Given the premium positioning of the 2011 Audi A3 compact hatchback, you won't be cross-shopping it against mass-market Asian brands. But as a refined, versatile German import, the A3 offers both brand cachet and a feature few other compacts have: a fuel-efficient clean diesel TDI engine.
The A3 TDI is rated at 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, with a combined 34-mpg rating that is likely lower than what owners will actually achieve. Its 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter diesel four is paired with an excellent S-tronic six-speed automated manual transmission, reprogrammed specifically for the TDI's low speeds and prodigious torque.
At the other end of the gas-mileage graph is the A3 Quattro, one of the few all-wheel-drive compact hatchbacks that doesn't say Subaru on the back. It is rated at 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, for a relatively dismal combined 24 mpg. If you want all-wheel-drive, by the way, you have to get the 200-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine and S-tronic gearbox.
In between those two extremes are the front-wheel-drive A3s with the gasoline engine, either with the S-tronic automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox. The performance of the diesel and gasoline engines is remarkably similar, though the diesel pulls while the turbo gas engine revs.
The A3 is now an old car, due for replacement within a couple of years, so the styling is hardly cutting edge. The big alloy wheels give it a nice stance, and the lines are timeless for a five-door hatch (the only body style). The A3 still looks good; it's just not crisp any longer.
The 2011 Audi A3 is as comfortable and stable at speed on the highway as it is crisp and direct pottering around town. If you add the magnetic suspension option, the ride quality improves from stiff to supple. The electric power steering lacks feedback, though.
The A3's interior shows its age far less than the styling. It's simple, well-made, and surprisingly intuitive. Interior room isn't the biggest in the class, and the black interior doesn't add much of an open feel, but the materials are first-rate and feel luxurious in a car this small.
The front seats are upholstered in leather as standard, but they sit low to the floor and lack side support. The rear seats are only marginally usable, requiring the front seats to be moved forward several inches to provide enough legroom for six-foot adults.
As a five-door hatchback, the A3 is versatile, carrying people or stuff or a combination of the two. It may be the most fun-to-drive car in which to bring home Ikea furniture kits.
One area where the A3 shows its age is in noise suppression, or the lack thereof. The low-profile tires don't help matters, as they're loud enough, but road noise simply isn't as well muffled as in cars that are six or seven years newer. These days, even some compact economy cars do better.
The A3 has historically scored well on crash tests, though it hasn't been retested against the new and more stringent standards that have come into effect for 2011.
The A3's feature list defines "entry luxury," including fog lamps, keyless entry, automatic climate control, that leather upholstery, and a 10-speaker, 140-Watt sound system as standard.
The Premium Plus package adds xenon headlamps, a power-adjustable driver's seat, audio controls on the steering wheel, LED running lamps, and larger alloy wheels. And beyond that, buyers can specify a Bose premium sound system, an in-dash navigation system, and iPod integration (which we think ought to be standard, by now, along with Bluetooth).
The challenge here is that a heavy hand on the options list can drive the price of the Audi A3 past $40,000--a sum that will get you a very nice car one, even two sizes larger, if you want one. On the other hand, Lexus has newly launched its CT 200h compact hybrid hatchback at roughly the same starting price as the A3, so perhaps it's ahead of its time despite its age.
For more details, see the full review of the 2011 Audi A3 range on our sister site, TheCarConnection.
|4-Door HB Manual FrontTrak 2.0T Premium (2)||MSRP||Invoice||MPG City||MPG Hwy|
|4-Door HB Manual FrontTrak 2.0T Premium Specs||$27,270||$25,361||21||30|
|4-Door HB Manual FrontTrak PZEV 2.0T Premium (2)||MSRP||Invoice||MPG City||MPG Hwy|
|4-Door HB Manual FrontTrak PZEV 2.0T Premium Specs||$27,270||$25,361||21||30|
|4-Door HB S tronic FrontTrak 2.0 TDI Premium (2)||MSRP||Invoice||MPG City||MPG Hwy|
|4-Door HB S tronic FrontTrak 2.0 TDI Premium Specs||$30,250||$28,134||30||42|
|4-Door HB S tronic FrontTrak 2.0T Premium (2)||MSRP||Invoice||MPG City||MPG Hwy|
|4-Door HB S tronic FrontTrak 2.0T Premium Specs||$28,750||$26,739||22||28|
|4-Door HB S tronic FrontTrak PZEV 2.0T Premium (2)||MSRP||Invoice||MPG City||MPG Hwy|
|4-Door HB S tronic FrontTrak PZEV 2.0T Premium Specs||$28,750||$26,739||22||28|
|4-Door HB S tronic quattro 2.0T Premium (2)||MSRP||Invoice||MPG City||MPG Hwy|
|4-Door HB S tronic quattro 2.0T Premium Specs||$30,850||$28,690||21||28|