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It won't be on sale in the U.S. until spring of 2014, but the Audi A3 sedan--and its high-performance S3 wingman--are officially on the way, after an exclusive preview at the 2013 New York Auto Show.
The sedans, and a Sportback hatch to come later, can't arrive a moment too soon. Audi's new compact cars will go on sale about six months after rival Mercedes-Benz launches its new 2014 CLA 250 compact four-door and its 355-hp CLA 45 AMG companion piece.
With the A3 and S3, Audi's resetting the clock to 1994, when the first A4 sedan inaugurated name changes and niche shifts across its lineup. The A4 grew into its new role over the next decade, eventually creating the need for a new less expensive Audi--which became the A3 Sportback, known only in the U.S. as the A3.
This time around, Audi's taking a route aimed directly at American car buyers. The A3 and S3 hit the ground first as sedans, and it's a shape that will ring reassuringly familiar to Audi owners and intenders. It's quite like that original A4, in fact, even the 80/90 compacts that came just before. From the available LED headlights, to the emphatic, spare grille, to the gentle roll of the roofline into the stubby trunk, it's as quintessentially Audi as any of the brand's sedans, though chief designer Wolfgang Egger says it's been penned with completely new sheetmetal, and with a distinctive angle to its rear pillars.
The interior of the A3 and S3 ventures into new aesthetic territory for Audi. More of the VW roots show through in the horizontal dash, though it's differentiated well with round vents, a trio of small climate-control knobs, and by a new MMI controller on the console and by the LCD display that rises from the dash--a uniquely German solution to infotainment that hits a fragile note in the cockpits of Benzes and BMWs, too.
The corporate heritage gets clearer in the powertrain lineup chosen for Audi's American A3 customers. The most economical versions will work with a 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder, while a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four with 150 hp will be offered. Both are front-drivers; an all-wheel-drive A3 sedan will come with a 2.0-liter turbo four, with power output left undisclosed as of yet.
The most coveted edition will be the S3. With an uprated version of the same 2.0-liter turbo four and standard all-wheel drive, the S3 should be good for about 296 horsepower, and for a 0-60 mph time of about 4.8 seconds--a performance benchmark just two-tenths of a second shy of the CLA 45 AMG, which sports almost 60 more horsepower.
A manual gearbox finds its way into other A3 models around the world, but all A3 sedans bound for the U.S. will come with a six-speed, dual-clutch transmission. Audi's Drive Select will let drivers fine-tune the A3's throttle feel, steering effort, and transmission shift speed over the usual auto, sport, comfort, and individual range.
Later in its life cycle, Audi will bring over the next generation of the A3 hatchback, and it will launch Audi's "e-tron" sub-brand in the States. The e-tron badge applies to Audi's coming range of plug-in hybrids, shown in various car lines over the past few years. Most recently the Audi A3 e-tron was displayed and quoted with a net 204 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque, from its combination of gas engine, lithium-ion batteries and electric motor.
The A3, by the way, runs on a transverse-engine architecture, with a strut front suspension isolated on its own subframe, with a four-link torsion-beam rear suspension used for efficient packaging. Electric power steering is standard.
Space and safety
The A3's cabin is a bit of a throwback, if you've spent time in the current A4 sedan or Allroad wagon. The new four-door's just 175.5 inches long, and it rides on a 103.4-inch wheelbase. That's more than a half-foot longer overall than a Benz CLA, though the wheelbase is longer on the A3, by more than an inch. The Audi's also marginally wider, and it's notable from the back seat how the A3's doors and roofline make its petite back seat more accessible than the one in the CLA.
Audi says it's maximized interior space and boosted crash performance by moving the front wheels forward by about 1.5 inches. The A3 doesn't rely on body along to protect passengers, though: it has pre-collision restraint prep, simulated torque vectoring on the front wheels via its anti-lock brakes, and a passel of optional safety technology, including blind spot monitors and adaptive cruise control that maintains a traffic crawl with a tap of the cruise's resume button.
Audi A3 features
Finally, Audi says it's putting a hefty dose of premium content in even the base A3. All models will come with standard power features; cruise control; leather upholstery; Bluetooth; and a panoramic sunroof.
Audi's MMI system is also standard, with a 7-inch-diagonal, 0.5-inch-thick retractable screen displaying information from audio and phone systems--and navigation, when it's purchased. MMI now has a wide touch surface on its controller knob, for fingertip text entry--just write out letters, Palm Pilot style, and MMI translates them into destinations or other data.
Audi Connect will be a key upgrade for the connected class. For a subscription fee, A3 drivers can tap into a 4G/LTE data network that delivers Google Earth maps and other rich feeds to the car--which can even store photos of destinations for use as favorites. Audi Connect enables service to as many as 8 devices, and can stream music from them via local wireless networks it creates. It can all be rendered through a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with 705 watts of output.
The 2015 Audi A3 arrives in spring of 2014, and pricing hasn't been released, though a $30,000 base price would put it in direct competition with the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA. The Audi S3 follows later in the summer of 2014, with a price suggested at just below $40,000--which could be a massive discount over the hinted-at CLA 45 AMG pricetag of under $50,000.
We'll have more details on the A3 and S3 as they emerge. Stay tuned for more--and for our first drives coming soon.
- Likable Audi design
- An Audi within reach
- Powerful S3 on tap
- Diesels and plug-in hybrids, too
- Connectivity par excellence
- Strong family resemblance
- Petite back seat
- Plug-in hybrid will be hatchback-only
- Diesel, all-wheel drive mutually exclusive