2011 Audi A3 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 13, 2011

The 2011 Audi A3 is stylish, refined, and versatile—and nearly as good for the city as for the highway.

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.

Review continues below

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

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.

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2011 Audi A3

Styling

The 2011 Audi A3 has a beautiful exterior by all accounts, while its interior is impressive when you put it in perspective.

The A3 is sort of a hatchback and sort of a wagon, but its proportions are almost universally appealing; nearly everyone seems to like the look of the A3 design, which is at once inoffensive yet fancier than other hatch designs on the market, like the Mazda3 or Subaru WRX.

Last year, the Audi A3 got a somewhat sportier, more aggressive look as the elements of the former S-line package were made standard; the roof spoiler, reskinned bumpers, and brushed aluminum trim that were part of that upgrade give the A3 a more upscale look, overall.

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.

Review continues below
8

2011 Audi A3

Performance

Whether you get it as in gas or TDI diesel form, the 2011 Audi A3 is a remarkably well-rounded—if not immensely thrilling—performer.

You have a choice of two different engines in the 2011 Audi A3. They're both 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, and turbocharged, but one burns gasoline and the other diesel. The 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection inline-four remains the base engine, while a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter clean-diesel four-cylinder engine was introduced last year, in the A3 2.0 TDI model. TDI models are offered only with the S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission, which shifts very quickly and decisively. Gasoline models get either that or a six-speed manual transmission

Performance is remarkably close between the two engines. 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. 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 electric power steering system doesn't wind and unwind quite like a traditional hydraulic system would, but 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.

Review continues below
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2011 Audi A3

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Audi A3 isn't quite up to luxury-car standards of refinement inside; but its appointments are a bit step up from budget hatches.

The Audi A3 has a rather small interior, 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.

Cargo space is somewhat disappointing for those who think that the hatchback/wagon layout guarantees heaps of space, but it is versatile. The backseats are 60/40-split and fold forward, nearly flat, though cargo can't be piled in very high or it interferes with outward visibility.

The A3 has an attractive, premium-feel interior and levels of refinement that 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.

Review continues below
9

2011 Audi A3

Safety

The 2011 Audi A3 promises to be one of the safest compact hatchbacks or wagons, with solid safety equipment and top-notch crash tests.

The 2011 Audi A3 comes with all the safety features you'd expect to see in this class, along with a few more: Stability control, anti-lock brakes, front-seat side-impact, full-length head-curtain airbags, and rear side-thorax bags—unusual in this class of vehicle—are available.

Additionally, it has some safety-ratings bragging rights. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has given it top 'good' ratings in all of its categories—including the new roof strength test—and named it a 2011 Top Safety Pick. The A3 hasn't been rated by the federal government, though.

Review continues below
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2011 Audi A3

Features

In base form the 2011 Audi A3 comes better equipped than many hatches in its price range; but beware, options can drive the price past $40k.

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.

However, several tech features that are increasingly included on much more affordable cars—like a Bluetooth hands-free interface—remain optional on the A3. Bluetooth is offered as part of a $600 Bluetooth Value Package (that doesn't seem like value to us) on the base A3, though it's included in Premium Plus models. But otherwise the options list is very long, including a Sport Package that's more than appearance (it also includes a sport suspension) and an open-sky sunroof. But on top Premium Plus models, you can quickly load the A3 up past the $40k mark.

Option highlights include Bose premium sound, a navigation system, and an iPod integration kit.

Review continues below
8

2011 Audi A3

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Audi A3 TDI is a very green pick, with one of the highest fuel-economy ratings of any luxury-brand vehicle.

The 2011 Audi A3 is a sporty hatchback, but Audi certainly hasn't forgotten how shoppers for this type of vehicle value fuel economy more than just the dent it might put in their budget. 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 the S tronic automatic, and our editors have seen more than 45 mpg in long-haul interstate cruising and even low 30s in stop-and-go situations.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

Standard 2.0T turbocharged gasoline versions of the A3 also get pretty impressive mileage, with figures of 21 or 22 in the city and 28 or 30 on the highway.

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Styling 8
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 9
Features 8
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