Audi rolls out A3 lineup at the Los Angeles auto showFri, 22 Nov 2013
There's something about German automakers and model proliferation—it seems that if there is a niche to be filled, no matter how vanishingly small, a vehicle will be devised to fill it. If no niche is extant, they'll simply invent one, which is how we wound up with the unprompted X6.
Audi's new A3 lineup, which debuted at the Los Angeles auto show and will begin its 18 month-long North American rollout spring 2014, seems incredibly rational by comparison. It would be easy to call the Audi A3 a direct response to Mercedes' affordable-luxury CLA, but that's not quite true: Although Americans got a taste of the Benz offering first, Audi has been producing three- and five-door A3s for nearly two decades (there was even an oddly proportioned cabriolet for a time).
Yet the A3 lineup is expanding to include a sedan for the first time, and there's no doubt that the fleshed out range is is a Big Deal for Audi. Comparisons to the CLA are easy to draw: packing transverse-mounted, inline-four engines and featuring standard front-wheel drive configurations -- all-wheel drive is optional—the compacts are efficient and relatively economical to manufacture. (For its part, BMW has announced that it follow up with a FWD 1-Series in a few years.)
An even bigger deal than the A3 itself, especially from the broader Volkswagen Group perspective, are its new underpinnings: the so-called MQB architecture, used by an increasingly wide range of products including the Mk. VII Golf. The MQB system, which is really more of a set of standardized building blocks than a platform, allows for further cost savings and -- in truly German style -- permits a virtually limitless range of potential body styles.
The 2012 A3 hatchbacks kicked off Audi's MQB binge, but there are plenty of other flavors to come beyond the upcoming A3 sedan. Here's what we saw at the LA auto show:
2015 Audi A3 sedan and Cabriolet
The A3 Cabriolet is the A3 sedan minus two doors and plus one rag top. It's math. Germans love math.
It's all new, but the A3 sedan nevertheless looks very familiar: It's clean styling is right in line with the rest of the As, and with its 103.4 inch wheelbase and 175.5 inch length, it's virtually the same size as the original A4.
Power comes from a1.8-liter or 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four (producing 170 and 220 hp, respectively) or 150 hp 2.0-liter turbodiesel. A six-speed dual-clutch is the only transmission option.
Inside, you'll find a well-crafted interior largely devoid of hard plastic -- at least in any area your'e likely to touch. Technological goodies like a retractable 7-inch infotainment screen are found across the range, and the A3 lineup will also be the first to get in-car 4G LTE wireless connectivity. Audi boasts that this faster cellular connection will permit programs like Google maps to load faster, but we know the younger demographic this car seeks to appeal to will appreciate the Twitter alert function.
The A3 sedan will go on sale spring 2014; expect to pay $29,900 for a base model. The A3 Cabriolet, which loses two doors along with its top, comes along a little later: The ragtop should show up late next year, just in time for a crisp autumn drive.
2015 Audi S3 sedan
The Audi S3 sedan gets a hotter turbocharged 2.0-liter cranking out an estimated 290 hp.
Sitting one rung up the sportiness ladder from the vanilla A3 is the performance-minded S3 sedan. It gets its edge thanks to 19-inch wheels, a rear-lip spoiler and a revised fascia -- and, of course, a hotter 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four (290 hp est.), larger brakes, a dynamic drive adjustment system and a sport suspension that lets the car's body sit one inch closer to the ground than that of the regular A3.
For now, a six-speed dual-clutch will be the only transmission offered, but a manual gearbox with the same number of gears may become an option if demand is deemed high enough. There's still some time to begin the letter writing campaign if you simply must have that manual -- the S3 is expected to go on sale here in the second half of 2014.
2015 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: Making luxury plug-ins sexy. Or trying to, at least.
The A3 Sportback e-tron ought to look familiar to American Audi aficionados. After all, the five-door was the only A3 variant the automaker has ever offered stateside. Well, the hatch is coming back early 2015, but there's a catch: It's returning as a plug-in hybrid (Audi's first) it packing both a 150 hp 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline engine and a 75 kW electric motor.
All in all, the system is rated at 201 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque—good for a 7.6 second 0-60 run. Take it easy on the accelerator and master the art of regenerative braking, and you could return the equivalent of 156.81 mpg (at least under the European testing cycle). Electric range is 31 miles; you can top off its 8.8 kWh battery in under 2.5 hours.
There are no pricing figures available yet, but one thing's for sure: Audi hasn't taken the route of other hybrid-builders, who often seem to cheapen the interior to keep the sticker down. Whatever the Sportback e-tron ends up costing, at least we know it gets the same build and material quality of the other A3s, along with features like that retractable infotainment screen.
About the LA Auto Show
The LA Auto Show has long served as a spotlight for "green" cars, and a popular place to unveil new hybrid and electric vehicles. We'll have photos, video and complete coverage of all the manufacturer reveals and top news from this year's LA Auto Show right here, so check back often.
By Graham Kozak