• May 21st 2009 at 11:59AM
  • 59
2010 Audi A3 TDI – Click above for high-res image gallery

Audi started its big push for clean diesel here in the U.S. market this spring when its big Q7 TDI finally went on sale. While the Q7 TDI is one of the most fuel efficient seven-passenger SUVs available anywhere, it's only the beginning for Audi. Assuming that Americans start taking a shine to hot oil, Audi is likely to introduce a whole series of Rudi D's disciples here. So far, however, only one has been announced in addition to the Q7, the compact A3 hatchback.

The A3 is the entry-level model for the four-ringed brand here in the U.S. Until now, it has only been sold with a choice of a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder or 3.2-liter V6 engines running on gasoline. At the Detroit Auto Show, Audi announced that the A3 TDI would go on sale late this year. While the A3 TDI isn't yet available, one was made available to us for five days during a recent trip to Southern California. Find out what it was like after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Until the new A1 and possibly the A2 arrive in the next couple of years, Audi's global lineup is anchored by the A3. Like the TT coupe and roadster, the A3 shares much of its underpinnings with corporate siblings from the Volkswagen side of the family – specifically, the Golf and Jetta. Thus, the A3 is a C-segment car with a transverse-mounted engine and front- or optional Quattro all-wheel drive.

Europeans can get an A3 with either two- or four-passenger entry portals plus a tailgate. We only get the five-door variant here in the U.S. The A3 also rides on the same 101.5-inch wheelbase as the Golf and Jetta, though it is just over three inches longer than the Golf/Rabbit and a little over a foot shorter than the Jetta. Where it really differs is being nine inches (the original dimensional comparison erred in listing the span of the outside mirrors for the A3) marginally wider and two inches closer to the ground. Combined with the somewhat overbearing Audi family grille, the A3 has a stockier, more athletic appearance than the VWs.

Audi has never been particularly fond of the term station wagon, or apparently hatchback, either. Audi wagons have long worn the Avant appellation. Technically, Audi does not call the A3 a hatchback or a wagon, but rather a Sportback. Whatever it's called, the A3 is a handsome little car that offers a healthy dose of utility, as well.

Americans have strange attitudes when it comes to vehicles. Until gas prices spiked, we had no issue buying millions of SUVs with tailgates that were little more than high-riding, glorified wagons. But when it comes to cars, for some reason we feel the need for a trunk to have a more upscale appearance. As a result, the next generation A3 is expected to sprout just such a rear appendage for the U.S. market. Frankly, we'd stick with the hatch/sportback. For a comparatively small car, the A3 boasts a capacious 19.5 cubic feet of storage behind its rear seats, and loading luggage for three occupants is much easier than trying to stuff it through a trunk lid.

Up front, the A3 gets a slightly more upscale if austere interior treatment than its VW-badged siblings. The predominantly black interior comes off as almost spartan, apart from the aluminum trim rings around the vents and the latch for the glove box. The controls are well laid out, and a mini MMI controller sits on the vertical surface of the center console next to the navigation screen. The backseat offers plenty of room for two adults, although headroom is down a bit from the VWs due to its lower roof-line.

While MMI has a superior graphical interface to the original BMW iDrive system, some of the controls remain counter-intuitive. For example, moving down the menus requires turning the control knob counter-clockwise. Even after all the Audis we've driven, this still seems odd. We haven't tried the new generation MMI that's coming on the Q7 and Q5 this year, but Audi will have to step up its game in this respect to match the new iDrive system and ideally, the much simpler interface that Ford has in its new products.

Any car with sporting pretensions needs great interfaces between the human body and the vehicle. Specifically, the steering wheel and seats need to be comfortable and grippy. Since the A3 is meant as a sportier alternative to the Jetta, its seats have more aggressive side bolsters and are covered in a mix of leather and Alcantara that do an admirable job of keeping the driver placed directly in line with the wheel, gauges and pedals when lateral acceleration forces build up. The driver's hands control the direction of the A3 through a thick-rimmed steering wheel with paddle shifters on the back side.

