I recently drove from MD to NY for the 2012 Auto Show. I call this, The 2012 Audi A3 TDI review, or: How I learned to stop worrying about gas and love the diesel.

These days car companies are so worried about electricity, hybridization, great gas mileage and low CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, they forgot the substance. Sport, too. That’s where Audi come in to play: The 2012 A3 TDI is an absolute pimp. It’s easy to use in any situation, and it won’t kick you in the butt at the pump. Well, the price of the diesel fuel will.

For the modest price of $33,600, I’m not sure how you could argue against the very nature of a five-door car that drives with the very German nature GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc. all crave. The only difference is the semi-sporting-ness of the A3 TDI doesn’t come at a cost for your right foot’s happiness. With 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque coming from the 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel 4-banger, your right foot will certainly enjoy the torque on tap, especially from only 1,750 RPM. Audi claim a 0-to-60 time of 8.9 seconds, which I’d say is about accurate, save a few tenths.

So what exactly do you get for just shy of 34 grand on the front-wheel drive-only A3 TDI? Well let’s see: The car has a base MSRP of $30,250. The Meteor Grey paint is $475, while the Premium Plus model packaging is $2,000. That gets you the beautiful LED beaded daytime lights with Xenon night driving power, Bluetooth, a 3-spoke multifunction steering wheel, power front driver seat (at 30 grand shouldn’t both seats be power?), illumination & storage packages, aluminum trim, and 17-inch wheels with all-season rubber. Throw in the 875 dollar destination fee and you have yourself a well packaged A3 TDI, I think. I could have gone for navigation, but that tacks on another $2,050 for the MMI nav and iPod integration kit.

Just like last year, I drove from my house just outside of Raleigh, NC to where Audi keep a few of their cars, just outside of Baltimore, MD. Driving up I was curious what an Audi diesel would feel like, as I’d not yet driven the A3 TDI, much less any other diesel Audi. I try to keep my mind at a distance whenever I’m about to test a car, because then I’ll either romanticize it and end up disliking it, or find too many faults before I get the car.

Keeping my mind free I thought about the new camera I had gotten instead, a Canon 60D. With all its 18 megapixel goodness, it was surely a step up from my Rebel XSi, which has served RawAutos since Christmas of 2008. So now all I could imagine were the better quality pictures I was going to take with the new member of the family… and that’s just what happened when I picked up the A3 TDI from Audi.

I drove from there about 5 minutes down the road to my hotel, which was right behind an outdoor shopping mall in Bowie, MD, and had some fun taking a few preliminary shots. Getting into the Audi the first time I noticed a modest interior. I can’t say it’s cheap, but I won’t say it’s as Audi-like as most people have come to love with the newer A4 and A5s. Think late-’90s Audi A4, and that’s the interior level in the A3 TDI. Nice, and it’ll certainly hold up for the lifetime of the car, but simple. That being said, the comfort and space is fantastic. I was able to put way too much stuff in the door panels, coupled with space under the HVAC controls, oh and more space under the center armrest. So if you’re like me and carry the kitchen sink plus a house, then you’ll have plenty of places to put it all even before you open the back hatch.

And about that rear hatch area. I had a garment bag, my usual Ferrari roller bag, a shopping bag filled with more clothes and shoes, two camera bags with camera gear, two cameras, a few Contour HD and GoPro cameras, two tripods, and a toiletry bag, I had enough stuff to clog a crossover. And yet the smallish Audi A3 TDI held it all without any hindrance, or even need to lay the rear seats down. Now that’s what I call useful.

After taking some photos and retiring to grab some dinner, I was anxious to get on the road in the morning and see what the ol’ girl had to give me gas mileage wise on the highway. The EPA estimates are 30 mpg city and 42 highway. I was betting with myself on how much more I’d get on my highway run. Driving up to NY is never really fun, let’s be honest. The roads are hardly ever smooth, the tolls suck, and the northern drivers are about as considerate as diarrhea on a first date. The Audi A3 TDI made it all quite a bit more relaxing, though. While last year’s Audi A4 was good and fun, it didn’t quite offer me the joy the A3 TDI did when I watched everyone pull off to fill up for fuel, and I didn’t have to.

Starting my trip I saw that A3 TDI had an estimated 610 miles on the range. On my way up to NY I saw the range go up and down like a tide. The longer I sat in traffic, the farther it went down; Once I got moving and up to highway speeds again, I saw the range go back up. And those of you who’ve driven up north know exactly what I’m talking about when I say traffic… luckily the A3 TDI is very comfortable and allowed me to eat up the miles without a numb buttocks.

Speaking of the drive, the stereo system on the A3 TDI isn’t too shabby at the price point. It’s not, say, a Volkswagen Fender system, but it allows for good treble and decent bass at higher levels of volume. As I’m an avid Howard Stern listener, I toggled between his 20 years gone special honoring the late, great Sam Kinison and my iPod, listening to a lot of Huey Lewis and The News. I don’t know why, but I just had a hankering for them the trip up and back. They’re one of my favorites regardless.

At quite a few points in the drives up and down I was averaging 46 mpg, which if you’ll recall is 4 mpg better on the highway than what the EPA estimate that you’ll see. Driving the A3 TDI, I know that had the road conditions been more smooth, traffic been less, and absolutely no tolls, I could have easily gotten 50 or 55 mpg. And at the end of the trip, I was able to get 447 miles total to a tank -remember I drove around New York City, too- and had achieved 40.2 mpg average for the whole journey, with 75 miles left on the range.

So after all was said and done, at 46 mpg highway, does that make the 2012 Audi A3 TDI the car for you? Well why not? Personally, if it had a manual transmission I’d be happier than a pig in, well, you get the point. The 6 speed S-Tronic automatic gearbox handles everything with relative ease, but I wouldn’t mind a little extra sportiness when using the paddles behind the wheel. However, it’s a diesel, how many of us will take this to a weekend track event? Absolutely none. So the fact that it’s perfectly relaxed on the every day drive or highway cruise; whether any of it be to work or to NYC, you’ll certainly stop worrying about gas and starting loving the A3 TDI and its diesel powertrain just like I did.

Let’s take into consideration that the A3 TDI is better looking, driving, feeling and more fun than a Prius, Volt, or whatever the hell else you’d like to compare it to. Sure, those cars use hybrid technology to boost their levels a bit, but an A3 TDI driven right will do the same things all day long, and in far more style and luxury. As much as we all hate to admit it, a Chevrolet or a Toyota just ain’t seen the same way as an Audi, even if it is the A3 TDI.

[Image Credit: Copyright 2012 Audi A3 TDI Josh Lewis for RawAutos.com]