Driving hard in Sport mode, the Audi's engine and transmission played well together, giving the little A3 TDI the right amount of power coming into and out of turns. The A3 itself is perfectly good for this type of driving, exhibiting very good handling characteristics.
Of course, what will attract most people to the A3 TDI is the incredible fuel economy. During hard sport driving, the trip computer settled in with a 32 mpg average, but it shot way up into the mid-40s during steady freeway and highway driving. In heavy traffic, we watched the mpg average drop to the mid-20s, something that might be ameliorated if Audi adopted the start-stop technology that's beginning to catch on with other automakers.
The EPA fuel economy figures for the A3 TDI are 30 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. We averaged 38.5 mpg during hundreds of miles of varied driving.
Navigation system disappoints
At first glance, we weren't thrilled with the Audi's navigation system. The DVD-based system was slow to respond to inputs, the map colors were over-saturated, and it lacked the detailed 3D maps of the , which uses Audi's latest cabin tech.
However, on closer inspection, the map showed very good resolution, with crisp lines and easily readable street names. It also shows traffic information overlaid on the map and includes a list of nearby incidents. But this system isn't particularly sophisticated, so doesn't dynamically calculate routes based on traffic information.
The navigation system's route guidance is also basic, and doesn't read out street names. However, its graphics are rich and explicit, indicating each successive turn. Typical for Audi, an auxiliary display on the instrument cluster also shows turn information.
As much as we didn't care for this navigation system, the car's stereo and Bluetooth phone system were both very good, up with the latest in Audi cabin technology. We've seen this Bluetooth system in many Audis. It paired easily with an iPhone, and quickly downloaded the phone's contact list, making it available through the Multimedia Interface. It also shows recent incoming and outgoing calls, making it easy to access frequently used numbers.
The stereo largely benefits from Audi's Media Interface, a proprietary port in the glove box with cables for iPod, USB, Mini-USB, and 1/8th inch auxiliary input. We relied mostly on the iPod connector, as it worked with our paired iPhone, presenting the phone's music library. Through the MMI, we could browse music by artist, album, and genre.
Behind the fold-down navigation screen there are also two SD card slots, a music source Audi has offered for years. We loaded a 1-gigabyte card with MP3s and played them through the stereo. For SD cards, the interface only shows folders and files, without creating an index from ID3 tags.
Strangely, our A3 TDI didn't come with any kind of CD player. On the option sheet, Audi gives you the choice of either navigation with the Audi Media Interface or the CD changer. You can't have both. We certainly didn't mind, as an iPod is much more convenient than a big box of CDs.
The 10-speaker Bose audio system, a premium option in the A3 TDI, sounded very good. It isn't spectacular, its audio lacks some definition, but generally it did a good job reproducing the music we fed it. The system's bass, treble, and mids are all well balanced, not tending to extremes in either direction. The system didn't deliver really sharp or heavy bass, so wouldn't be satisfying for music that relies on those frequencies, but even drum hits come through distinctly.
Audi doesn't offer a lot of driver assistance features on the A3 TDI. It doesn't have a blind-spot-detection system or adaptive cruise control, but it did come with rain sensing windshield wipers, a nice feature in the off-and-on drizzling happening while we tested the car.
The 2010 Audi A3 TDI's main virtue is its fuel economy, which it gets because of its diesel engine. We generally like Audi's S-tronic transmission, but in this application, it showed some rough edges. The cabin tech, taken altogether, is merely good, weighed down by its older navigation system. The car high points include the Audi Media Interface, with its iPod integration, and solid Bluetooth phone system.
The A3 TDI is a good-looking little car, and we always appreciate the practicality of a wagon. However, its interface for the cabin tech doesn't hold up its end of the design bargain. Entering addresses into the navigation system isn't particularly intuitive, and browsing maps on the LCD is very difficult.
|Model||2010 Audi A3 TDI|
|Power train||Turbocharged 2-liter diesel four-cylinder engine|
|EPA fuel economy||30 mpg city/42 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||38.5 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional DVD-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|MP3 player support||iPod|
|Other digital audio||SD card, USB port, Mini-USB port, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 10 speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rain-sensing wipers|
|Price as tested||$35,725|