Since VW has already certified the family 2.0-liter four-cylinder TDI diesel for the Jetta and upcoming Mk VI Golf, adding it to the A3 is really a no brainer. Like the Jetta, the A3 TDI is rated at 140 hp and a robust 236 lb-ft of torque at 1,750 rpm. Europeans can also opt for a more powerful 170 hp version of the same engine, but we will only get the 140 hp unit. That's actually more than adequate for pretty much any driving, as we'll soon see.

Power gets sent to the wheels through a choice of six-speed transmissions. The base unit is a traditional three-pedal manual gearbox. For those who prefer to let the car's computer handle the shifting every once in a while, a dual clutch S-Tronic like the one fitted to our test car is also available. While the Jetta TDI can be manually shifted only with the console lever, the A3 adds the steering wheel-mounted paddles as an option, allowing the driver to keep a grip on the wheel when driving in the twisty stuff.

Speaking of twisty stuff, we saw plenty of it during our time in California. While working on a project in Thousand Oaks, we spent time traversing canyon roads between there and Malibu in a variety of vehicles, including the A3. The A3 was the only front-wheel-drive car that we drove, but it held its own quite well. Like the Jetta that we raved about in the same area last fall, the A3 proved to be a remarkably well-balanced machine. It does indeed understeer at the limit, as one would expect of a nose-heavy hatchback. However, the larger, grippier tires ultimately give it higher limits than the Jetta TDI.

In spite of its natural tendency to safely understeer, a bit of trail braking (keeping the brakes on and gradually feathering them off to keep weight transferred onto the front tires) entering the corner and approaching the apex helps bring the back end around smoothly and allows a quicker exit out of the corner. The standard electronic stability control intervenes only as much as needed to keep you out of trouble without sapping all the fun out of brisk driving. When the ESC does take effect, it does so seamlessly, with the only really indicator being the flashing lamp in the instrument cluster. Tapping the paddles on the back of the steering wheel, meanwhile, induces quick and smooth shifts of the gearbox, although the wide torque band of the diesel engine minimizes the need to do much shifting.

Moving the shifter from 'Drive' to 'Sport' will speed up the shifts and lets the gearbox hold a lower gear longer, thus staying in the meat of the diesel's limited power band. On roads like Mulholland Highway and Decker Canyon Road, second and third gear is about all you need with straight line opportunities for acceleration being kept to a minimum. The key is to keep a smooth line through the switchbacks to carry what speed you have from one corner to the next and minimize loss of velocity.

Eventually, the canyon running has to stop, and the driver must return to the chores of daily driving. Drop the shifter back into Drive and the engine and gearbox calibrations return to a more sedate mode that provides smooth and somewhat leisurely launches without jack-rabbit starts. Don't touch the paddles, and the S-Tronic acts like a conventional automatic giving effortless operation in bumper to bumper traffic on the 405 in Los Angeles. On the after dark drive back to LAX, the adaptive Xenon lights kept the road ahead well illuminated and even turn into corners. Through a mix of highway, urban traffic and spirited back road running, our A3 TDI returned a very respectable 34 mpg. Those without access or desire to emulate the brisk pace we had on back roads will likely find their numbers much closer to 40 mpg in all-around driving. During last fall's Audi Mileage Marathon, the A3 TDIs averaged over 50 mpg crossing the country.

Audi won't announce pricing of the A3 TDI until closer to its on-sale date late this year. The current A3 2.0-liter turbo gasoline engine with the S-Tronic runs $28,400 so the TDI is likely to run about $30,000. While that is a bit on the high side for a compact five-door hatchback, it's quite competitive with the BMW 1-series with much better interior space. Since BMW doesn't offer its 1-series diesel here in the U.S., you can't get a direct comparison. With diesel now roughly back at parity in price with gasoline, the A3 will soon offer a premium compact with good handling and excellent fuel economy.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm always trying to improve my vocabulary usage. Can someone explain to me what "austere" means in the context of describing a car's interior? Especially when you are describing an Audi's interior?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Why would the diesel be more expensive than the gasser? In Europe, the 140HP diesel is 2,200€ cheaper than the 200HP gasser. The 170HP diesel costs about the same as the 200HP gasser.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I just picked up a Red '06 A3 and it's really fun to drive. I can imagine with the extra torque offered by the TDI, that will only be improved.
        • 6 Years Ago
        > So, the two cars don't actually have the 'exact'
        > same DSG transmission. They have different gearing?

