Class: Premium Compact Car
Miles Driven: 309
Fuel Used: 8.7 gallons
Real-world fuel economy: 35.5 mpg
Driving mix: 50% city, 50% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 31/43/36 (city, highway, combined)
Base price: $32,600 (not including $895 destination charge)
|CG Report Card
|Room and Comfort
|Power and Performance
|Fit and Finish
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.
Options on test car: MMI Plus Navigation Package ($2600), Premium Plus upgrade ($2550)
Price as tested: $38,645
The great: Excellent fuel economy, sporty demeanor
The good: Build quality
The not so good: Cramped rear seat, stingy cargo space
Whether you consider the Audi A3 TDI a good value or not hinges primarily on what you’re looking to get out of it. If you want a cushy, traditionally luxurious car with ample space for people and cargo, there are better ways to spend $33-$40K. If you want a nimble, compact sports sedan that focuses more on austere quality than coddling, the A3 might be right up your alley.
In terms of driving personality and build quality, the A3 delivers a true Audi experience—at a starting price that undercuts its big-brother A4 by more than $5,000. However, the tradeoff for those savings is a slightly more-spartan interior (at least for a premium-brand car) and stingier space for cargo and occupants (especially rear-seat passengers).The door openings are rather tight both front and rear, and back-seat headroom and legroom are cramped for most adults. Likewise, the trunk isn’t particularly spacious, and the abbreviated decklid makes for a limited aperture as well—it might be tricky to fit large boxes or suitcases back here.
Some might find the A3’s dashboard a bit sparse, but I like its simplicity. Overall, the interior is a bit downmarket from most Audis, but it still has a clean, high-quality German feel. An “aluminum interior package” was part of the $2550 Premium Plus equipment on our tester; the cabin would look a bit drab without it. Also included in Premium Plus trim group are 18-inch ten-spoke wheels, heated front seats, heated mirrors, aluminum window surrounds, and keyless entry and starting. Our tester was also equipped with the $2500 MMI Navigation package, which adds HD radio, the MMI control system, a color driver-information display, and the Audi connect online services with a 6-month subscription. Lots of desirable equipment in these packages, but they also bump up the sticker price significantly, to $38,645. That kind of money would buy one of several nicely-trimmed near-luxury sedans that offer more room.
The TDI diesel is a very likable powertrain. It’s satisfyingly “torquey” and responsive in both city and highway driving, and it delivers laudable fuel-economy. I averaged 39.1 mpg over 160 miles of about 60 percent highway driving. That’s an impressive number given the power the TDI has on tap, and it jibes nicely with the EPA ratings of 31 mpg city/43 highway. The diesel’s distinctive exhaust note is a touch coarser than a typical gas engine, but it’s not at all objectionable, and overall noise levels are fine. I didn’t notice any diesel-fuel odors during my test either. The powertrain’s main quirk is the DSG automated-manual transmission; like many gearboxes of its type, it is prone to occasional bogging and surging when pulling away from a stop. Drivers used to traditional automatic transmission will need some time to acclimate to the DSG’s behavior.
The A3’s ride leans more toward athleticism than isolating absorbency; it’s always “active” and communicative, but rarely rough. Handling is delightfully crisp and lively. The sporty suspension tuning and trim dimensions make the A3 feel especially light and agile in quick changes of direction. That small footprint also means that the A3 is especially maneuverable in crowded urban environments. So, even the A3’s downsides have upsides. It all depends on what you’re looking for.