Audi’s sporty A3 TDI gives gas pumps the finger!
Boxy, compact and easy on fuel … yawn, that sounds like your typical econobox, but for one key trait, the Audi A3 handles like a sports sedan.
That’s what it is, an entry-level sports sedan somewhat along the lines of a small BMW, just not a BMW. Handling is excellent and as good as, or better than, any other small sports sedan in the $32 grand neighborhood, except a BMW.
Yet that’s OK, because it costs less and the red test model also had another big plus that a BMW won’t, a mostly entertaining clean diesel engine.
Mine was the TDI, which translates to a 2.0-liter turbo diesel that starts at $32,600, and adds an $895 delivery charge. But equipped, as this one was, with the Premium Plus package, you tack on $2,550. With a $2,600 Audi MMi navigation package the test car settled at $38,645.
Still, that’s reasonable for a sporty car that gets 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway, according to the EPA. As impressive as that sounds, I managed an amazing 46.3 mpg in a round-trip jaunt to Indianapolis. In one nearly straight (hey, it was Indiana) highway stint I got 50 mpg on the button. The one-way diesel bill was $16 and change. When full the car boasts a 600-mile range.
Forget any thoughts of the diesel stinking or smoking more than Don Draper. Those days are gone.
The turbo diesel does hum a deeper tune when you press the start button than a gasoline engine. But it doesn’t have any diesel chug, and no smoke. Torque is strong at 236 ft.lbs., while horsepower is rated at 150. Here’s the downside. There’s a major turbo lag so when you first press the accelerator, the car feels as if it stumbles a bit.
But hang in there and keep that pedal planted because when the turbo kicks in the torque gives the little A3, which is 175.4 inches long, a major kick in the tail. That blast is most fun when charging onto a freeway, which I had ample chance to test between here and Indy. Heck, with A3 you can run with the adrenaline-paced Chicago traffic, no problem. And as with any performance variable, after a week it’s easy to adjust your driving to the lag.
You won’t have to adjust your comfort expectations though. While the wheelbase is on the short side of silky at 103.8 inches, Audi engineers have done a masterful job of tuning the A3’s ride to be a mix of sporty and compliant. Some small sport sedans’ ride is too firm, but the Audi’s is near perfect, smoothing big bumps and rolling pavement.
Shifting comes via a 6-speed S tronic automatic, which means you can set it and forget it, or shift manually. Audi also puts vented disc brakes up front and solid rear discs to slow the car efficiently, while stability and traction control are standard safety features.
Inside, the Audi remains true to its Germanic roots with a plain, simple and slightly elegant design. Black leather everywhere you’d expect, like seats, but with a gray roof liner and some aluminum trim on the dash, wheel hub, four dash air vents and by the shifter. Sadly that metal that looks so nice on the console creates a major reflective glare on sunny days. I put my baseball cap over the shifter to cut the glare.
A3’s dash is cleanly laid out though and despite featuring a large round dial on the console to select radio stations is easy to use and understand. That dial also allows you to adjust the navigation system and along with four buttons around the dial and two toggles you can tune the radio and perform several other functions. This latest Audi system is much simpler than previous such systems I’ve used.
Comfort is good here too. Seats are mildly contoured, which may surprise some folks considering the performance orientation of the A3. But the power driver’s seat was easy to get into a comfy position for the haul to Indy and back, and unlike some cars where I fiddle with the seat controls much of the week, I found a good driving position quickly. The seats also come with three levels of heat, part of the Premium Plus package.
The navigation package includes HD radio, a CD/DVD player in the glove box and Audi connect with online services. The nav screen here also tells you where traffic slowdowns are and the map is 3D with the Google Earth look that includes buildings and other landmarks. I was a little surprised though that a rear-view camera isn’t standard, or at least part of the nav package.
A3 also has a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel with various trip computer, phone and radio buttons on the hub. I really like the thumb wheels on the hub that allow you to quickly adjust radio volume. While overhead is a sunroof with retractable screen, so some light is always seeping in from above. Sun visors do not slide though, a slight Audi oversight.
Rear seat room is moderate, but if no one up front is extremely tall you can fit four adults. Rear seats split and fold too, plus there’s a pass-through for carrying long items. Before any of those contortions though, trunk space is reasonable at 12.3 cubic feet.
Bottom line? While I’d prefer a more stylish car, Audi lets the A3’s performance act as its persuader. Blah boxy looks aside, the A3 delivers a high fun-to-drive quotient, and the TDI delivers stellar fuel economy. Sadly gas stations haven’t figured out how to make diesel pumps less sloppy. If that ever happens expect diesel car sales to skyrocket!
Until then, consider the base Audi3 1.8T Premium with a 170-horse 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder that delivers 200 ft.-lbs. of torque. That gas-powered model starts at $30,795, including delivery fee. There also is a 2.0T Prestige model atop the lineup at $42,245. Its 2.0-liter turbo creates 220 horses and a 258 torque rating.
Stats: 2015 Audi A3 TDI Premium Plus
Hits: Excellent handling, ride and fuel economy. Good torque too. Clean dash, comfy heated seats, sunroof and high fun to drive quotient.
Misses: Blah boxy styling, big lag in acceleration as turbo winds up, major reflective glare off console’s metal look trim.
Made in: Gyor, Hungary
Engine: 2.0-liter, clean turbo diesel, 150 hp
Transmission: 6-speed S tronic automatic
Weight: 3,175 lbs.
Wheelbase: 103.8 in.
Length: 175.4 in.
Cargo: 12.3 cu.ft.
MPG: 31/43 (EPA)
MPG: 46.3 (tested)
Base Price: $32,600
Dealer’s Price: $31,213 (includes delivery)
Premium Plus model additions (18-inch 10-spoke wheels w/all-season tires, heated power front seats w/power lumbar, heated exterior mirrors, Audi advanced key, aluminum window surrounds, aluminum interior package), $2,550
Audi MMi nav package (CD/DVD player w/HD radio, MMi nav w/voice control, MMi touch, color driver display, Audi connect w/online services), $2,600
Test vehicle: $38,645
Sources: Audi, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage