What's New for 2012
The 2012 Audi A3 remains essentially unchanged.
As the old adage goes, "You can't please all the people all the time." But that doesn't mean you can't try. In this vein, the 2012 Audi A3 has the potential to appeal to a fairly wide and diverse set of car buyers. As Audi's entry-level model, it offers hatchback sensibilities, a dash of athleticism and even a promise of eco-friendliness.
The A3 maintains a reasonable amount of luxury and style that Audi is known for, thanks to an upscale and classy-looking interior. It's also versatile thanks to its hatchback/wagon design that provides more cargo space than the typical sedan. The A3 isn't nearly as roomy as a small luxury crossover SUV (like Audi's Q5, for instance), but it counters with much more lively handling.
The Audi A3 comes with one of two engines: Audi's (and parent company Volkswagen's) familiar and sprightly 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 or a 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel. The TDI isn't nearly as quick, but it compensates with an EPA-estimated 42 mpg on the highway and 34 mpg in combined driving. One downside, however, is that Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system is not available with the TDI -- something to consider if you live in an area prone to inclement weather or if road-holding prowess is a priority.
These days, small luxury wagons and hatchbacks are few and far between. The most notable competitors to the A3 are the Acura TSX Sport Wagon and the Lexus CT 200h. The TSX is more family-friendly thanks to its roomier rear seat, while the Lexus, being a hybrid, is the most fuel-efficient of the group. Savvy shoppers who don't require a luxury nameplate should check out the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen, as it shares much of the A3's mechanicals and offers a lot more cargo capacity. But overall, the 2012 Audi A3 is a solid choice that should please plenty of people most of the time.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Audi A3 is a four-door hatchback offered in two trims: Premium and Premium Plus.
Standard equipment on the Premium includes 17-inch alloy 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, a 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 2012 Audi A3 is available with either a gasoline (2.0T) or a diesel (TDI) engine. The A3 2.0T is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, as is a six-speed manual transmission, but a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission (known as S tronic) is available. With 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 -- a reasonably quick time 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 22/28/24 with S tronic. Adding all-wheel drive drops mileage by only 1 mpg in the city.
The A3 TDI features a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel four-cylinder that produces 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. S tronic is standard, but all-wheel drive is not offered. Audi estimates a 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds, which is on the slow side, but fuel economy is exceptional, with estimates of 30/42/34.
The 2012 Audi A3 comes standard with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, whiplash-reducing front headrests, antilock brakes and stability control. Rear-seat side airbags 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
Just as with other Audi interiors, the A3's cabin adopts an understated and classy design language. For the most part, materials are high quality, with metallic vent surrounds and knobs lending a decidedly upscale feel. There are a few more hard plastic elements than you'll find in other Audi models, however, but they are well textured to blend in seamlessly.
It's likely that the navigation system will be a popular option for buyers, but operation may present some minor challenges. The screen, while large and clear, is not controlled by touch. Rather, it makes use of Audi's MMI controller. This wouldn't be a problem if the controller was situated on the center console, but instead it's located inconveniently on the dash.
Where passenger space is concerned, there are some issues to make note of. The driver seat may not have enough forward travel for shorter folks, while the rear seat is cramped for taller ones. Cargo capacity is more favorable, as the 20 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats can easily accommodate large suitcases and golf bags with ease. A rear-seat center pass-through allows for longer items while still carrying passengers. The seats fold down, but not flat, expanding capacity to 39 cubes.
The 2012 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.