        Well, I don't know whether the different gearing is limited to final drive only. I tried to look it up but haven't found exact data so I don't know precisely how ratios differ.

        Considering the somewhat similar crankshaft torque of 320Nm for the diesel and 280Nm for the TFSI, I bet clutches and clutch shafts are the same since they have to withstand similar stress.

        But if you look at both engines power and torque curve, they vary significantly.

        200HP 2.0 TFSI: http://rri.se/popup/performancegraphs.php?ChartsID=643
        140HP 2.0 TDI: http://rri.se/popup/performancegraphs.php?ChartsID=812

        Torque curve of the petrol engine has a longer flat top which makes power curve linearly growing for more of the rev range. In a diesel you get sudden rise of power at the very start and then it slows growing. I think this is enough to give those two Audis A3 DSG different gear ratios.
        • 6 Years Ago
        This version produces significantly less torque at the wheels (where it affects vehicle performance) than any other version of the A3. You're unlikely to see an improvement in anything but mpg.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Torque at the wheels is determined by the torque at the motor multiplied by the effect of the gearing in the drivetrain. A lower gear ratio means more torque at the wheels. This is why you have more torque in 1st gear than 4th, because the multiplier is kicking the torque way up.

        Since Diesels have lower redlines, they must be geared higher (as you can go no faster in a gear than when the engine is at redline) than gas engines. So the engine produces more torque, but it doesn't make it to the wheels. If torque at the driveshaft determined car speed, they'd just put a reduction gear in the engine so that the torque at the driveshaft would be enormous.

        Here's the short version: what accelerates cars is torque at the wheels. Again, this is why your car accelerates quicker in 1st gear than 4th, because it has more torque at the wheels in 1st than 4th. So if a car accelerates more slowly, it is producing less torque at the wheels. And the Diesel accelerates a lot more slowly, so it is producing a lot less torque at the wheels.

        A Diesel does have more accessible torque, so under light acceleration it may not show the effects the reduced torque output as much as it might seem at first thought. But then 2.0T gas engine doesn't show any deficit of torque under light acceleration either, so there's no real advantage for the Diesel there, just a lack of a disadvantage. The real advantage of the Diesel is the mpg.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @ Downtoearth...
        So, the two cars don't actually have the 'exact' same DSG transmission. They have different gearing?

        I'll take your word for it. Thanks for the clarification...
        • 6 Years Ago
        why not the LS2LS7?:

        > This version produces significantly less torque
        > at the wheels (where it affects vehicle performance)
        > than any other version of the A3. You're unlikely to see
        > an improvement in anything but mpg.

        MikeofLA :

        > How do you figure that? This car has the same drive
        > train as my 2.0T with a bump of 36 ft-lbs at 1750 rpm.
        > Please explain the physics you're using to get a significant
        > decrease in wheel torque.

        The reason is a completely different (lower) rev range diesels operate in.

        140HP 2.0 TDI operates in the range between 0 rpm to 4200 rpm (peak power rpm). 200HP 2.0 TFSI operates from 0 rpm to 6000 rpm.

        Lower rev range enforces much taller gearing or final drive ratio which will multiply torque much less than in case of gasoline cars. As far as these two cars are concerned, the ratio will be 6000/4200=1.42x taller for the diesel and so will the engine crankshaft torque be multiplied 1.42x less.

        TDI outputs peak 320Nm of torque, which will be multiplied, say, N times. But the peak 280Nm of 2.0TFSI torque will be multiplied Nx1.42 times.

