The 2012 Audi A3 has five major selling points. Four of those are the interlinked rings on the nose, which imply levels of quality and sophistication beyond that of most other compact hatchbacks. The fifth is the option of Audi's TDI turbodiesel engine to deliver a useful mix of performance and economy you'll struggle to find elsewhere.
The A3 TDI uses a 2.0-liter, four cylinder diesel, and puts out 140 horsepower. With Audi's excellent six-speed, dual-clutch S-Tronic transmission, the A3 gets EPA fuel ratings of 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined. There's potential for even more, too--many diesel owners find the EPA ratings a little pessimistic compared to what their cars can actually achieve.
Not all A3s are so economical, of course. Next in line is a four-cylinder gasoline 2.0-liter, with average economy of only 24 mpg and 28 mpg highway. The turbocharged A3 fitted with Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system gets the same combined and highway figures, but only 21 mpg in the city, compared to the front-drive A3's 22 mpg rating.
The performance of the diesel and gasoline engines is remarkably similar, though the diesel pulls in a relentless surge, while the turbo gas engine prefers to pile on the revs.
The Audi A3 has been out for several years now, and its replacement is on the way very soon. That's just as well, since the A3 no longer looks as cutting-edge as it once did. It's a good-looking car even so, in a Germanic sort of way--there are no frills here, just a clean, inoffensive shape with precise shutlines and tasteful alloy wheels.
The upcoming new A3 doesn't actually look much different, which suggests that Audi customers are more than happy with the mature styling, but its lines are crisper.
The A3 is no longer the sharpest compact to drive, but neither is there much wrong with it. The electric power steering is a little short of feedback, but it's accurate, and the A3 is at its best with the magnetic suspension option, which improves the ride quality. At higher speeds, the A3 is comfortable and stable.
The interior shows its age 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.
Again, the upcoming model's interior isn't a huge departure from the 2012 car, so Audi must be doing something right.
You get leather front seats as standard, but shorter drivers may be put off by the low seating position, and the seats lack side support. There's not a great deal of room in the back for taller passengers, so you'd better hope the front occupants are on the short side anyway.
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 six or seven years newer. These days, even 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 came into effect for 2011.
There's plenty of equipment on offer - the 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.
You can add to that tally with a Bose premium sound system, an in-dash navigation system, and iPod integration. It's just a shame these aren't standard--even more basic vehicles offer iPod connections and Bluetooth as standard these days.
Just make sure you go easy on the options list. It's quite easy to drive the price of an Audi A3 past $40,000. Those four rings only count for so much, and these days, there are a lot of worthy competitors around the $40,000 mark.
For more details, see the full review of the 2012 Audi A3 range on our sister site, TheCarConnection.
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