Under the skin, all 5th generation Golf TDI Jetta TDI and Audi A3 TDI share a nearly identical
turbocharged 2.0L diesel engine with 140-horsepower and 236 lb-ft of
For some details and comparisons of this engine with earlier TDI engines, see 1000q:
direct injection vs pumpe duse vs common rail. Below are the Audi A3 CBEA model engine. The newer Golf-Jetta use the CJAA engine. The only major difference I've noticed is the removal of the balance shaft in the CJAA and some minor differences in the exhaust.
The VW Jetta/Golf and Audi A3 share the same front Mcpherson strut and rear multilink suspension design. The springs and shocks/struts are different in VW/Audi but the control arms are the same. Audi had a magnetic ride active suspension, that let you adjust the ride quality between Sport and Normal but it was discontinued for 2010, the first year of the TDI. It may be possible to retrofit it but it's a pretty expensive and difficult modification.
The front and rear brakes in the Audi A3 are the same as the VW GTI and VW Sportwagen TDI. They use a larger brake rotor than the VW Golf/Jetta TDI.
Like the Jetta, the Audi A3 was an Institute for highway safety IIHS top picks for 2009 in top frontal/side/rear crashes (same safety equipment for 2010). ABS, stability and yaw control are standard. The Prius has never been a top safety pick by the IIHS. The Audi also has brake disc wiping - when it's raining, the brake pads occasionally gently touch the rotors to dry the brakes. This results in slightly shorter stopping distances compared to wet rotors.
Drive a 2010 Audi A3 TDI and then drive a Prius. I respect the fantastic engineering that goes into the Prius but there's a lot more to a car than its fuel economy. Compared to the Lexus HS250h small hybrid, the Audi A3 will see similar real world fuel economy. The Lexus commercials show the driver press a button for Sport or Eco, the A3's still relies on the old foot-on-pedal method for adjusting fuel economy vs. sport! Because the Lexus HS250h isn't based on the Prius, it's rated EPA fuel economy is only 34 mpg combined. TDI and diesels shine on the highway where real world fuel economy of the Audi A3 TDI should be better than the hybrid. EPA rating on the Audi A3 TDI is 30 city, 42 highway. Hybrids typically get better mpg in the city. Because highway driving typically covers more distance per trip, driving style and trip destination is a major factor in what mpg you will see. Just remember that there's more to buying a car than only mpg!
Below is a video review of the VW Jetta TDI and Audi A3 TDI vs. Smart vs. the Insight,
Prius, Smart, and Fusion hybrids.
HS250h interior and Audi A3 interior below - the A3's interior is much cleaner
and richer with less buttons-stalks sticking out in strange places and no
computer joystick stuck onto the center console. The HS250h also has a strange
triangular window in front of the main window.
The Lexus center console design places the computer joystick within easier reach vs. the Audi's MMI controller but taller drivers will find knee room very limited because of how it sticks out. Since it's the new entry level Lexus, reviews have commented (Automobile magazine May 2009) on the "narrow dimensions and awkward front quarter-windows make it feel much more like a tarted-up economy-car than the true entry-luxury car that Lexus says it is....On the road, you're treated to the drone of a four-cylinder engine whining endlessly....Luxury-car customers aren't used to that-when was the last time you heard four-cylinder thrum in a Lexus? Hint: never." Since auto journalists get work vacations to manufacturer press conferences and test drive many cars, this is very telling. The A3 TDI, Jetta TDI, and Golf TDI have all been praised for road feel and handling. The new Golf was also named 2009 World Car of the Year at the New York International Auto Show.
Driving feel and handling, looks, and size (if you get the Jetta station wagon instead) are all very different. For more details on why an Audi A3 TDI is a good choice and why not a hybrid, see 1000q: general TDI buying guide and checklists. If you are totally new to diesels and would like some basic information on how a diesel is different from a gasoline car, see 1000q: how a diesel works. Lastly, real world experiences since 1996 have shown that the EPA fuel economy ratings for TDI tend to be low. Even after accounting for variation between cars, drivers, and test conditions, TDI really shine on highway mpg and normally exceed the highway ratings.
