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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Audi A3

The Audi A3 is a compact luxury hatchback that has, until now, been one of the few luxury-brand models in this class--except for the Volvo C30 and Lexus CT 200h. The Audi A3 is a pioneer here, having been on sale in its current form since 2006. An all-new model, already on sale in Europe, will arrive in the States for the 2015 model year, and will add an A3 sedan. 

The A3 is one of relatively few Audis to share running gear with a model from mass-market brand Volkswagen. The A3 now on sale, however, is by far the oldest model in Audi's range--it dates all the way back to the VW Golf launched in Europe in 2003.

When it landed on these shores in 2006, the Audi A3 offered several different combinations of running gear. It could be bought with front-wheel or quattro all-wheel drive, four- and six-cylinder engines, and manual or dual-clutch automatic transmissions. Most A3s driven by enthusiasts are fitted with the  200-hp turbo 2.0-liter four, which feels quicker in most real-world driving than the much heavier 250-hp, 3.2-liter V-6. The A3's nimble handling won favor with those enthusiasts, though some reviewers felt the stiff ride and the electric power steering were lacking compared to the best competitors.

Meanwhile, the current A3 is distinctive in part because it offers far more equipment and luxury than you can get on any Golf version. Its sticker price starts above $25,000 with delivery, but it can easily rise above $40,000 if you add options--including the quattro all-wheel-drive system that you can't get on any regular Golf. Together, the Audi four-ring logo and the price and features make it a competitor for smaller luxury offerings like the BMW 1-Series crossover, the Volvo C30 three-door hatchback, and the upcoming Mercedes-Benz CLA compact front-wheel drive sedan.

The 2009 model year brought the first specification changes: a new magnetically-controlled suspension option, plus some slight cosmetic revamps. The physical changes to the body included new mirrors and wheels; inside, there were new audio controls and metallic trim. The suspension system adopted shocks with magnetic fluid that change firmness in milliseconds, offering a Sport and a Normal driving mode.

More changes arrived for 2010, including a new engine choice--the VW Group's popular 140-hp, 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel--and the end of the V-6 option. The diesel comes with the same manual and S-tronic dual-clutch gearboxes as the gasoline A3. The other change for 2010 was that the previous S-line appearance package became standard equipment on all A3 models. But while it's relatively well-equipped, the A3 shows its age in leaving some surprising features--Bluetooth pairing for hands-free connectivity, for instance--off the options list altogether. There's also no sophisticated Audi MMI interface on any model. Buyers will find they can quickly run up the tab if they decide they have to have the Sport Package, Bose sound, or a navigation system, among many options.

Of all the Audi A3 models offered, the clean-diesel TDI is our editors' favorite. The engine offers lots of torque, giving it the response of a V-6 both off the line and in top gear. The TDI's EPA fuel economy ratings are 30 mpg city, 42 highway with the S tronic, and we've seen more than 45 mpg in long-haul interstate cruising, using cruise control.

That new A3 will offer all-new powertrains with better fuel efficiency, along with an advanced version of Audi's MMI interface and an interior upgraded to match the ones in the most recent Audi models. Also, the 2015 Audi A3 will add a new sedan body style to the current car's five-door hatchback layout.

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