When the all-new 2015 Audi A3 compact sedan was introduced, it came with a choice of two gasoline-fueled engines, a 1.8-liter and a 2.0-liter, both turbocharged with direct injection. Our first drive the A3, almost exactly a year ago, was with the larger of those two engines, and we found its 220 horsepower quite satisfactory. But at the time, we were also promised a diesel engine to be, as they say in the sports biz, named later.
This is later. And now for the 2015 Audi A3 is an available with the Volkswagen Group’s outstanding 2.0-liter turbodiesel that’s used in a number of applications. The engine, which we’ve reviewed in the 2015 Volkswagen Passat SE TDi, is the VW Group’s EA288 four-cylinder. The engine, typical of a diesel, has relatively low horsepower rating of 150 horsepower—up ten horses from EA189, its predecessor, however—but with no change to 236 lb-ft of torque spread over 1750 to 3000 rpm.
The engine’s efficiency edged up however. The previous-generation hatchback Audi A3 powered by the EA189 had an EPA rating of 30/42 mpg city/highway. The new sedan-made-just-for-Americans comes in at 31/43 mpg.
Considering the massive redesign of the engine, that doesn’t sound like a lot for the effort—read about the EA288 here—but the new engine is powerful, smooth and quieter, and the EA189 was already quite civilized. There are still sufficient authentic compression ignition engine noises for the acolytes of Otto Diesel to savor while driving around town. On the highway it’s quiet as, or quieter than, a gas engine. In other words, you can’t hear it.
A novel feature for the diesel-powered cars is a warning light on the dash. Gasoline-fueled cars don’t have it, and it’s red and it looks sort of like a coil of wire. In warm weather it’s just like any other warning light that flashes on briefly as the car is started. It’s for the diesel engine’s glowplugs, little heating elements in the combustion chamber that helps the diesel fuel light off those few initial strokes. Push the start button in cold weather—freezing or below—and the engine doesn’t respond for about two seconds as the glowplugs get hot.
The diesel engine is available only with Audi’s S Tronic six-speed dual-clutch automatic. It’s geared to make the most out of the engines torque band. Even with heavy throttle the transmission stays in first only briefly before shifting to second.
The drivetrain is for an Audi, however, it an anomaly. For a company that made “Quattro” the best known term for all-wheel drive, and has applied it to racing as well as road cars, there is no combining Quattro and TDI. That’s true of the base 1.8-liter TFSI as well. On the other hand, all-wheel drive is mandatory with the two-liter engine.
A hidden change between the gas and diesel A3 models is the rear suspension. Audi decided to use a torsion beam setup with the diesel. It’s cheaper than the four-link suspension of the other A3 models, and with front drive, it’s possible to use it. But put a suspension that’s more typically found on budget econocars on a $40,000 sedan? Audi, what were you thinking. That said, it works. If we didn’t know it was a torsion-beam arrangement, we wouldn’t know.
The 2015 Audi A3 TDI naturally shares its exterior with its gas-fueled sibling, and in fact there are few ways to distinguish them visually. One, of course, is the badge on its trunklid and the other is the distinctive standard-equipment 17-inch wheels, although the order list includes the same optional $800 wheels for all models. Which our test A3 TDI had as part of the Premium Plus package, which also includes cosmetic items like aluminum window and interior trim, heated seats and mirrors, and a proximity key, a $2,560 bundle.
Inside the Audi design is rather subdued for, well, Audi design, the most prominent features being the projecting dash vents. Our test A3 also had Audi’s MMI Navigation plus package. Not only does it have a much easier to use system than another German car company we could name (hint: three capital letters), it has Audi MMI touch, a touch sensitive pad atop the circular controller on the center console that can be used to spell out words, letter by letter with a fingertip, rather than laboriously type them in, or rotate through the keyboard. But finger writing is easier and the system remarkably adept at reading capital letter doodled in.
The 2015 Audi A3 replaces the A4, which is still in the Audi lineup but, as carmakers everywhere can’t seem to resist, became larger. The new A3 has almost identical dimensions as the A4 of ten years ago. As a result, the back seat is small. Don’t expect full-size adult to be happy there for very long. Need more room? Get something bigger.