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Audi A3 diesel has the heart of a traveler
The five-door Audi A3 has a young vibe and contemporary interior styling with room to fit the essentials and gear of the upwardly mobile. - photo by Photo Contributed

Specs: 2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI Clean Diesel

— Body style: compact, front-drive, five-passenger, five-door hatchback

— Engine: 140-hp, DOHC, turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder clean diesel with iron block and aluminum head

— Transmission: 6-speed S-tronic automated manual with sport mode

— Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 42 hwy

— Fuel tank: 14.6 gal.

— Length/wheelbase: 168.9/101.5 in.

— Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.3/41.2/54.3 in.

— Curb weight: 3,318 lbs.

— Cargo space: 19.5 to 39 cu. ft., back seats up/folded

— Turning circle: 35.1 ft.

— Safety features include: six air bags; ABS with brake assist and brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction controls

— Standard equipment includes: remote locking; leather-trimmed seats; automatic climate control; leather-wrapped, tilt-telescoping steering wheel; cruise control; trip meter (with instant, average fuel economy, miles to empty, etc.) halogen headlights; height-adjustable front seats; 60/40 folding back seat; 17-in. alloy wheels and all-season tires

— Base price: $31,125, including $875 freight charge; price as tested: $36,100

— Options on test car: Monza silver metallic paint, $475. Titanium sport package, $2,000, includes 18-inch wheels with summer tires; sport suspension; sport seats with leather and Alcantara; piano black interior trim; black grille surround; black headliner. Premium Plus package, $2,000, includes xenon-plus headlights; fog lights; Bluetooth phone connection; three-spoke multifunction steering wheel; power driver seat with lumbar adjustment; illumination package and storage package (seatback nets); and aluminum belt-line trim. Black roof rails, $500.

— Where assembled: Ingolstadt, Germany

— Warranty: 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper with one year/5,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance and four years of roadside assistance; 12-year corrosion

The Audi A3 is a study of good things in small packages.

This four-door hatchback has a young vibe and contemporary interior styling. There are hooks, grabs, pockets, slots, a locking glovebox and a folding seatback to fit the essentials and gear of the upwardly mobile.

This is a sturdily built car with tall headroom (39.3 inches), broad shoulder room up front and good sightlines throughout. The back center seat is narrow, and rear footroom is tight, but there's plenty of space for a couples' night out. With the back seats folded, there's room to stash a bicycle and the roof rails can be reached without a stepladder. And best of all, the A3 is a vagabond for travel with an itch to bend through the turns of a country road.

It's sold with two engine choices: a 200-hp, turbocharged, direct-injection, gasoline, 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 140-hp, 2.0-liter, direct-injection, clean diesel four-cylinder. The gasoline model has a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed dual-clutch automated manual. The diesel comes only with the dual-clutch. Quattro all-wheel drive ($1,480) is available only on the gasoline model.

Starting prices range from $28,155 to $31,125 for the diesel, today's test car. The test car was $36,100 with options.

The gasoline model is quicker to 60 mph; the diesel has the advantage in fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 42 highway, versus 22/28. Fuel costs are a wash because the gas model requires premium, and the price of diesel has been running at least as much, if not a little more.

On a run to Las Vegas from San Diego, I was getting around 38 mpg cruising at 75 mph. I dropped the speed to 70, and the mileage went to 40-plus, but I was also beating into a headwind. Around-town mileage seemed even better at 30 mpg without trying to conserve. But kick it into sport mode and the mileage drops instantly to 19-plus mpg.

Get on the gas hard from a stop and once the turbo catches its breath, there's a wheel-spinning takeoff. Zero to 60 mph takes 8.9 seconds. That compares to 6.9 seconds in the gasoline model with automatic or 6.7 with AWD.

It's a sporty car to drive, with responsive steering, road-holding suspension and secure braking from large, 12.2-inch vented discs at the front and 11-inch solid discs rear. The test car was up-fitted with the Titanium sport package, $2,000, which added 18-inch wheels with summer tires; sport suspension; sport seats with leather and Alcantara inserts; piano black interior trim; black grille surround; and black headliner.

While I liked the black-themed elements, the sport suspension and tires introduced negatives of rougher ride and tires that were noisy on some road surfaces. Diesel commuters will be better served with the standard 17-inch touring tires, which won't be as expensive to replace.

Despite almost $5,000 in options, the test car had no navigation system, sunroof or rearview camera, which are not unrealistic expectations for the sticker price. And to get a Bluetooth phone connection requires the $600 Bluetooth Value Package or the navigation package, $2,050, which also includes the desirable iPod connection and two USB slots.

To buy the diesel models is about $1,500 more than the gasoline model, but the extended driving range is desirable for commuters. With a 14.5-gallon tank, the TDI can reach 600 miles. And with Audi's refinement and luxury treatment, it's a comfortable way to wander.