        So you'll get 320NmxN in the diesel and 280NmxNx1.42~=400NmxN. Get rid of N since it appears on both cases and changes nothing and you'll end up with real wheel torque ratio of 400Nm for the 2.0TFSI and 320Nm for the 140HP diesel.

        That's why 140HP diesel is killed performancewise by the 2.0TFSI. The diesel does 0-62 in 9.4 seconds, the 2.0TFSI in 7 seconds. Why? Because at wheels the diesel has far less torque than the gasoline car which translated to much smaller propulsive force.

        PS. All numbers come from Audi German site about A3, manual FWD versions were compared.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I hope they drop the 3.0 TDI in the A4
      • 6 Years Ago
      Even though I love my 2.0T A3, I'll trade it in for a TDI version at some point. I'm absolutely sold on Audi though, one of the best cars I've ever owned. Perfect size, easy to park, gets great MPG, there's only 1 other one in town and it's that horrible blue color. Interior is amazing and I love how it drives.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Great review, i'll be interested to see how this sells.
        • 6 Years Ago
        ^ um Rudolf Diesel? The inventor of the diesel engine.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Ah, gotcha...Herr Rudolf Diesel. I consider myself an "ardent" Rudi follower, thanks to my old man's love for his 240D & 300TD's, Isuzu and Ssangyong oil burners of yore.

        I'm seriously considering an oil burner for my next ride to replace my 1.8T B5...possibly another VWAG product or whichever diesel car in the pipeline that appeals to me come next year.
        • 6 Years Ago
        zamafir: do you do anything else with your life besides comment on Autoblog? God speed!
      • 6 Years Ago
      TDI + 6-speed manual + Quattro please. Otherwise I'm keeping my A4.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The engine in a A3 is mounted sideways, so it's not a true Quattro! I still think it's a great car and I drive an A4 Quattro. I think the new A4 is getting abit BIG!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yeah, the omission of a quattro option is why I passed over the A3 last time when looking at the 2.0 gas version. It seems like they're making the same deliberate error again.

      • 6 Years Ago
      Great review and great car!
      That said, wouldn't an A3 sedan be an A4? I know they are built on different platforms, but just appending a trunk to the A3 would probably produce a sedan with similar exterior AND interior dimensions as the A4 sedan, so that would be kind of pointless.
      I think Audi should stick with just the hatchback and freshen it a bit. People are buying the MINI!
        • 6 Years Ago
        If they make a sedan version of the A3 they will have to lengthen it, since sedans are almost always longer (which is dumb if you ask me)

        But they should make teh A3 sedan be a fast back. Make it a little longer, give it a hatch, and a roofline like a passaat CC or that new BMW concept. But either way make it a sleek roof
        • 6 Years Ago
        People aren't buying the mini anymore, that's the problem, no where near the numbers we saw last year or the year prior. An a3 with a trunk would not be the same size as the A4, it's 15 inches shorter, 9 inches smaller in the wheel base, it'd be a class smaller.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hey LS2, we get it. You don't like diesels. Let it go...
      • 6 Years Ago
      Seems to be quite a polarizing car.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I thought the Q5 TDI had been announced?
      • 6 Years Ago
      I really like Audi's, and this A3 is a great car.

      Here in Europe it's available in 2WD and with Quattro and can be ordered with various petrol and diesel engines - I reckon Audi will gradually improve the options you guys in NA have - but it makes sense for now for Audi to limit choices of different diesel engines as so not to confuse the NA car buyer who is unused to dervs.

      (The quicker 170 BHP version will, when introduced to NA, reinvigorate interest in the A3 and give current owners a reason to upgrade.)

      I reckon you will get at least 1 quattro option soon after launch - its a USP that Audi covets, they'd be daft not to offer it.

      Incidently the next - all new - next generation of the A3 will be a bigger car so Audi can make its A1 and A2 models slightly larger while not impeding on A3 sales...

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