I remember the first time we met Johan de Nysschen, the President of Audi America. We had just witnessed the Audi press conference and were sitting inside the company’s new Audi R8 GT when a man with a distinct mustache sat down in the passenger seat. “Look Here” he says pointing at the serial number on the car “zero out of 333, this car doesn’t exists.” We chuckle and respond, “you guys have had a good year so far.” With a big grin he responds “Yes, yes we have.”
Johan had a lot to be happy about that day and it was obvious according to the numbers show in the press conference, Audi was set to have their biggest year in America since their entry to the market in 1970. The company, at that point, had seen several months of sales records broken. We now know that the company managed to sell over 100,000 cars in the US for the first time in 2010. All this success in a recession and within a luxury market is very impressive. Many of those sales were due to the popularity of the TDI versions of their vehicles. Specifically in the Audi A3 lineup, about 53% of all A3’s purchased in 2010 were the TDI variation, making it the highest diesel percentage of any model. So we decided to get our hands on one of these cars and see what made it so special.
The 2.0l diesel powertrain of this car is its main calling card and what the car is all about. While other companies have been busy with plug in hybrids and other hybrid motors, the folks over at VW and Audi have been banking on clean diesel. Our good friend Johan was quoted this year as stating that the Chevrolet Volt was “a car for idiots.” What he was trying to point out was that the technology in the TDI vehicles will save you money quicker than paying a 50% premium for a car like the Volt. I have been sold on the engine technology in the Audi and the Golf TDI we tested earlier, it simply combines the best parts of performance and efficiency. We observed a combined fuel economy number in the high 30’s with spirited driving on highway and around town. The car has massive torque to help it get off the line and has a fantastic S-tronic transmission that offered smooth, quick shifting. The handling on the car is as tight and controlled as what you would normally expect from a German hatchback. The suspension soaked up many bumps and was able to still offer a very agile turn-in when called upon to do so.
The most important aspect of the Audi A3 TDI is the effect it has on the American consumer’s perception of what a small hatchback can be. For so long in this country we have seen small fuel efficient cars as “cheap” and economical in every sense. Many times we assume that to have a small car you must give up luxuries often found in a larger car or suv. The Audi A3 TDI breaks that stereotype and shows that “being green” can be fun and luxurious in a way that we haven’t seen before. It is now reasonable to shop for a $30k hatchback and expect to have quality leather, heated seats, navigation, premium sound, and still great fuel economy is one tidy German package that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to valet at The Ivy.
Photography courtesy of Jim Donnelly