Competitive Analysis – Audi A3 TDI

This is the first competitive product review here at the Caddy Edge. In this installment, we’re looking at the Audi A3 TDI. The A3 is Audi’s entry car in the US market. TDI is their 2.0l turbo-diesel powerplant. In this instance it is backed by the famed dual-clutch automated manual transmission that VW likes to use.

The Audi A3 might be positioned below even the upcoming ATS, but it does show what is going on in the luxury space for folks looking for a small, fuel-efficient ride that don’t want to think about a hybrid.

This review was previously posted over at Unhealthy Obsession with Cars and is based on my experience driving the car at the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience (put on by the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press).

Lots has been made of the Audi A3’s roots in the Volkswagen group’s ‘a5’ platform…to VW-philes, this is shorthand for the VW Group’s small car ‘a’ now in its 5th incarnation. Other cars on this platform are the prior version of the Golf (Rabbit at the time), the current Jetta, as well as cars sold in Europe under the SEAT and Skoda brands.

What you see here is the most premium level of this platform that we get (let’s just say that the TT is far enough removed to not be considered a true variant of the a5 platform and move on). This is the A3 TDI, meaning it get’s one of the only passenger-car diesel engines available in the US market. 2.0l, turbo-charged, and fuel efficient – the TDI grants this little 5-door with a mountain of torque (236 lb*ft to be exact) to go with its luxury market position. In our driving, it was difficult if not impossible to detect that this was anything but a normal powertrain – just one that seemed a bit resistant to rev-ing but moved the car quite well. Fuel economy ratings of 30/42 mean that you can have near-hybrid levels of economy in a car that otherwise feels quite normal (though if you like the electric drive and auto stop-start tricks of a hybrid, you’ll miss them here).

A3 TDIHowever, the Euro isn’t being nice to VW or Audi and sticker prices reflect this. With this car packing the S-Tronic transmission (DSG to the VW faithful), which is an impressive piece with near instantaneous shifts, as well as an S-line package of body kit, charcoal wheels, sporty interior add-ons, and a sport suspension – a sticker price of $37000 seems a bit much. Base price is just shy of $30k, though some features you’d expect in a luxury car (bluetooth hands-free, for one) are optional at that price – blame the exchange rate and the high cost of TDI hardware. However, if you consider this to be Audi’s ‘hybrid’ then the price isn’t quite as hard to swallow.

A3 TDI InteriorThat isn’t to say that the A3 isn’t something special in the hatch market – with bespoke interior throughout that certainly feels Audi in many ways – it is just that there are a couple areas where your reminded that this is the bargain Audi. 1. The ‘metal’ rings around the vents that turn flow on/off are off-putting. They appear to be molded from plastic and metalized such that they remind me of the the model cars I built as a kid – the chrome plating comes across as cheap and out of place. 2. The controls for the dual-zone climate control (located low in the center stack) are styled to look like dials, however they are actually a 2-way toggle that rotates just left and right of center to select lower and higher temperatures. An example of style trumping function and the fact that the motion had a noticeable ‘clickly’ feel didn’t help either.

The only reason that these nits get picked here are that the overall interior is so rich and well put together – how these minor issues made it out of headquarters is a bit baffling.

A3 TDIEarlier, we mentioned the sport suspension on our example. At a day of driving cars at the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience as varied as the A3 to the Camaro SS and Cadillac CTS-V sedan, the A3 turned out to have the harshest suspension tuning of the lot. If you want your luxury hatch with a larger than expected dose of sport-sedan road feel – this is your guy. Just be aware if your local roads are not well maintained.

So, would we recommend an A3 TDI? It is difficult to suggest that $37k is the right price for the package. If you love the Audi aesthetic, with the LED accented headlights, brushed metal accents, and want near-hybrid levels of fuel economy to boot – this is your car. However, you might want to at least look at a Golf TDI first – just to be sure.