By Larry E. Hall
There’s an all-new Audi A3 for 2013. It’s slightly bigger, yet lighter, has three new engines including a more powerful diesel and is offered with an expanded line of body styles: two- and four-door hatchbacks, a sedan and a convertible. That sounds like good news except the 2013 A3 is only available in Europe. We won’t see one until early next year as a 2014 model and, we will only see one—the sedan. That’s right, no four-door hatchback wagon, at least not for some time according to Audi.
The Audi A3 TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) clean diesel four-door hatchback first hit U.S. shores in early 2010. It drew an impressive amount of acclaim from critics and earned the title 2010 Green Car of the Year, an annual award presented by Green Car Journal. Since then, sales have exceeded expectations. Credit the A3 TDI’s success to some green cred, really good fuel mileage (30 mpg city/42 highway), the distinct German flavor of Audi and, oh yeah, it’s fun to drive.
Since we’re waiting for the all-new 2014 model, there are no changes to the 2013 A3 TDI. Pricing is also unchanged, starting at $30,250 for both trim levels, Premium and Premium Plus.
The A3 TDI utilizes a 2.0-liter in-line-four-cylinder diesel engine with four valves per cylinder to produce 140 horsepower and 236 pounds-feet of torque. Power is directed to the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission that allows either automatic or manual shifting. About the transmission, the Detroit Free Press said, “The dual-clutch transmission performs beautifully. The shifts are fast and smooth, letting the engine rev high for strong acceleration.”
Unlike the A3 gasoline models, a manual transmission and Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system are not offered.
TDI is a direct injection system where fuel is sprayed – as the name suggest – directly into each cylinder, rather than into a pre-combustion chamber. A turbocharger and intercooler are also used. Together, these components result in cleaner emissions and better acceleration, the latter due to diesel’s higher-torque characteristics. This advanced clean diesel technology gets by with particulate filters and traps only, there is no blue-fluid or separate after-treatment system (urea) to “scrub” pollutants out of the exhaust.
This means the Audi diesel will be less expensive to maintain because urea injection systems require refilling every 15,000-30,000 miles. If it’s not replenished, the car won’t start. That could be inconvenient, possibly embarrassing if you were taking a prospective client to lunch. Instead, you can impress that prospect with your greenness by filling the tank with up to B5 biodiesel fuel, a mixture approved by Audi.
There’s a confidence at Audi that manifests itself in strong design that emanates from the single-frame grille. Influenced by classic Audi race design, the so-called Nuvolari grille has become part of the family gene pool, just as BMW has its twin kidneys and Mercedes its signature front end.
Flanked by canted headlamp clusters and prominent lower intake grilles, the grille’s impact is softened by compound curves in the hood. From there, the eyes are drawn along the distinct shoulder line that forms a visual tension with the downward, coupe-like sweep of the roofline. Wraparound taillights emphasize the broad expanse of the rear. They also give the shoulder line a taking-off point for what looks like a small spoiler integrated into the hatch door just below the window line.
Adding the now standard aggressive look of the S line package to the prominent Audi grille and overall sporty styling is enough to put the A3 TDI on top of the list of cars to consider buying.
Interior And Features
Sliding into an Audi is always a delight. These days only Lexus is better in cabin quality, but without the emotional quality Audi puts into its leather, trim pieces and switches. Road and Track noted that the A3’s cabin is “well assembled” and has “all the accouterments one might expect on a larger premium car.”
Optional front sport seats successfully conspire with the engine to encourage bad-mannered maneuvers. They’re tight where they need to be, yet pleasingly comfortable on long hauls. The driver’s seat teams up with the fully adjustable steering column to produce an excellent driving position for people of all sizes.
Audi has perfected the science of applied ergonomics; all controls are logically placed and have highly legible readouts. There’s a compartment at the bottom of the center stack for a cell phone and the center console has two levels, with a small upper bin as well as a lower door that conceals a 12-volt outlet and MP3 jack. Rear seats are quite comfortable and there’s adequate head- and legroom for the outboard passengers, but the middle position is a tight squeeze for adults.
