleasure.

PERFORMANCE: With a bit more weight and less horsepower (140 @ 4200 vs. 200 @ 5100-6000) than its 2.0T gasoline sibling, the A3 TDI is about a second and a half slower to 60 mph -- not that you may notice, as the low- and mid-range torque makes it feel quicker off the line and at least to 40mph or so. And it is in no way slow, not with 236 lb-ft of torque between 1750 and 2500 rpm. A light flywheel means it builds revs quickly, and the S-Tronic dual-clutch automanual transmission forces shifts at about 4250 rpm whether in standard, Sport, or manual-shift mode to prevent undue acquaintance with the rev limiter. And, unlike most diesels, this one likes to rev. After all, its cousin in the R10 TDI endurance racer has a rather enviable win record… The S-Tronic shifts quickly in any mode, with D best for fuel economy and S or manual for acceleration. S is nearly as good as manual on a twisty road, thanks to good programming and the engine's torque.

Engine noise is rarely audible inside the car, with only a subdued diesel rattle heard outside at idle, especially when cold. Only under hard acceleration is there noticeable engine noise in the cabin, and then it sounds like a quiet, generic four-cylinder. With a minimal attempt at best fuel economy, I usually saw 30 to 35 mpg around town and on tight backroads, 35 to 40 on faster, more open backroads, and 40 to 47 on the highway, at real highway speeds. With a 14-gallon tank, fuel stops will be few and far between.

CONCLUSIONS:The Audi A3 TDI offers a unique combination of sports performance and handling, entry-luxury comfort, and excellent fuel economy.

SPECIFICATIONS
2010 Audi A3 TDI

Base Price			$ 29,950
Price As Tested			$ 36,725
Engine Type			sohc 16-valve inline 4-cylinder
				 turbocharged, direct-injection diesel 
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 120 cu. in.
Horsepower			140 @ 4200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			236 @ 1750-2500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed dual-clutch automated manual
Wheelbase / Length		101.5 in. / 169 in.
Curb Weight			est. 3400 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		24.3
Fuel Capacity			14.6 gal.
Fuel Requirement		ultra-low sulfur diesel
Tires				P225/45 R17 94H Conti ProContact
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBS, ESP standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent four-link
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		30 / 42 / 40
0 to 60 mph				8.7  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Audi Navigation System Plus			$ 2,050
Premium Plus package - includes:
  Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights,
  Bluetooth® hands-free phone interface, 3-spoke
  multifunction leather steering wheel, power driver's
  seat, illumination and storage packages, aluminum
  medial belt-line trim, 17" 10-spoke alloy wheels
  with all-season tires				$ 2,000
Convenience Package - includes:
  auto-dimming interior mirror with compass, 
  rain and light sensors, Bose® premium 
  sound system					$ 1,000
Cold-Weather Package - includes:
  heated front seats, heated windshield wiper
  nozzles, heated exterior mirrors		$   500
Dark walnut wood inlays				$   400
Destination charge				$   825

Complete specifications on the 2010 Audi A3 2.0 TDI Premium Clean Diesel S tronic and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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