Bottom line: In terms of driving pleasure, utility, fuel economy and finance, the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI makes more sense than its Audi counterpart.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Both get excellent marks in all three. But the Audi version has a discernibly tighter suspension and slightly harder ride, befitting its “enthusiast” audience.
Head-turning quotient: The Volkswagen wins on aesthetics. The Audi wins on prestige.
Body style/layout: Both cars are compact, front-engine, front-wheel-drive four-door wagon/hatchbacks with unitized-body construction. All-wheel drive is available in gasoline (non-TDI) versions of both.
Engines/transmissions: The standard engine for both the Jetta SportWagen TDI and the A3 2.0 TDI is a 2-liter, 16-valve, turbocharged direct-injection diesel (140 horsepower, 236 foot-pounds of torque). The engine is linked to a standard six-speed manual in the SportWagen and a six-speed automated manual in the A3 2.0 TDI. An automated manual is optional in the Volkswagen model.
Capacities: Both wagons hold five people. But the SportWagen has slightly better rear headroom — 38.1 inches, compared with 36.9 inches in the A3 2.0 TDI. Tall people might appreciate the difference. The Volkswagen also beats the Audi in utility. With rear seats up in the SportWagen, cargo space is 32.8 cubic feet, compared with 19.5 cubic feet in the A3 2.0 TDI. With rear seats folded, SportWagen cargo space is 66.9 cubic feet, compared with 39 cubic feet in the A3 2.0 TDI. The Audi holds 14.6 gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel; the Volkswagen, 14.5 gallons.
Mileage: Both average 36 miles per gallon in city-highway driving.
Safety: Standard equipment on both the Volkswagen SportWagen TDI and the Audi A3 2.0 TDI includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; front side air bags and rear head air bags; electronic stability and traction control; and child-seat latches.
Prices: The base price of the 2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI Premium is $30,250. Dealer’s invoice price on that model is $28,133. Price as tested is $31,125, including an $875 destination charge. The base price of the 2012 Volkswagen SportWagen TDI is $25,540 ($26,640 for the automatic). Dealer’s invoice price for the manual is $24,517 and $25,574 for the automatic. Both Volkswagen versions carry a destination charge of $770. Price as tested for the SportWagen TDI manual is $26,310. Add $1,100 for the automatic version. Dealer’s price as tested is $25,287 and $26,387, respectively.
Moment of insight: Other than prestige, I can think of no other reason to choose the Audi over the Volkswagen.