Car owners outside the U.S. know that hatchback wagons have always made so much sense. Why these common sense cars haven’t caught on here remains a mystery. The purpose of a four-door hatchback, of course, is interior versatility. For starters, folding the split rear seatbacks can increase the 19.5 cubic feet cargo area. Indeed, the rear seats flip down easily, expanding the space to 39 cu. ft. This doesn’t result in a perfectly flat cargo floor, but it isn’t usually an issue. For added cargo, an accessory roof rack is available.
Expected standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels; leather upholstery; power locks, windows and mirrors; cruise control; dual zone climate controls; tilt/telescoping steering wheel; a 10-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system; and XM satellite radio. The Premium Plus package adds xenon headlights, LED running lights, steering wheel shift paddles, power driver’s seat and Bluetooth connectivity. Available are a navigation system and cold weather packages.
HybridCars.com staff drove an A3 TDI on a real-world mileage test on a mixed route from Havre De Grace, Maryland to Towson, Md. to Stewartstown, Pa., and back to historic Havre De Grace. The drive was 114 miles long, comprised of interstate driving (about 35 percent), two-lane country routes (about 55 percent), and the rest of the journey was on city streets and a couple of small towns.
To get an accurate fuel economy range, we traveled this route twice. The first time, very passively. Meaning we stayed pretty much under the speed limit – which ranged anywhere from 25 to 65 – drove in the right lane of the highway, accelerated modestly from the standstill position, and even kept the heater off. The result? An impressive 43.7 miles per gallon combined. That puts its mileage numbers quite close to Prius territory.
On our second run, we shifted to a more spirited driving style. We drove in the fast lane of the highway, accelerated ambitiously on the on-ramps and at traffic lights, and passed slower moving cars when the situation allowed. And this time, the cabin was nicely heated. And though all of these adjustments took their toll on fuel economy, the car still managed a very subcompact-like 31.2 miles per gallon combined. No doubt a hit to efficiency, but in the grand scheme, much better than most cars on the road.
The A3 TDI exhibited excellent handling and ride quality. The suspension is good and firm, allowing quick turns and a highly responsive feel. In typical Audi fashion, ride comfort is also given due attention. But in the end, this is a small, sporty car, so the ride is not going to be its first priority. We’re not saying it’s harsh, but it’s nowhere close to the plush feel of a larger luxury sedan. There was also some road noise, and we could feel the bumps on the pavement.
Motor Trend described the A3 TDI’s driving experience this way: “Slot the gear selector over to manual and grab hold of the paddles mounted to the back of the steering wheel and the diesel can be plenty entertaining. Once you figure out the sweet spot in the rev range – between 2,000 and 3,500 rpm – the little oil burner has the power to pull you through corners with some gusto. While the suspension is taut and responsive, it's not especially harsh or punishing on rough pavement, allowing you to commute comfortably at 30-plus mpg when you’re done playing.”
Overall, the Audi A3 TDI is a clean, performance-driven little car with style and practicality. Furthermore, the A3 TDI’s $30,250 starting price is competitive. However, step up to the Premium Plus edition, select several option choices and the price can get close to $40,000. That’s A4 territory.
If a hatchback with green credentials that promises sporty driving is your criteria, the all-new 2011 Lexus CT200h hybrid starts at $29,120 and bests the A3 with an EPA rating of 43 city/40 highway. And, like the A3, options can push the price to near 40 big ones.
Another option to consider is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen. It doesn’t have the luxury cache of the Audi and Lexus, but it starts at $25,540, has the same fuel economy as the A3 TDI and offers a six-speed manual transmission.
The luxury A3 TDI hatchback has been a welcome addition to the American diesel landscape that Automobile Magazine says has “a superb interior, hatchback capabilities, and lively driving dynamics [that] won’t be compromised by the diesel engine; you’ll just go a little farther on each gallon of fuel.”
If that strikes a chord with you, don’t wait too long; it will be awhile before another A3 TDI hatchback graces dealer showrooms.
Prices are manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.