I’ve never really been a big fan of diesels. Not because I don’t like them, but simply because I really don’t have any real world experience with them. Hell, the last diesel experience I had was way back in 1981 with my Dad’s diesel powered Buick Riviera. I was 9 years old and only remember my Dad constantly cursing the thing – I won’t lie, it left an impression.
Fast forward 29 years, (holy crap I’m getting old) to the Washington, DC International Auto Show. I was handed the keys to a brand new 2010 Audi A3 TDI with 614 miles on the clock… seriously, I even took a picture for you guys… like I said earlier, it’s cool being press. By the way, nice gauge cluster right? A big analog tachometer and speedo are clearly visible behind the steering wheel, along with a temperature and fuel gauge. Note the tachometer with the 4500 rpm redline… remember it’s a diesel. These suckers don’t rev.
Let us talk about the car first and then we’ll get into driving impressions and performance. Now remember that the A3 is the baby of the Audi family. It’s the little brother to the A4 and grandson to the A8. What that means is, it’s small, not like Miata small, but more like Ford Focus small. To its credit though the little A3 does make good use of the space it has available by taking advantage of every last nook and cranny. On the outside Audi has managed to give the A3 a burly stance. The front end comes at you with bravado that makes the A3 seem bigger in attitude than in actual physical size – more bark than bite so to speak.
Climb into the A3s cabin and you’re greeted to a sea of gray – like everywhere… except for maybe the vent bezels… those are silver. Everything else though, was gray. It’s really not all bad, but I mean how about a little splash of color? How about some aluminum around the dash or navigation system… just something to break it up a little. The interior was also decidedly German meaning there was everything you need and nothing you don’t. Cup holders were not splattered all over the place nor were little things like change compartments and such, it was really pretty basic. Fit and finish is top notch and there is no question that the A3 uses top quality materials throughout. The leather seats, plastics and the overall interior build quality really are superb.
Climate controls are easy to use and within arms reach, as are the controls for the radio and navigation system. Speaking of which… I would probably bypass the ole’ navigation on the options sheet. It’s like 2 grand and will probably be behind the technology curve in 3 years. Buy a TomTom or Garmin instead for like $99, then go take a vacation someplace with the $1900 you saved… or you can just send a portion to me for saving you all that cash.
The seats are pretty comfy with support in all the right places and do a good job of holding you in when you throw the Audi into the corners. Leg room was simply “Ok” for me… remember, 6’4″ here… so what that means is when I sit up front, there is no way in hell anyone is sitting behind me. My right leg was also butting up against the center console. This is no big deal for short runs of say an hour or less, but if you were road tripping this thing, you’d probably go insane. Headroom was just “ok” as well. My take – if you are over 6′ tall, you may find the A3 a bit cramped. Rear seat room was just like the front – cramped. This should be of no surprise because after all it’s an A3 not an A8. Take heed though, because if you plan on putting some extra bodies in the back, they may be a bit squished.
As we head to the ass end of the A3 we’re greeted to a high-opening hatch back… and this is good, because odds are you won’t crack your head open when you are taking out the groceries. Space is actually quite ample back here. I’ll be honest, I have no idea how many cubic feet of space this thing has, nor do I give a damn, I talk about real world applications here. What I do know is that you can fit like 2 BIG duffel bags or suitcases side by side and a few small backpacks on top. Or fold down the rear seats and throw in 4 biggies and a few little ones on top and around the edges. Just a note though, when the rear seats fold down, they don’t fold flat… you’ve been warned.
Ok, now that we’ve summed up the interior, fit finish and cargo room; let us talk about what this little bugger is like to drive. Keep in mind, this is a diesel, not a conventional gas engine, so performance and power delivery are completely different to what most people are used to. The A3 is powered by a 2.0 liter turbo diesel that delivers 140 hp and 236 lbs.-tq.. Power is transmitted to the front wheels, as there is no Quattro available yet with the diesel… WTF? I mean one main reason you buy an Audi is for the Quattro system.
I have to say that if the automotive layperson got into this thing they would have no idea it was a diesel-powered car – it’s quiet. Gone are all remnants of the billowing black smoke engines of yesteryear. These things are not only quiet but they burn remarkably clean as well. Put your foot down and the Audi jumps to life, power delivery is linear and shifts are VERY quick, behaving almost like you’re short shifting it. This actually takes awhile to get used to. Once underway the A3 drives just as you’d imagine an Audi would. The ride is firm with a decidedly sporty feel, but is in no way uncomfortable. Acceleration however is lacking. In fact with a few people in the car it seemed like forever to get up to 70 mph. Stats show the A3 clock in a 0-60 time of about 9 seconds with a top speed of about 130 mph and I believe it… as it feels pretty slow. The car does weigh in at a chunky 3300 lbs., which is high for a small car. That means that that 140 hp and 236 lbs.-tq are really working to get this little chubby chub moving.
Throw the car into a corner and the A3 is definitely rewarding. The front wheel drive has a tendency to plow when pushed hard, but for everyday spirited driving I don’t think I would complain. Brakes are great and provide a firm, yet planted feel when you stomp on the pedal… no real drama here. Mileage is where the clean diesel really shines and is really the only reason I would opt for this engine. How does 30 city / 42 hwy sound… nice right? Combine that with the 15 gallons fuel the A3 holds and you’re talking a minimum of 450 miles per tank in city driving – that, ladies and gentlemen is what the diesel is all about.
The big question at the end of the day is… would I actually buy one? Unfortunately, the answer is no and not because of the reasons you’d think. At $36,000 as equipped, this is not a cheap car and aside from the mileage and “mystique” of owning an Audi, you really don’t get that much extra for your hard earned dollar. So, what would I consider as an alternative you might ask? How about a VW Jetta Sportswagon TDI. You get more room, the same engine and transmission as the Audi and pay almost $10,000 less. Now, if you need that Audi mystique then go for it, you WILL enjoy the car, however if you’re feeling a bit on the frugal side, hit up the VW dealership and make your wallet happy.