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2011 Audi A3 TDI – Rejoice, A Green Car for Drivers!

The Audi A3 is conclusive proof that green vehicles need not be boring or uninvolving transportation.  Frankly, it’s amazing that it has taken as long as it has to get fun yet extremely frugal vehicles into the marketplace.  Years of having to maneuver around hybrids like Prius driven by hypermilers have led so many people to simply assume that fuel sipping vehicles are incapable of possessing any excitement.

Fortunately, our European friends across the pond have never felt that way.  Much higher fuel taxes have resulted in fuel economy being a big priority in Europe, but that has never justified boring cars there.  Quite the opposite, actually.

So as fuel prices have shot up in America, fuel economy has come to the forefront as a major issue among American drivers.  And while the Asian and American automakers have responded with hybrids, the Germans in particular saw an opportunity to market their diesel engines here.

Diesels continue to have a bad rap among mainstream Americans.  For that reason, diesel is unlikely to gain mainstream acceptance in the near term.  But for the luxury German brands, that’s okay as they aren’t high volume mainstream brands to begin with.  And so for those driving enthusiasts and connoisseurs with a conscience, diesel comes to the rescue.

The Audi A3 is the least expensive luxury-branded diesel car on the market right now.  It shares its chassis and engine with the Volkswagen Golf TDI.  That’s no bad thing, as the Golf is a seriously refined and premium-feeling piece of kit.  But for Audi duty, the Golf’s chassis and powertrain are wrapped in more dynamic Audi styling, though some aspects of the interior, like the audio/navigation head unit, are feeling their age.  It’s also a tighter fit inside than a Golf too thanks to a lower roof, but that’s the price for style.

The end result is great appeal, both from a visual perspective and from the way it drives.  The A3 handles with great precision, with quick and accurate steering working in harmony with its tight suspension and extremely solid structure.  The ride can be a bit punishing over some surfaces, but the tradeoff is go-kart like handling.

And then there’s the powertrain.  The 140HP 2.0L turbodiesel four-cylinder engine has tremendous torque on tap, and the standard six-speed S-tronic dual clutch automatic gearbox fires off shifts with breakneck speed yet uncanny smoothness.  It even rev-matches downshifts!  It’s a tremendously fun and appealing powertrain – even before considering the fantastic fuel economy.

No hybrid on the market has this sort of driver appeal.  This is a 40+ mpg car for people who love the act of driving.  And why should people who love to drive be deprived of great fuel economy?

A new A3 is due next year and a TDI version is expected to return.  An A3 sedan will be part of the lineup too.  It’s hard to imagine a green car being more fun than the current iteration, but somehow we think Audi will be more than up to that challenge.  We can’t wait to drive it.

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