2012 Audi A3 TDI review: Last year for the A3 hatchback

2012 Audi A3 TDI

2012 Audi A3 TDI

The 2012 Audi A3 premium compact arrived for its curtain call—an all-new A3 debuts for 2013—with no changes from the previous year, so we would have little reason for another review, except that the 2011 Audi A3 we tested last year was powered by Audi’s 2.0-liter gasoline engine, and with an offer of an A3 with the diesel engine—the 2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI clean diesel FWD—who were we to object?

The diesel engine in the A3 2.0TDI is of course the ubiquitous 2.0-liter used by the VW-Audi group and has the same output as other U.S.-spec applications. As usual for a diesel, the 2.0 generates bigger torque numbers than horsepower, rated at 140 horsepower but 236 lb-ft torque with a plateau from 1750 to 2500 rpm.

Unlike the other Audi models, however, the A3 TDI is available only with front wheel drive, and it’s also available only with Audi’s S-tronic six-speed dual-clutch transmission. No doubt it’s a marketing thing. The regular manual transmission elsewhere in the world, but not here, likely because Quattro would dim the EPA estimated 30/42 mpg city/highway fuel economy, plus someone figured out that there would not be enough sold with diesel cum all-wheel drive to warrant certifying them. Not you, of course. You want tdi and Quattro, but not enough of those other people.

2012 Audi A3 TDI

2012 Audi A3 TDI

That said, we found the 2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI to be very much an Audi, though the interior and the dashboard was noticeably plain, other than the large dashtop vents that look very serious about their ventilating duties. A standard double-DIN” dash space is provided for the radio, or the optional audio/navigation system with which our test 2012 A3 TDI wasn’t equipped. With the room allowed and the middle of the center stack location, we can’t imagine the screen for the system being particularly large, and it’s too low to be easily viewed. Consider an aftermarket navigation system.

Our test A3 was a Premium Plus model, but the standard “Premium” model has leather seating, advanced audio including satellite radio, and the option of Audi MMI navigation, SD slots for MP3 and more…and which our A3 didn’t have either. Nor did our test model have the optional sport seats. But our test A3 TDI with Premium Plus did get the sport three-spoke multi-function steering wheel and shift paddles for the S-tronic transmission.  Also standard on Premium Plus but not Premium are “Xenon Plus” headlights that also include integrated LED daytime running lights.

2012 Audi A3 TDI interior

The interior of the 2012 Audi A3 TDI is simple but classy.

Perhaps the most significant item in our 2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI, however, is its diesel engine, and we found it a delight in the Audi as we have elsewhere. The diesel “clatter” is subdued and unlike older diesels, a steady tapping. It’s not loud but the guy at the next pump will turn to see what has pulled into next to his car.

From inside the diesel has a distinctive but earnest sound when accelerating, muted but definitely different from a gas engine and no doubt pleasing to the diesel enthusiast who has made the deliberate choice to buy something deliberately out of the ordinary. It’s a reminder of how frugal one is being by driving a diesel.

The Audi A3 2.0 TDI is more relentless in its acceleration than exhilarating, but it excels on winding roads in hilly areas. The engine pulls in an almost relaxed manner, with revs in check and complementing the A3’s inborn nimbleness.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

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