It’s not hard to find a luxury car, as long as you’re not looking for a compact luxury car. Until the advent of the Audi A3 or Mercedes Benz CLA, your options were for a Honda Civic sized sedan from a mainstream manufacturer, not a luxury marque – the Acura TSX/ILX, Buick Verano notwithstanding. Pleasant cars, but without the style, interior trim, or the tech of true luxury.
The Audi A3 takes advantage of the Volkswagen Group’s MQB architecture. This architecture, Modularer Querbaukasten – or Modular Transverse Matrix, allows the VW group to define the placement and range of dimensions a group of vehicles are built on. While the position of engine and transmission are common, as can be the hard points to mount suspension components, the individual piece parts can be specific to a vehicle.
The benefit of the platform matrix is that there can be commonality of parts, where that makes sense, and common manufacturing facilities. Don’t think of this as common parts except for front and rear fascias (as some manufacturers did in the 1970s and 1980s), rather as a set of defined limits of where to position components. Springs, shocks, engine tune, transmission, body panels, length, width, and height can vary – within the defined limits of the architecture – for any number of vehicles.
Audi then inserts one of the E888 gasoline engines – in 1.8 or 2.0 flavors and a six speed auto/twin-clutch gearbox, sadly no manual for the A3 variants. The 1.8L is front wheel drive, where the 2.0L is coupled to Audi’s quattro all wheel drive. A TDI diesel is coming and hopefully the high output 2.0L gasoline engine in the S3 variant. The engines utilize a cast iron short block, aluminum – four valve – cylinder heads, direct fuel injection (capable of lean-burn operation), and an exhaust manifold with a cast-in turbocharger housing. The 1.8L is good for 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, while the stroker 2.0L makes 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
While offerings of the A3 platform are currently limited to the four door sedan, the cabriolet is scheduled to come to the North American market. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for the Sportback. In four door trim the A3 is a handsome car, with clean styling, large greenhouse, and crisply chiseled front and rear fascias.
The interior, finished in leather and soft touch materials, sports a straightforward dash dominated by four large air vents and the instrument binnacle. There is a horizontal trim piece that runs low on the dash panel with a set of switches embedded in the middle and below them, HVAC controls. A pop-up navigation screen is perfectly placed – you do not have to lower your head to view it.
The navigation system is controlled by the MMI touch sensitive scroll wheel, an intuitive method of communicating with the technology. There is integration with audio libraries, such as an iPod, and an available 14 speaker, 705 watt, Bang & Olufsen sound system.
The interior is designed to maximize the apparent space, and it is finished with an attention to detail that a premium car demands. The A3 fills a market need in North America for a small, frugal, premium sedan. And Audi will do that in front or all wheel drive with a cabriolet and S model available soon.