2012 Audi A3 TDI: Not quite to 11

The 2012 Audi A3 TDI is not new, nor revolutionary, especially for the amount of technology coming out these days in vehicles.  It’s a basic small 5-door coupe with an amazingly torque engine and fun ride.  Beyond this though, it’s still just a small car badged with 4 rings that gets great gas mileage.

As an Audi fanatic, I can honestly say I love most the cars that are produced by the German-based company.  From the A4 that I drive daily to the newest rides I have had the pleasure of testing out, I find that I must be extra critical when it comes to the cars, knowing just how high the bar has been set with each step forward.  The current rendition of the A3 TDI seems to be missing a few of those great steps though.

Cosmetically, it is one of the best looking smaller rides out there, with a pleasant mixture of smooth and aggressive lines, and a profile that screams Audi.  When sitting next to its platform brother, the Volkswagen GTI, it has the appeal of elegance and class, with a hint of sport.  The headlights light up with a scowl as if the car is on the hunt for the next prey.  In this package, the ride came with painted lowers, 18in sport wheels, and a front lip that brought the full look all together into a very nice ride.

The interior is where the ride falls flat for me.  It might be that the rest of the Audi lineup has such great driver integration and flow to its interior, but the current A3 feels pieced together from older models from Audi, with a chaotic MMI system and dash parts from both the GTI brother and Audi TT.  Sitting in it, I felt as if there was so much missing from the architectural beauty that could have been.

When compared to a 2010 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI, technologically the Audi A3 felt behind the curve.  The navigation was difficult to navigate quickly, and without the touch screen found in the Jetta, made me pull out of my seating position to make changes.  A small thing, yes, but it got annoying after a while.  Yes, there were controls on my steering wheel, which I will sadly admit took me 4 days to get used to and figure out completely.  Yes, aspects of the MMI are integrated, but it felt as if it was an afterthought to the completion of the car.

Now, I know that the cosmetics and technology don’t make a car perfect, and often will keep a car from being everything it could possibly be, and that I was not there to just look and play, but to drive.  And drive I did.  Putting almost 100 miles a day on the car, driving up and down the Colorado front range, I must say I enjoyed the ride.  It is a comfortable vehicle, quiet even on Colorado’s black diamond non-groomed roads, and smooth enough for longer journeys.

Space wise, it is an intimate feel with passengers in the car, as many smaller rides are.  But while intimate, it’s neither cramped nor claustrophobic for the driver or passenger, and has enough storage throughout for a full days work.  We were even able to test out the rear hatch area doing a photoshoot with another vehicle to great comfort and no loss of the photographer, even over bumper roads.

One of the greatest aspects of this car is the TDI, and engine that I love and stand by wholehearted.  With enough pickup off the line to get me to where I wanted to go, strong low-end torque that compensated for the little turbo-lag, this engine had it all.  Even zipping around town with stop-lights galore, I was able to manage an average of 41.5 MPG for the full week I had the car, which is one thing I wish I could say about my daily.  Well, one of many things.

So yes, I do love this car.  It’s amazingly fun to drive, has an engine that is proving diesel can be fun and economical at the same time, and the looks to kill in smaller car.  But the full experience of the car just is not there, with the lack of true driver integration and a blasé interior at most, I feel as if it is missing that next step in design and comfort inside.  While this not may not be an important point to some, for me, it feels necessary if the ride is carrying the 4-rings on its front end.

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