Review Roundup: 2011 Audi A3 Clean Diesel TDI

2011 Audi A3 TDI clean diesel car

The USA is a big country: there’s 9,826,000 square miles, and 307 million people. By comparison, Europe covers just 3,930,000 miles, yet there’s 852 million people there. Cram that many more people into an area that’s a third the size of the U.S., and you could see where size would become an issue – especially when it comes to parking a car.

That’s one reason why small hatchbacks are so popular over there. They’re easy to park, they have lots of room, and they get great gas mileage. Which is important too, because gas can cost up to $8 per gallon in some parts of Europe.

So, if you lived over there, the most logical car to buy would be a diesel hatchback. But that sounds even more boring to take on the road than a base-model Prius – or does it?

The 2011 Audi A3 TDI is a luxury version of the popular Euro diesel hatchback and, named the 2010 Green Car of the Year, has become a strong seller in the U.S. It has standard leather, the S Line exterior pack with spoilers, badges and 17-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, and of course, an economical 2.0 TDI engine.

But the diesel found in this Audi is a far cry from the noisy, stinky clatter-box that most Americans used to assume they would be getting. This 2.0 liter, direct-injected (called Common Rail in diesel-speak) oil burner is both responsive, and earth-friendly. Also found in the Volkswagen Jetta/Golf TDI, this engine uses a vapor trap to capture NOx emissions, then it routes them back to the engine to be re-burned during combustion. As a result, the Audi A3 TDI emits just 0.07 grams of NOx per mile, which is quite impressive for a diesel.

Besides the cleanliness and the fuel economy (30/42 MPG), this TDI produces enough torque to provide satisfying acceleration. Rated at 140-hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, this engine can propel the A3 TDI from 0-60 in just 8.9 seconds – that’s not bad for what’s basically an economy car. You can have a green, economical car that’s not terrible to drive.

And what’s more, since Audi is a luxury brand, you can outfit your A3 TDI with all sorts of goodies. There’s a Sport Package with 18-inch wheels and a stiffer suspension, a Convenience Package with upgraded BOSE audio, automatic lights, wipers and (dimming) mirrors, and parking sensors (in case you can’t drive), a Cold Weather Pack with heated seats, mirrors and washer nozzles, a Bluetooth Pack, a twin-pane sunroof, Navigation, rear-side airbags, and a broad assortment of interior and exterior trim packages.

By the time you add on all of the options, the 2011 Audi A3 TDI can get pretty expensive, especially when you consider that it has the same chassis and engine as the VW Golf/Jetta TDI. Some consumers writing on feel that, for the price, Audi scrimped on some basic features and risks missing their target market. (The fact that the A3 TDI does not come with standard transmission or the fabled Audi Quattro AWD turns off some potential buyers from the get-go.)

Others say that doesn’t detract from its overall smooth handling and responsiveness, and that the Audi A3 TDI is a real step up from their other economy cars. And, besides, studies show that diesel cars easily recoup their initially high price tag – they have a lower “total cost of ownership” thanks to better fuel economy and resale value.

Do you own an Audi A3 clean diesel?

If so, leave a comment and tell us what you think about it, and what kind of gas mileage you’re getting in the real world.

Teddy Field got his start in the auto industry at the age of 17. He is a recognized car dealer sales & management consultant, an automotive journalist, and a regular contributor to


  1. I own a 2010 A3 TDI and am happy with it. I do mostly suburban driving and get 36 mpg on average, and 42-44 mpg on the highway.

  2. @Steve

    Thanks for the comment! That’s slightly better on the highway than my own gas mileage in my 2007 Prius, and only slightly lower in town. I think either this or the Jetta (with the same engine) is going to be my next car.

  3. I picked up my 2011 Audi A3 TDI in Ingolstadt in October. I drove it around Bavaria for about 10 days, then dropped it off for transport to the USA. I picked it up at my local dealer in January. It’s a hoot to drive. The TDI engine is quiet, clean, and surprisingly peppy. I’ve been getting between 37.3 and 38.5 MPG per tankful. On weekends I have to make an 80-mile round trip to the church that I belong to, via the Interstate. I’ve also been getting about 42-44MPG during those highway trips. I’ve only got about 4200 miles on it at this point. I expect to get even better economy as the engine wears in and starts to run a bit freer, and as we switch away from the winter blend diesel fuel that’s served up in our area. I’m absolutely sold on these TDI engines.

  4. @sasha

    Thanks for the feedback!

    A friend of mine bought a BMW in Germany like that. Sounds like it would be a blast.

  5. I’m, currently using an A3 TDI, while my A3 2.0T DSG is in for its 55k service. Heck -I like the A3 TDI, because its peppy and has good power, but I “definitely” prefer the power of my 2.0T.

    As for the TDI’s mileage I just got 23.7 mpg based on my short (un-scientific) 6 mile round trip drive to Peets coffee, compared to 17mpg I get with my 2.0T. I admit that I drive in a spirited fashion, compared to the average driver, which will lessen any mpg results.

    In closing the A3 TDI gets very mileage and is a great car (BTW, I like/prefer the A/3 over the previous A/4 – A/6’sI’ve had) and when I’m ready for my next Audi, I will seriously consider the TDI version.

  6. My wife and I purchased a 2011 A3 TDI and promptly drove over 5K miles in just a couple of weeks. The break-in road trip up North in areas with winter diesel yielded around 40 mpg. I played around occasionally with different methods of improving mileage like accelerating then coasting or drafting off larger vehicles. Really pressing these methods, I could get 44 mpg while averaging 70 mph.

    However I mostly drove fast because that’s where this little car is at home. Don’t forget it’s designed for running well over 100 mph on German autobahns. I was getting around 36 mpg when consistently passing more prudent drivers.

    We’ve recently crossed the 8k mark, and we’re getting around 40 mpg on mostly suburban commute miles using 47 diesel. I am optimistic about the next road trip’s figures.

  7. The EPA lists this polluting car as getting a 5 out of 10 for air pollution. It only gets a 7 out of 10 70% or a C when I went to school. If I made a 50% on a test in school it would be called a failure. How can a car rated at 5 for air pollution be called green? The EPA rates cars based on the hot air leaving the pipe not hot air leaving the green washing PR effort. Diesel is very dirty and costs more. With our air on the verge of unhealthy it is a crime to bullshit the public about fake green cars.

  8. Jerry–

    you should read some more about combustion processes. Its ignorance like your “diesel is very dirty and costs more” comment that makes the US market inhospitable to diesels.

    even a “5” on the EPA green ratings still qualifies as a Low Emissions Vehicle, plus the diesel doesn’t rely on nickel mining or horrendous energy necessary to manufacture a hybrid. Finally, there are no toxic battery waste to deal with.

    So take your epa, your prius, and your green ego and shove them all up your ass.

    Meanwhile i’ll be polluting as much as possible in my emissions-exempt cars.

  9. I’ve had my 2011 A3 TDI for a little over a year now. I reset MPG average in April and again in November. My overall mpg for summer is just over 40 and for winter is a tad over 37. I don’t baby the car at all. I took most of the options. The biggest drawback for us is the non-electric reclining passenger seat. That is one difficult puppy to operate. Also, the navigation system is a supremely overpriced under-performer. The car itself though pleases us immensely. I would love to have all wheel drive here in northern Wisconsin, but the front wheel drive with traction control is really not too bad. I like Audi. They seem to have put this car together fairly well. This is our first one.

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