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 Edmunds.com 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 http://www.bestcardealsnewyork.com.