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The Audi A3's sleek fastback-wagon profile, aggressive styling cues, and big alloy wheels are the makings of a pretty fashionable vehicle. Factor in the 42-mpg highway rating that come with the A3 TDI, and you have a very appealing package for savvy commuters.
Performance is remarkably close between the two engines offered in the A3—either that 140-hp, 2.0-liter TDI turbo-diesel, or the 200-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four. Between the two, the TDI engine is narrowly the favorite of our editors, because it cranks out heaps of torque, giving it the response of a torquey big-displacement V-6 off the line or in top gear, while in either model the S tronic gearbox doesn't make the sacrifices that automatics normally do. One thing worth pointing out is that Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system, which is usually offered in most of Audi's cars, isn't offered with TDI versions, or on versions with the manual gearbox.
The Audi A3 driving experience is a joy in most respects: light, direct, and refined. Audi's magnetic ride system is available on the A3 and improves the whole experience; good maneuverability and a combination of crisp response at low speed and good stability on the highway make the A3 an ideal single car for both city streets and the open road.
The A3 has one of the best interiors that Audi currently makes: ergonomically simple, flawless, and well crafted. Some might say that it's starting to look a bit dated, but versus any of the competitive set at the low end of its price range—well under $30k—the A3's interior looks far more upscale and nuanced in design. It's a bit small, but it's well laid-out and exquisitely crafted. The front standard leather buckets sit low, and lack the side support needed in such a car and can cause backaches on longer journeys, though they afford a good view out. 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. Levels of refinement and interior fit and finish are better than most other small cars. However road noise—and the thrum of the rather low-profile tires—can be intrusive on coarse surfaces, and ride quality with the standard suspension can be somewhat stiff.
The 2011 Audi A3 has an equipment set that we'd best describe as being what "entry luxury" is all about. While it appeals to those who might look at a well-equipped Subaru WRX or Mazda3, it has a stronger feature set than those vehicles at about the same price. Fog lamps, automatic climate control, keyless entry, leather upholstery, and a 140-watt, ten-speaker sound system are all standard. Premium Plus models are a step up and include xenon headlamps, larger alloy wheels, a power driver seat, steering-wheel audio controls, ambient LED lighting, and LED running lamps.
Option highlights include Bose premium sound, a navigation system, and an iPod integration kit.
- Top-notch S tronic transmission
- Versatile layout
- Stable driving feel
- Fashionable look
- Fuel-efficient engine lineup
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- Road noise
- Artificial-feeling electric power steering
- Bluetooth not standard
- $40k, loaded, is too much