2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI FWD S tronic

A product planner from another car company recently suggested that Ford deserved a whole lot of credit for convincing consumers, with the Focus and Fiesta, that paying big(ger) money for small cars is a reasonable thing to do.

A product planner from another car company recently suggested that Ford deserved a whole lot of credit for convincing consumers, with the Focus and Fiesta, that paying big(ger) money for small cars is a reasonable thing to do. Heretofore it was pretty much just MINI in that space. But now Ford, a volume brand, is providing some convincing sheet metal in this higher transactional space.

This bodes well not only for Ford’s traditional cross-town rivals, but also for the likes of the luxury brands. That is, I was able to go to Ford.com and configure a 2012 Focus Titanium to a price of $29,105 which, for a compact car is nothing to sniff at. Particularly when the Audi A3 2.0 TDI in question here has a base MSRP of $30,250—and if one was to opt for a version without a diesel engine and with a manual transmission, then the starting MSRP is $27,270.

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So what we getting to now is a situation wherein one can opt for a loaded up mass-market vehicle or a premium brand for about the same money. What does a customer do? Assuming he or she has a good credit line, then the choices are now a bit more significant.

There is certainly a gap between the Audi A3 and the Audi A4 that is much greater than the nomenclature might lead you to think. The A3 is engineered like an Audi, to be sure, but in terms of the interior amenities and the materials used, there is a gulf between the models. It’s not that the A3 seems thrifty. It’s just that the A4 (and those above) are overachievers.

That said, however, anyone who is looking for a five-door hatch with an EPA-rated 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, and 34 mpg combined really needs to look at the Audi A3. The fuel-efficiency performance of the car is in the hybrid realm, yet if you think about it, there aren’t a whole lot of hybrids in this segment, with the closest probably being the Lexus CT 200h. But that car has a different character to it, and better fuel efficiency numbers: 43 city/40 highway/42 mpg combined. For one thing, the Audi has more power, as in 140 hp vs. 134 hp, and for those who are interested in hammering the accelerator, faster: 0 to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds vs. 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds for the Lexus. But then if someone is wholly interested in conserving fuel, chances are the pedal of neither vehicle is going to meet the carpet all that often.

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The six-speed S tronic in the Audi, it should be mentioned, is a dual-clutch transmission. This means that there are quick shifts as when the transmission is in one gear, there is a clutch poised to engage the next in as little as 0.2 seconds. (There are also paddle shifters should one be so inclined.) While the shifts are quick, you can still discern a difference if you’ve been used to driving a standard automatic step-gear transmission.

Some people may be off-put by the idea of getting a diesel engine due to concerns about (1) smell, (2) noise, and (3) fuel availability. None of these proved to be an issue. (1) There is no noticeable smell. (2) Yes, you can hear the diesel working, but the noise is no more audible than a typical spark-ignition engine, just different. (3) I was able to get fuel at a nearby BP station, and no, this isn’t one of those places with an attached Waffle House.

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In 2010 the Green Car Journal named the diesel-powered A3 its “Green Car of the Year.” So there is a credible credential for a car that gives you the panache of owning an Audi along with the ability to drive for distances that you’ll surely be bragging about.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder turbocharged diesel with direct injection

Material: Cast iron block and aluminum alloy head

Horsepower: 140 @ 4,200 rpm

Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1,750 to 2,500 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch

Wheelbase: 101.5 in.

Length: 168.98 in.

Width: 78.5 in.

Height: 56 in.

Base curb weight: 3,318 lb.

EPA: 30/42 mpg city/hwy