Full 2011 Audi A3 Review
What's New for 2011
The Audi A3 heads into 2011 with only minor trim and wheel changes.
Luxury-branded hatchbacks -- they're the next big thing, trust us. They're really popular in Europe, and what's big across the pond inevitably ends up being the best thing since sliced baguette over here. Take the beret and the musical stylings of Robbie Williams, for instance. Or soccer. See, a luxury hatchback like the 2011 Audi A3 is bound to take off at any minute.
Or not. Actually, if past history is any indicator, we doubt Americans will be embracing the luxury hatchback anytime soon. But if you're more of a Continental sort who realizes the whole hatchback stigma thing is a bit silly, the 2011 A3 is an intriguing choice for an entry-level luxury car. Unlike any other car in its price range, it offers a combination of a lot of utility, a well-made interior, a refined driving experience and an available turbodiesel engine.
Of course, diesel engines are about as popular with Americans as hatchbacks are. Grandpa's oil-burning '82 Oldsmobile saw to that. However, the TDI engine found in the A3 features clean-diesel technology that makes its emissions just as clean as if it ran on gasoline -- in other words, no crud out the tailpipe. It's also relatively quiet and provides punchy acceleration around town. But most importantly, the TDI can achieve 34 mpg in combined driving. That's better than a Toyota Camry Hybrid. If going for the green-handled nozzle at the Shell station is just too different, the A3's gasoline-powered turbo-4 is plenty appealing as well.
There aren't many luxury cars left that can be had for about $30,000, let alone hatchback models. Certainly, the A3 has a definite utility advantage against regular entry-level luxury sedans like the 2011 Acura TSX and 2011 Volvo S40 as well as the 2011 Lexus HS 250h luxury hybrid. However, compared to some other mainstream hatchbacks, the A3 is a bit shaky in terms of value given its heftier price and lesser feature content. The cheaper Volkswagen GTI, in particular, has the A3's engine and equivalent interior quality, as does the 2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI. And if you can live without the extra set of doors, the Mini Cooper S and Volvo C30 are worth a look as well.
So luxury-branded hatchbacks like the 2011 Audi A3 may not actually be the next big thing in this country. But they do make some practical sense... Trust us.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Audi A3 is a four-door hatchback offered in two trims: Premium and Premium Plus. Standard equipment on the Premium includes 17-inch wheels, foglights, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery and a 10-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Bluetooth Value package adds an eight-way power driver seat (includes four-way lumbar adjustment), a multifunction steering wheel and Bluetooth.
The Premium Plus comes standard with the Bluetooth Value package and adds different wheels, xenon headlights, LED running lights, steering wheel shift paddles (with automatic transmission) and aluminum interior trim. The Audi Navigation System Plus package adds a navigation system, a dash-mounted Audi Multi Media Interface (MMI) and the choice of either a six-CD changer or an iPod interface. The Convenience package adds automatic headlights, automatic wipers, rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a Bose premium sound system.
Optional on both cars is the Cold Weather package, which adds heated front seats, heated mirrors and heated windshield washer nozzles. Also available are a panoramic sunroof, rear side airbags and a Sport package that includes 18-inch wheels, summer tires, sport-tuned suspension and sport seats. The Titanium Sport package available on the Premium Plus adds special exterior and interior trim to the Sport package.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Audi A3 is available with two different engines. The A3 2.0T features a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline four-cylinder good for 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. With standard front-wheel drive, a six-speed manual and a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission known as S tronic are available. With Quattro all-wheel drive, S tronic is standard. In performance testing, an A3 2.0T with the six-speed manual went from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds -- about average among similarly powered entry-level luxury cars. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined with the manual, and 21/28/24 with S tronic regardless of front- or all-wheel drive.
The A3 TDI features a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel four-cylinder good for 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive and S tronic are standard. Audi estimates a 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds. That's pretty slow, but EPA estimates stand at 30/42/34, which are exceptional for a luxury-branded car.
The 2011 Audi A3 comes standard with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, whiplash-reducing front headrests, antilock brakes and stability control. Seat-mounted side airbags for rear passengers are optional.
In Edmunds brake testing, an A3 2.0T with the Sport package came to a stop from 60 mph in a very short 107 feet. In crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the A3 received the best rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
As with the other cars in the Audi lineup, the 2011 A3's cabin is understated in design, with high-quality materials and craftsmanship throughout. There are a few more hard plastic pieces than you might expect, but they are well-textured to blend in seamlessly. Metallic vent surrounds and knobs further add to the A3's upscale look and feel, as does most of the switchgear.
The A3's cabin isn't without a few minor faults, though. The optional navigation system brings with it Audi's MMI electronics controller, which in the A3 is located on the dash rather than in its traditional easier-to-reach location on the center console. You'll want to just touch the screen to control it, but you'll have to use the knob and its surrounding buttons instead. Also, the driver seat may not have enough travel for shorter folks, while the rear seat is cramped for taller ones.
Luggage space is ample for large suitcases and golf bags, with a rear-seats-up capacity of almost 20 cubic feet. The 60/40-split rear seats fold down (but not flat) and expand the space to 39 cubes for bulkier cargo. There's also a center armrest pass-through that can accommodate longer items while still carrying passengers back there.
The 2011 Audi A3's 2.0-liter gasoline engine provides ample power and is well-matched to either transmission choice. The A3 TDI feels quite energetic around town thanks to its ample torque, but it runs out of steam when charging up a highway on-ramp because of its lack of horsepower. The trade-off is exceptional fuel economy, however, which seems worth it for us.
As with many Audis, the A3's suspension tuning is on the firm side to enhance performance, yet there's still enough compliance to soak up most road imperfections. Whether commuting in heavy traffic or cruising down the highway, the A3's cabin remains pleasantly refined and quiet.