Audi’s boss in the 1980s, Ferdinand Piëch, realigned the company to compete with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, setting in motion a close competition between the German marques. If one of the brands enters a segment, the others follow shortly. If one updates a vehicle, so do the others. The latest in this anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better strategy is the redesigned Audi A3, which follows the introduction of the second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA and the new BMW 2-series Gran Coupe.
We recently spent a day behind the wheel of the A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI (that’s the hatchback version), but now our attention turns to the A3 sedan, the body style that will be coming to the U.S. next year as a 2022 model. While American A3s will have a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that makes about 200 horsepower, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and a 48-volt hybrid system, the A3 sedan we drove came equipped with a 148-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter four-banger. It might not offer the same acceleration as the one we’ll get, but the 1.5-liter gives a clear indication of what the A3 sedan will feel like going down the road.
At first glance, the new A3 sedan comes across as an evolution of its predecessor. There are sharp creases, slight fender flares, and it looks more aggressive than before, yet the overall proportions remain very much the same. The bubble roof is a typical Audi element ever since Peter Schreyer introduced it on the A1X concept in 1991, and the horizontal taillights provide another connection to the previous A3 sedan.
The interior is boldly futuristic, with a digital instrument panel that is available in two sizes, as well as a standard central touchscreen. The cockpit is full of creases and hard edges; the materials are soft and attractive. The central infotainment screen is similar to that on Audi’s top-level cars, but it provides feedback in sound rather than the vibrations of other Audis. An informative and well-designed head-up display is optional.
The A3’s telematics systems and levels of electronic assistance are impressive. Audi’s navigation system is easy to operate and delivers precise commands. We are especially impressed by the optional matrix LED headlights and how they lay a crisp carpet of light ahead of the car.
We found the A3 sedan to be as well-suited to long trips as the Sportback version that we recently drove. Like the hatchback, the sedan has a comfortable seating position and relatively spacious rear seats. The four-door has a sizeable and easily accessible trunk with a low liftover height, and the rear seats can be laid flat to expand the usefulness of the cargo space.
In Europe, the 148-hp 1.5-liter is the second smallest engine. There is a super-efficient 109-hp 1.0-liter three-cylinder positioned below. Fitted with a 48-volt hybrid system, this A3 offered a genuine “hybrid” driving experience: When you take your foot off the gas, the car will coast, the engine shuts off before the car actually comes to a halt, and restarting is a quick and vibration-free affair.
What this engine offers in efficiency and silky-smooth delivery, it loses in acceleration. We won’t complain about a claimed zero-to-62-mph time of 8.4 seconds, but the small four-banger never feels particularly eager to explore its limits. Reaching the claimed top speed of 144 mph will require many miles of autobahn. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which will be shared with the U.S.-bound 2.0-liter, changes gears quickly and unobtrusively. When Audi launches the 40 TFSI model in the U.S., it will be offered with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. We did wish for a firmer suspension on the car we drove, but it remains to be seen how the U.S. model will be tuned.
With two AMG-fettled versions of both the CLA and A-class, as well as an M235i Gran Coupe, there will inevitably be new S3 and RS3 performance versions of the A3. While those hotter models haven’t been shown yet, we did learn that the S3 will have more than 300 horsepower and that the RS3 will likely make more than 400. Even at the economical end of the luxury segment, the competition among the German brands remains heated.
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