New York Auto Show: 2016 Audi A3 TDI Sportback

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Audi-A3-TDI-Sportback-1What is it?

This is a car for people in the know. You either like diesel-powered German hatchbacks with higher than average service costs or you don’t. The 2016 A3 TDI Sportback is a brand-new version of the last 2013 A3 TDI, an expensive Volkswagen Golf that’s fun to drive and gets more than 40 mpg on the highway. The 2016 model is the same thing in a fresh wrapper with lots of new technology and even better fuel economy.

Why should you care?

Audi now sells five TDI diesel models in much higher price brackets, and only because the little A3 has done so well since its 2009 debut. The new car includes a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that makes 150 hp and an estimated 250 lb-ft of torque, which will deliver lots of low-end oopmh and plenty of quick shifts from the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. The A3 TDI will also be sold as a sedan alongside Audi’s two other gasoline A3 trims, but the Sportback will only be offered as a diesel or as a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid, called the A3 e-tron, that will debut next year. The A3 has a high level of standard equipment (for a German luxury car) and drives like a very taut, refined vehicle — basically, unlike most small cars in this size class. Tech-savvy folks will like Audi’s first 4G LTE data service for faster Google searches and Audi’s suite of connected in-car apps, along with a touch-sensitive controller for the infotainment system that recognizes swiping, handwriting and other gestures.

Audi-A3-TDI-Sportback-2What’s not to like?

Since it’s an Audi and not a Volkswagen, you can expect premium prices (Audi, to its credit, is not piling tons of option packages onto a bare-bones base trim). The company’s quattro all-wheel drive system is not offered here, nor is a manual transmission. You could also buy something bigger and cheaper — like a loaded Subaru Outback — for the price of an A3 TDI. But then you wouldn’t get the amazing fuel economy.

What will it cost?

Figure on a base price of about $34,000. Diesel models cost more than comparable gasoline models since they require more exhaust filters and special catalytic converters to clean up the fuel’s inherently dirty chemistry when it burns. We’ll see the first cars later this fall.

Clifford Atiyeh

Clifford Atiyeh

Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Based in Connecticut, he writes for BestRide, Car and Driver, The Boston Globe and other publications.