The 2012 Audi A3 ranks at the top of the upscale small car class for delivering a practical but fun drive, with strong fuel economy at 21 city and 30 highway. (Go with the available diesel engine option and you can get that up to 42 mpg on the open road.) The A3 opens at an MSRP of $27,270 and climbs to $30,850, making it fairly pricey for the class.
This is not a family car, working much better for a couple or for a single driver, and when you start adding extras the A3 gets expensive in a hurry. The cargo capacity, however, does make the A3 stand out at 19.5 cubic feet, jumping to 39 cubic feet when the back seat is down, plus lots of interior cubby holes and storage nooks.
If you're out doing comparison test drives, be sure to take the Volkswagen GTI for a spin. It's roomier, and delivers comparable performance. The Acura TSX Sport Wagon has a more up-to-date exterior in the eyes of some reviewers, and also delivers excellent passenger and cargo space, but there isn't an available diesel engine.
Look for two trims on the A3, the Premium and Premium Plus. There are two engines, a 2.0-liter four cylinder turbo charged gasoline unit (200 hp) and a 2.0-liter four cylinder turbo diesel (140 hp). Audi quattro AWD is only available on the gasoline base. The A3 is known for its tight handling and unusually responsive braking. The optional sport suspension adds larger tires and makes the handling even tighter, but it also returns a rougher ride than many drivers prefer.
Audi is known for deliver well-built, excellent interiors, and the A3 is no exception. The cabin is, however, cramped for passenger room and the control interface can be confusing. The materials, however, are top shelf, with metallic accents on the knobs and vent surrounds. The hard plastic that is present blends well due to good texturing.
Standard features on the base include dual-zone climate control, leather seats, a leather-wrapped wheel, an audio system with ten speakers, six-way adjustable seats, and satellite radio with an auxiliary jack. The Premium Plus adds eight-way adjustment for the driver, and Bluetooth among other features. There's an optional navigation unit, but the single knob interface, which also takes over the audio controls is difficult for even technophiles to master.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has tested the 2012 Audi A3, but the current model is all but identical to the 2011, which earned top ratings from the IIHS for side impact and roof strength, and was tagged as a Top Safety Pick. Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-pressure distribution, electronic differential lock and hydraulic brake assist. There's also an option for side airbags for the rear seat.
Although the cabin is cramped for some passengers, the 2012 Audi A3 is an agile top performer with good mileage, especially with the diesel engine. The A3 isn't the cheapest car the upscale small sector, but it is a high value drive. While it's not suited for families, it's an excellent couples car. Test drive the competition to make sure the cabin is comfortable for your size and needs, but beyond that caution, the A3 is highly recommended.