Embraced by Europeans, misunderstood by Americans. No, not Jerry Lewis, I’m talking diesel engines. While they’re a large part of the US transportation system, it’s in the form of large trucks. Passenger cars? Not nearly as much. For our fuel sippers we Yanks prefer hybrids. Across the pond the Prius is a rare site. That’s how entrenched Rudolf Diesel’s engines are there.
Audi’s A3 TDI Clean Diesel is a concept that’s easy to get behind. TDI stands for Turbo Direct Injected and the technology pumps out 140 horsepower but more importantly, 236 lb-ft of torque with its 4 cylinders. It’s very efficient and clean when it comes to emissions plus it doesn’t need the AdBlue fluid that some diesels require. Particulates are vaporized by super heated ceramics.
The transmission is an excellent 6-speed dual clutch unit with rapid gear changes, do it manually if you’d like. Audi names it S tronic, VW brands it DSG. You will call it excellent.
The TDI can be sold in all 50 states, yes even the ones that have adapted California’s very fussy emissions standards. Don’t roll your eyes and call them granola eaters, you may live in one and not even know it. Here’s the growing list- CA,CT, ME, MA, NJ, NY, OR, RI, PA, VT, WA, MD, and NM. More will follow.
Let's get small
A3 brings something else to the table other than a diesel engine, the idea of compact luxury. Huge cars are not everyone, some can’t or won’t buy a luxo barge. It’s not a shrunken A8 by any stretch of the imagination. One of my gripes with A3 is that it’s been around awhile so you won’t find things like satellite navigation, keyless ignition or less important Audi’s MMI user interface. But it’s nicely finished on the inside and has the features to keep owners comfortable. Frankly, I’m fine with the easy to use controls, no fancy MMI needed.
Back to that torque thing
Torque is that powerful oomph felt off the line. Unlike Jerry Lewis, seems everyone likes it. Torque is what makes diesels very appealing, they have gobs of it. A3 TDI is not fast vehicle, 0-60 happens in 8 and a half seconds but it feels quicker than that. Sometimes that’s enough. Driving enthusiasts who want to tread lightly on mother earth will probably prefer this over a hybrid because of the low end pull and refined powertrain.
EPA rates the A3 TDIs fuel economy at 30 city, 42 highway. Check the price of diesel in your area, down the street from me it’s selling for less than standard unleaded gasoline. Audi recommends no more than 5 percent blend of biofuel, which is what they’re selling at the Safeway station. See? If it’s sold there, no need to worry about availability.
Ride quality is a great balance between comfort and sport. For a front drive car the A3 corners with confidence. It’s moderately quiet for road trips and those along for the ride will seldom hear the classic diesel sound. In fact during highway cruising it completely disappears.
Audi is known for their high quality interiors. And while the A3 has been around for a number of years, the cabin is holding up fine. Priced at around $36,000 as tested, it should be. This is not an inexpensive car. Diesel engines can be slow to warm up, so unique to the A3 TDI is an instant-on electric heater. Minnesotans will appreciate that on February mornings. Heated leather sport chairs that are part of the S-line package are supportive and comfortable for the long road trips diesels excel at.
Optional are iPod and Bluetooth phone integration. A dual pane sunroof helps to keep the space bright. The Bose sound system is very good, not spectacular.
In back there are belts for 3, two average adults should be fine. There are some small headroom issues; those on the outboard seating positions will occasionally graze their head because of an extension near the door frame. Foot and legroom is fine for a smaller car, the seats are quite comfortable. There’s no power port back here.
A3s with the TDI engine are held to front wheel drive but the drive shaft tunnel remains. Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system probably won’t appear on this model until a redesign. Want an all-wheel drive A3? Go with the gas drinking model.
That’s sportback to you
Seats split and fold like hatchbacks do...oops that would be sportback in Audi-speak (they call wagons Avants). The center arm rest folds down to become a ski pass through. Echoing the TDIs eco theme is the fact that bath tissue is biodegradable (it’s also great for measuring the useful capacity of a trunk). Because of the sloping roof line, A3 comes up one short of average at 5 warehouse sized packs.
The premium for a TDI engine in the A3? About $1,200, not bad. And there’s a $1,300 federal tax credit. Some might be thinking “Hey, I can get the same car for a lot less dough if I just buy a Jetta Sportwagen”. Well, kinda, sort of. Audi says the TDI engine in the A3 gets an extra balance shaft that the VW doesn’t. It also has that trick electric heater. Then there’s the interior that’s a definite step up. Finally, some people just want the rings on the grille. Take a peak at your bank account and figure out if the substantial price difference is worth it… to you.
How environmentally friendly is this rig? Well, recently it was recognized as 2010’s “Green Car of the Year” by Green Car Journal. In the end, what A3 TDI offers is choice. Eco minded folks who like engaging cars don’t have to sacrifice economy for a touch of luxury and sport. No matter what color you buy, the Audi A3 TDI makes it easy, and enjoyable to be green.