TRIPLE A-RATING FOR THE FOUR RINGS
2012 Audi A3 TDI
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Published on Tue, Mar 27, 2012
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
The turbo-diesel technology of endurance car racing is available in a $30,000 car by the company that’s dominating the races. Meet the 2012 Audi A3 TDI. If Standard & Poors evaluated automobiles, this one would get a Triple A-rating. Editor-at-Large Zoran Segina reports. A Four-Ring-High-Wire Act By Zoran Segina If you still believe there can be no such thing as a diesel-powered sports car, you better have a word with Tom Christensen, Rinaldo Capello, and Alan Mc Nish. Or ask Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the 21st century wizard of Audi racing. To get a third party perspective, politely inquire with Messrs. Loeb, Sarrazin, Bourdais, Montagny, and other members of the Peugeot team. They have spent every midsummer for the good half of the last decade, chasing with little success, the silver-and-red clad German bolides around the French countryside.
I had the rare privilege to meet Dr. Ullrich and Mr. Christensen in 2006 when they were developing the Audi R10 TDI. This was a revolutionary concept never tried before: To bring a competitive diesel-powered car to the Circuit de la Sarthe, and participate in the most grueling endurance race of all—the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Before that, Audi so thoroughly dominated the field of endurance sports car racing that there remained nothing else to prove. The team’s ability to change the entire rear transaxle of a damaged race car in less than four minutes became a racing lore. The organizers kept amending the rules, but Audi kept winning. The focus of our conversation was the many technical challenges Audi had to resolve, one of them being how to keep the high compression diesel engines from overheating. A very personable, friendly and approachable man discussing the new race car with me was Tom Christensen—the most successful race car driver in the history of sports car endurance racing. And yet he acted as just another member of the team. Tom had none of that “I am the celebrity” attitude so prevalent in social gatherings in Los Angeles—he was just a man hard at work with his buddies to achieve what was thought impossible. And Audi did prove it. The diesel-powered R10 TDI won at Le Mans that year, and because of its lower fuel consumption, proved so dominant that none of its gasoline-powered competitors could match Audi’s pace.
So what does all of this has to do with a small diesel-powered-hatchback? In a word, everything. The quiet intensity and desire for technical perfection needed to building the R10 TDI and its successors is evident in every inch of the A3. I’ve always gotten the impression that an Audi is created by the engineers, and only when they are satisfied that the creation meets their high standards, the finished product is handed over to the marketing department for pricing (the Audi representatives have repeatedly told me otherwise.) Nevertheless, the A3 exudes simple and reassuring solidity. The black interior is pleasant on the eye, but serves a more important function: To not distract the driver. The door handles and dashboard ventilation rims are made of metal, not plastic. Fit and finish is first rate, and joinery is impeccable. Only the driver’s seat is electric, but it is a racing-inspired deep bucket piece of the equipment whose purpose is to prevent the driver (and also the passenger) from sliding around during some of the more spirited jaunts. Satellite radio is there, but satellite navigation is an option. The leather-clad steering wheel has rake and scope for a perfect adjustment, and comes equipped with paddle shifters, should the driver feel the urge to emulate Mr. Christensen’s prowess behind the wheel. The amount of performance provided by A3 is hard to reconcile with mere numbers in the technical specifications. The two-liter engine provides only 140 horsepower, but, owing to the magic of diesel, its massive 236 pound-feet of torque comes within that ever-important 2,000 rpm range. Once underway, the A3 has a veritable Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde split personality. It can run for hours in the most civilized manner as a quiet diesel commuter. Or, in a split second, turn into a raging beast devouring all the cars on the road with frightening ease. This brutish but oh-so-fun behavior is abetted by a suitably firm sport suspension and grippy low profile, eighteen-inch high performance tires.
I cannot recall when I drove a more competent and better handling mass produced car. The steering is razor sharp, the handling is the epitome of balance, and the generous disk brakes can stop the three thousand pound car so efficiently that the biggest problem is avoiding potential rear-end collisions. In tight corners the A3 acts in a very civilized manner, and, when pushed to the limit, begins to lose its traction very gradually and very predictably. The nearly nine seconds it takes the A3 to reach sixty miles per hour reflects the power limitations of the turbocharged diesel. Another expected problem is front wheel slip when the front-wheel drive A3 is driven abruptly. And yet, the A3 is as reasonably comfortable as one would expect from a performance hatchback. The diesel engine is quiet, and even the Tall Girl, my arbiter of passengers’ tolerance for firmly suspended sports cars, did not find a three hour afternoon ride in the A3 unacceptable (her claim of a flat bottom fell within reason). Another element that greatly contributes to driving pleasure is a look at the fuel gauge. After a week of spirited driving, the combined real world city-highway consumption hovered around 33 miles per gallon. Four hundred and twenty miles on a tank of gas. The gasoline-powered cars stand no chance. Just like in the 24 Hours of Mans. So if you get the A3 before mid-June, you will be able to watch the celebrated endurance race with the added satisfaction that a bit of the technological marvel powering these majestic machines is sitting right in your driveway. For more information about Audi products, go to www.audiusa.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI FWD S-Tronic Price: $30,250.00 (base) $36,100.00 (as tested) Engine type: 2.0 liter turbocharged, DOHC in-line four-cylinder engine with TDI clean diesel common rail direct injection, intercooler and four valves per cylinder EPA mileage estimates city/highway: 30/42 miles per gallon Horsepower: 140 at 4200 rpm Torque: 236 pound-feet at 1750-2500 rpm
Transmission type: Six speed S-Tronic automatic with sequential shift manual mode and paddle shifters Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Suspension Front: Independent McPherson struts with stabilizer bar Rear: Independent four-link with stabilizer bar Wheels and tires: 18-inch five-spoke titanium-finish alloy wheels with 225/40R-18 Bridgestone Potenza tires Brakes: 12.3-inch ventilated front discs 11-inch solid rear discs Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake pressure Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC); Dimensions Overall length: 168.9 inches Overall width: 78.5 inches Overall height: 56.0 inches Curb weight: 3318 pounds