The two engine choices for the 2013 Audi A3 give the model two quite distinct personalities.
The base engine, a turbocharged gasoline 2.0-liter four, is all about performance--and the only one available with a six-speed manual gearbox. You can also choose Audi's "S tronic" six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which brings 0-to-60-mph acceleration down to 6.9 seconds (the manual takes 7.1 seconds).
Remarkably, even with the added weight of the quattro all-wheel drive system, the version with four driven wheels is the fastest of all, knocking off the 0-to-60 dash in a quick 6.7 seconds.
The other engine option is a 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel, a unique offering among the small world of luxury compact hatchbacks. It's slower than the gas engine, but delivers far better fuel economy, not to mention the enormously enjoyable off-the-line torque (236 pound-feet at just 1,750 rpm) that's characteristic of most diesels. It's available only with the S tronic gearbox: no manual gearbox, no quattro version.
Behind the wheel, the Audi A3 is a pleasure to drive in most ways. Controls are direct, inputs can be light, and the ride is refined--doubly so if you go for the optional magnetic ride system. It uses an electric current to charge a magneto-rheological fluid in the shock absorbers, allowing them to adapt to changing road inputs within just milliseconds.
Depending on the driver's choice of Normal or Sport modes, the system can change the character of the car from a soft boulevard cruiser to a remarkably firm, flat-cornering road car. You'll still feel some flatness from the electric power steering, which doesn't give you the same feedback as a good mechanical system--though the A3 still offers good maneuverability and a combination of crisp response at low speed and good stability on the highway.