2010 Audi A3 TDI
2010 Audi A3 TDI. Click image to enlarge

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By Gerry Frechette; interior photos by Greg Wilson

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2010 Audi A3

The ranks of premium compact cars are thin but growing, and are currently dominated by European brands. The number of diesel-powered cars is even smaller, with the Europeans again holding all the cards after the cancellation of diesel projects by other manufacturers.

But a diesel engine in a premium compact car? It’s a field of one at the moment with the recent introduction of the Audi A3 TDI. Based on the previous-generation Volkswagen Golf platform, the A3 can now be equipped with the latest 2.0-litre turbodiesel four we first saw in VW products on these shores last year, but which, of course, is proven and widely available in many models in the rest of the world.

2010 Audi A3 TDI
2010 Audi A3 TDI
2010 Audi A3 TDI; photos courtesy Audi AG. Click image to enlarge

Most people who have driven a modern diesel car have quickly become big fans of them for reasons such as great fuel economy, generous mid-range torque that’s ideal for city driving, and the lower costs of ownership.

With the obligatory pro-diesel pitch out of the way, we can talk about why a fully-equipped Audi A3 TDI might be worth nearly twice as much as a VW Golf with the same engine.

First, there are the four rings on the massive grille making the A3 a premium-branded car no matter what it is based on. Audi’s work on the compact platform has yielded a small hatchback with all of what one would expect from a European luxury car – high style, especially in the interior, exemplary fit-and-finish of high-quality materials, all-day comfort with a wide range of convenience features, and a feeling of dynamic performance that the Europeans do so well.

The TDI engine plays a bigger part in that performance profile than you might imagine. It may be a little less lively off the line than the comparable 2.0 TFSI gasoline engine also available in the A3, and of course, its redline is about 2,000 rpm less than that engine, but for everything in between, in the mid-range, this thing really pulls, with 236 lb-ft of torque available from as low as 1,750 rpm. Acceleration times are slightly longer than with the gas engine, but it doesn’t feel slower.

2010 Audi A3 TDI
2010 Audi A3 TDI
2010 Audi A3 TDI. Click image to enlarge

Backing the engine is the now-familiar six-speed S-tronic twin-clutch automated manual transmission, which is well-suited to the diesel’s characteristics, and offers the options of a ‘sport’ automatic mode, or shift-yourself manual operation. The traditional sporting driver might lament the unavailability of a full-manual box and pedal clutch, but really, the S-tronic is everything one needs with a great combination of convenience and performance.

The power is directed only to the front wheels in the TDI, as the Audi signature quattro all-wheel drive system is not offered; too bad about that, as it just seems like an Audi should have quattro.

The equipment at the four corners of the A3 was upgraded on our tester with the S-line Sport Package, which, for $2,900, includes great looking 18-inch (up from the standard 17s) tri-spoke alloy wheels around which are wrapped 225/40R18 summer-only performance tires. With this set-up, one can mount the necessary winter tires on steel wheels and have a great set of rubber for the warmer months, instead of settling for all-season tires.

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