A diesel is not all about the best fuel economy or lowest cost per mile! I believe that VW/Audi sedans, hatchbacks, and wagons are excellent choices for most people due to the combination of safety features, fuel economy, cargo capacity, resale value, handling, and cost. Ultimately, the best car for you is a car that matches your needs, not mine. It comes down to your values of what you want in a car and economy. If you value economy the VWs will be a better value than the Audi and if you really value economy, consider a used car. Even still, in a comparison between the Jetta and other cars like the Prius, Autoweek magazine said, "For comfort, quiet and highway handling, our drivers found the [Jetta] TDI had significant advantages over every other car in the test. It would have been our choice, in other words, for an easy daytrip on the interstates, regardless of fuel economy. And we topped the hybrids by driving with just a little attention to fuel economy, not making it an obsession." Your mileage and experience may vary depending on your driving style and other factors. If your choice of car were based solely on money, buying a well maintained, used, compact car like a Civic will cost far less in depreciation, sales tax, and lifetime fuel costs compared to buying any new car! And if fuel economy were everything then ride a bike!
As an update, the Lexus HS250h was a slow seller and was discontinued for 2013 - 2012 was the last model year available.
As noted above, the A3 was refreshed for 2008 but still uses the mk5 (5th generation) PQ35 frame. The 2010 VW Golf got the new mk6 frame first is because it's the volume seller and because the A3 will be all new in 2013. (Many VW/Audi cars share a basic frame with different sheetmetal, interior, options, etc. As seen in the spec comparison above, the A3 is longer than a Golf.) The next Audi A3 will come next year and be the first to use the MQB frame. It will be sedan only and is a nearly all new car. See the new Audi A3 TDI buying guide here for more details.
The A3 TDI is only available with the S-tronic aka. DSG dual clutch transmission. It has 6 forward speeds, 1 reverse. S tronic is an automatically shifting manual-like transmission. The gears inside the transmission look like a manual transmission instead of an automatic transmission's planetary gears and torque converter. Compared to a manual transmission, everything else being equal, expect slightly lower fuel economy due to greater weight, DSG fluid parasitic losses, and other factors. On the bright side, shifting is lightening fast and very smooth. The VWs are available in manual 6 speed or DSG transmission. Read details and see pictures of the DSG transmission at 1000 answered questions: S-tronic DSG FAQ. If you live in a high altitude area, please read the article's notes on cold start problems in winter with the DSG and TDI.
There are some cases of engine no-start and hydrolocking due to intercooler icing. A little moisture condenses in the intercooler and freezes in the winter. If there's enough ice it will choke the engine and possibly get ingested and cause hydrolock (major engine damage). Read about it in this forum thread. VW-Audi fixed engines as needed and added a modification as shown in their technical service bulletin.
The A3 TDI has no quattro AWD option. Snow tires are a primary factor in winter road traction but it'd still be nice to have greater confidence and sporting ability of quattro AWD. Quattro AWD adds weight and more weight puts greater load on the engine which could prevent 50 state legal emissions without going to a wet urea emissions treatment system. Emissions testing and development costs money and because of poor car sales and worldwide economic conditions, an A3 TDI with quattro is not planned for the North American market for 2010.
The multifuction steering wheel (MFSW) is only standard on premium plus. Base A3 TDI
don't get a MFSW even though all VW TDI do! The MFSW for the Audi A3 has paddle shifters
on the back of the steering wheel spokes. The MFD multifunction display is
controlled with steering column stalk buttons shown below.
Audi does not include free service even though VW does (3 years/36,000 miles in the US). The Audi care maintenance plan costs $740 MSRP and only covers manufacturer-required regularly scheduled maintenance at 15, 25, 35, and 45,000 miles, or 5 years from the original vehicle in-service date, whichever comes first.
