Audi A3 TDI clean diesel - European model

Audi A3 TDI clean diesel - European model

As of November, you'll have two choices if you want a compact five-door hatchback with a clean diesel engine.

One is the brand-new 2010 Audi A3 TDI, which was just given a base price of $30,775 today by Audi. It'll start arriving in dealerships in November.

Longstanding diesel champ: Golf TDI

The other is the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the latest in a longstanding and popular series of Volkwagen diesel hatchbacks and sedans. It was just priced at $21,990. and we think it will may become the biggest clean-diesel winner in the US market.

The 2010 Audi A3 TDI and 2010 VW Golf TDI share a basic platform. And both use the same 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel putting out 140 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque.

That engine includes the latest in clean-diesel technology, plus new catalytic converters that combine with low-sulfur diesel fuel to let the A3 TDI and Golf TDI meet emissions standards in all 50 states.

30 mpg city / 42 mpg highway

Both cars even get the same fuel efficiency ratings from the EPA: 30 miles per gallon city / 42 mpg highway when equipped with the DSG gearbox. (The Golf TDI also offers a five-speed manual, which knocks 1 mpg off the highway figure.)

Buyers should note that the Volkswagen Group's TDI engines often returns far better real-world mileage than their EPA ratings would indicate.

Competition: Lexus HS250h

Audi clearly doesn't consider the Golf TDI competition, however. "The competitive set for the A3 TDI clean diesel is unique," it sniffs, naming only one competitor in fuel-efficient compact luxury vehicles: the 2010 Lexus HS250h.

That vehicle, based on Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, offers roughly similar fuel economy, but Audi highlights the A3 TDI's superior highway range.

Befitting a small luxury car, the A3 TDI's standard equipment includes leather seats, a cargo net and folding rear seats, as well as S-line exterior trim.

Options and outlook

Options include Audi's navigation system and real-time traffic data; Bluetooth; a music interface for iPods and MP3 players; Bose speakers; and a Titanium package with dark grey trim, wood and leather upgrades, auto-dimming mirrors and LED daytime running lights.

We'll leave the decision as to whether the Audi four-ring logo and some extra options are worth a list price that's a full 40 percent higher.

We suspect Audi will sell only a fraction the number of A3 diesels that Volkswagen will Golf diesels. As always, the sales figures will tell the tale.

Euro-spec Volkswagen Golf TDI - 5/09

Euro-spec Volkswagen Golf TDI - 5/09

[Audi of America]