- Excellent "S tronic" gearbox
- Impressive cargo space
- Fuel-efficient engine lineup
- Artificial-feeling electric power steering
- Bluetooth is optional
- Options can drive price toward $40,000
- Starting to look dated next to the rest of the Audi line
A fuel-stingy new TDI engine and spruced-up appearance make the 2010 Audi A3 a very fuel-efficient, fun-to-drive, and practical compact choice.
Although the 2010 Audi A3 is based on Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf underpinnings, the A3 is bound to attract performance-minded shoppers, with a sleek fastback-wagon profile, plenty of aggressive styling cues, and big, styling wheel designs, in addition to the large Audi grille. The availability of quattro all-wheel drive remains a major attraction for those in snowy climes.
After a modest restyle for 2009, which included new aluminum-look trim and revamped air vents and audio controls, along with new exterior mirrors, door handles, and wheel designs, the Audi A3 returns for 2010 with a few more appearance changes. The more aggressive look of last year’s S line package, including additional detailing and cues, is now standard across the model line. Overall, the 2010 Audi A3 has a now-aging design, but it’s been kept current with some attention to the details.
The base engine for the 2010 Audi A3 remains the 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection inline-four; newly available is a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter clean-diesel four-cylinder engine, in the A3 2.0 TDI model. Offered with either engine is a six-speed manual transmission or S tronic automatic, which uses two clutches to speed up gear changes without involving an actual clutch pedal. With either engine, performance is satisfying, and models with the S tronic get steering-wheel paddle-shifters. Between the two, the TDI engine is narrowly the favorite of TheCarConnection.com’s editors, because its engine cranks out heaps of torque, giving it the response of a torquey big-displacement V-6 off the line or in top gear. With either engine, fuel economy is better than average, but it’s downright excellent with the TDI; EPA ratings are 30 mpg city, 42 highway with S tronic, and TheCarConnection.com has seen more than 45 mpg in long-haul interstate cruising.
Audi's magnetic ride system is available on the A3. The adaptive-action shock absorber control system uses voltage to electrify a magneto-rheological fluid in the shocks to change their response within milliseconds, allowing the suspension to quickly change character from soft to firm, depending on driving or road conditions. The driver can choose between Normal and Sport programs by flipping a switch.
The 2010 Audi A3 driving experience is a joy in most respects: light, direct, and refined. The ride—especially with the standard suspension—can be somewhat stiff, and the electric power steering doesn't wind and unwind like a traditional hydraulic power steering system would. The A3’s turning circle is tightened for improved maneuverability on the 2010 model.
The Audi A3 has a rather small interior, but it’s well laid-out and exquisitely crafted. The front standard leather buckets lack the side support needed in such a car and can cause backaches on longer journeys. For a car of this size, rear-seat accommodations are just acceptable, allowing you to squeeze a pair of adults in there—provided the passengers in front don't mind scooting forward an inch or two. The backseats are 60/40-split and fold forward. Cargo space is ample.
The 2010 Audi A3 comes with stability control, as well as front-seat side-impact and head-curtain airbags. Although the A3 is not yet rated by the federal government, it receives top "good" ratings from the IIHS in all occupant protection categories.
Standard equipment on the 2010 Audi A3 is quite good, including fog lamps, automatic climate control, keyless entry, leather upholstery, and a 140-watt, 10-speaker sound system. However, several tech features that are increasingly included on much more affordable cars—like a Bluetooth hands-free interface—remain optional on the A3. The options list is very long, and you can quickly drive the price toward $40,000 if you don’t watch it. Highlights include Bluetooth, Bose premium sound, LED running lamps and adaptive headlights, a navigation system, and an iPod integration kit.