The Audi navigation plus system RNS-E is not touchscreen even though it was revised for 2010. It uses a DVD for map info which means you can't use the GPS function and CD player at the same time. It is a nice unit and it does have a high resolution screen, a good GPS fuction, and good ipod integration. It has 2 SD card slots (up to 16gb) and aux input. Some screenshots can be viewed on the next page of this guide. The Audi part number for the revised 2010 RNS-E appears to be "8p0 035 193 d" so if you choose to add navigation later it's a direct retrofit.
The MMI media control knob is on the radio headunit instead of on the center armrest console like A4 and more expensive models. It's harder to reach but at least it looks a lot better than the horribly awkward placement of the Lexus 250h joystick (see earlier comparison pics).
The A3 Concert headunit w/10 speaker (inc. center+subwoofer) is a better system than the standard radio in the VW TDI, the premium 8...but it's only a single CD player! The optional Bose radio should be slightly better. The VW radio is a 6 in dash CD changer, the Audi A3 has an optional cd changer in the glove box. Because the Audi has a subwoofer, it should probably sound slightly better than the optional VW Dynaudio radio (Golf only).
There have been a few cases where the high pressure fuel pump disintegrates. Nobody outside of VW/Bosch knows exactly why but there are some good guesses of it being caused by a weak design and poor quality fuel.
There have also been a few cases where the front air-air intercooler collects condensation which freezes in very cold temperatures, causing a no start or rough running on cold start. In some cases, the ice enters the engine which causes hydrolock (bent engine rods).
Most of this article is just the facts so please excuse some editorial here. If Audi wanted something really different to position themselves apart from their VW siblings they should have used the 170 hp/258 lb-ft version of this TDI engine instead of the 140 hp version. The 170hp engine is only available in Europe in cars like the VW Golf GTD and Audi A4 TDI. Making it an Audi exclusive for North America (or at least an option) would give buyers a strong reason to buy the Audi A3 instead of a Golf/Jetta TDI. As equipped, the A3 TDI's closest competitors are the Golf/Jetta TDI which will be faster because of lighter weight/same engine.
While quattro is really not necessary in most places it would be a dealmaker for some prospective customers. Even so, you'll still get better winter traction with winter tires and front wheel drive FWD vs. all-season tires and AWD quattro.
For 2011 there is a new alloy wheel style
for the Base A3 TDI and the titanium package. Audi also added a little
more chrome accents on the interior knobs. Scuba blue replaces Aruba
blue. The light gray interior is discontinued. The side view mirrors
are now slightly taller and narrower - they're from the Audi A5. The 2011-2013
mirror is shown below.
Here are more shots of the 2011-13 mirror. The early style mirror was only used
2008-2010 because the A3 was refreshed for 2008.
Sometime during 2011, they stopped including the block coolant heater power cord for US cars. You can still buy it from the dealer, see the part number on page 1 of this buying guide if you wish to buy it. The block heater is still on the engine, it's just that you have to buy the cord to use it.
There were no major changes as far as I am aware of for 2012 or 2013. 2013 will be the last model year for the A3 wagon/hatch because the Audi A3 sedan is all new for model year 2014.
Because the engine is basically the same as the Golf-Jetta-Sportwagen TDI, a chip tune for the other TDI will deliver similar results. I suggest KermaTDI. While high altitude, build variation, and dyno variables will cause small variations in actual and measured power, your average engine will make about 170 hp and 320 lb-ft torque after a chip flash. This is an increase of about 20% in power with no other supporting mods which is outstanding. The big difference vs. 2006 and earlier TDI is the diesel particulate filter.¬†See 1000q: DPF FAQ for Audi for more details on this system. The DSG transmission can limit the torque from a chip tune to protect itself even though the mechanical limits of the transmission can handle the power. For best results, a DSG transmission software flash will raise these limits. It's also possible to remove the DPF system with a TDI engine DPF delete tune. Note: always comply with all emissions laws where you live/operate the car.
The 2010 Audi A3 TDI qualified for a $1300 federal income tax credit for the US. These have all since expired but this note will stay up for reference. Refer to 1000q: TDI tax credits and exemptions for more details, references to official sources, and 2009 state sales tax deduction (not an exemption).
Have any more questions about the Audi A3 TDI? Please post your question in forums.