2012 Wagon Comparison: Acura TSX vs Audi A3
These Upscale Wagons Put the Fun in Functionality
While they may be few and far between, sport wagons provide a perfect mix of passenger and cargo-carrying capability in a fuel-efficient package for those who want an alternative to larger SUVs and minivans.
Total Car Score tested the 2012 models of the Acura TSX Sport Wagon and the Audi A3 to assess how each stacked up overall, as well as in specific areas.
About Our Test Cars
2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon ($35,695 MSRP with options and destination fee)
While the Acura TSX has been around in sedan form for a while, the Sport Wagon version was introduced for 2011. It is essentially unchanged for 2012, with the exception of additional cargo space as the spare tire was replaced with a compact tire repair kit.
2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI S-tronic ($36,100 MSRP with options and destination fee)
Brought to the United States from Europe in 2006, the Audi A3 was last redesigned for 2009 before having the TDI turbodiesel engine added in 2010. There were no significant changes for 2012.
Complete details about each test vehicle are listed below.
Despite both cars offering a sporty driving experience, each wagon displayed a distinct character from behind the wheel. This was chiefly due to the differences in power delivery between the gasoline engine in the Acura and the turbocharged diesel in the Audi. Our 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon was powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 201 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 170 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. It is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with Acura's Sequential Sportshift manual mode transmission and gets an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 22 city mpg and 30 highway mpg. No other engine is offered. The 2012 Audi A3 TDI was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel that produces 140 hp at 4,200 rpm and 236 lb-ft of torque at 1,750 rpm. It is paired with a six-speed Audi S Tronic auto-manual transmission and gets an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 30 city mpg / 42 highway mpg. The A3 is also available with a 200 hp, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine with 207 lb-ft of torque and 24 mpg average fuel economy -- regardless of the transmission and front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
The Acura was responsive when accelerating normally in fully-automatic mode, and additional performance was available via aggressive throttle inputs and the transmission’s Sequential Sportshift function (which offers responsive up- and downshifts at the driver’s command). The torque from the Audi's diesel engine made for quicker acceleration than the Acura once under way, but initial acceleration from a complete stop came after a slight hesitation. This same hesitation impacted the A3’s shift behavior when the transmission was in automatic mode, giving it an inconsistent feel. Putting the transmission in manual mode reduced the problem, making this hesitation barely noticeable.
In terms of handling, both cars were capable and fun to drive, performing confidently on twisty mountain roads. It’s worth noting our test A3 TDI was not equipped with Audi's all-wheel-drive Quattro system, as it’s only available with the gasoline engine.
The Audi A3 did fall short in terms of drivetrain isolation. Diesel engine noise intruded on the driving experience, even with the windows up and the climate control system on. There was also substantial road noise, particularly at highway speeds, with an odd “pinging” sound reminiscent of sand being kicked up under the car as if driving on a freshly paved road. The Acura had no such issues.
Interior Design and Function
Both the A3 and the TSX offer upscale cabins with comfortable and supportive seating in the first and second rows. The Audi A3 provides considerably more front seat headroom (39.3 inches versus 37.6 inches in the Acura), making tall occupants feel less closed-in when riding up front. Both rear seats can be tight for adults, though their dimensions are competitive with other sedans and wagons in this class. While rear seat headroom is identical and rear seat legroom is similar in both models, the Acura is three inches wider overall, making it slightly more comfortable for adults (or providing a bit more separation space for grumpy siblings).
Where the Acura really shines is in its cargo-carrying capability. Because it is 20.3 inches longer overall than the Audi it has substantially more cargo capacity. With all the seats in place, the TSX Sport Wagon offers 31.5 cubic feet of cargo space while the A3 provides just 19.5 cubic feet. Maximum cargo capacity (second-row seats folded down) is 66.2 cubic feet in the Acura and 39.0 cubic feet in the Audi. In addition, the Acura had an under-floor storage well in the cargo area where items could be stowed out of sight -- or the cover could be left up to provide a secure space for taller, tippier items, such as grocery bags.
Primary Features and Options
While priced within $400 of each other, our two test wagons had very different levels of comfort and convenience features. The Acura provided heated front seats with an 8-way power driver's seat, two-position memory and lumbar support , plus a 4-way power passenger seat. The Audi's seats were not heated (though they can be as a $500 option) and the driver's seat had 4-way power adjustment and 4-way lumbar support but no memory function. The A3’s front passenger seat was manually adjustable in four directions.
Both wagons include power locks, mirrors and windows with auto up/down, but the Acura had a standard power sunroof while a sunroof is a $1,100 option on the Audi. The Acura also had an auto-dimming rearview mirror but the Audi used a manual lever to switch the mirror into nighttime driving mode. An auto-dimming mirror (with a compass) is part of the convenience package, which costs $1,275 and also includes a Bose premium sound system, rain/light sensor and rear acoustic parking sensors.
Both the A3 and TSX include dual-zone automatic climate control, but the Acura's system in the technology package on our test car was GPS-linked, so it automatically noted the position of the sun and adjusted the climate control accordingly. The Acura's technology package also included a navigation system with voice recognition as well as real-time traffic and weather tracking (available in select markets) as well as a rearview backup camera. Our Audi A3 did not come with these features. A navigation system is a $2,000 stand-alone option on the A3, and while Audi doesn't offer a backup camera, rear acoustic parking sensors are part of the $1,275 convenience package.
In terms of safety, both cars had six airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and tire pressure monitoring systems. Additionally, the Acura had active front head restraints (the Audi did not).
Total Car Score Analysis
In our analysis of industry ratings for both wagons the 2012 Acura TSX earns a slightly higher Total Car Score of 78.87 versus the 2012 Audi A3 at 77.08. While this difference seems minor, and while the price of our test cars was nearly identical, closer analysis shows the Acura as a superior value.
Equipping the Audi A3 TDI to put it on par with the Acura TSX adds $4,875 to its price, creating a $5,275 premium for the A3. Switching from the TDI to the gasoline engine in the A3 increases the price difference to $5,875, though the Audi then has the added advantage of its all-wheel-drive Quattro system.
Vehicle Tested: 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $31,160
Options on Test Vehicle: Technology Package including: navigation with voice recognition and rearview camera; AcuraLink with real-time traffic and weather; upgraded audio with surround sound, 10 speakers, AM/FM/DVD-A, CD, DTS & Dolby Pro Logic; hard disk drive (for storing digital music); GPS-linked, dual-zone auto climate control; power tailgate ($3,650)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $35,695
Vehicle Tested: 2012 Audi A3 2.0 TDI S-tronic
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $30,250
Options on Test Vehicle: Monza Silver metallic paint ($475); Titanium Sport Package including: 18" wheels with summer tires, sport suspension, sport front seats with Alcantara leather, piano black interior inlays, black grille surround, black headliner ($2,000); Premium Plus Model including: Xenon plus headlights with LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth interface, multi-function leather steering wheel, power front driver seat with 4-way power lumbar, illumination & storage package, aluminum belt line trim ($2,000); Black roof rails ($500)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $36,100
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.