As the three-door model is the first to break cover for the third generation, we can assume US buyers will have a little longer to wait for the five-door model to reach North America.
When it does arrive, we hope to see the same weight-saving aluminum front fenders and hood that have dropped the kerb weight by around 80 lb on certain models.
In terms of dimensions, the new A3 is virtually identical to its predecessor in length and height, but it features a longer wheelbase in the interest of composure and interior packaging. It is also slightly wider.
The single-frame radiator grille dominates the front-end, and higher specification models get xenon headlamps with LED running lamps. The latest LEDs feature a solid band, which surrounds more of the lens. These will also be optional for some models along with LED tail lights. In the long term, full LED headlights will also be available as a first in the compact car segment.
At the rear, the spoiler edge above the diffuser emphasizes the width of the new car, with either one or two tailpipes on the left side depending on the engine type. The inner architecture of the split tail lights is a variation on the headlight theme.
The redesigned interior is built around a ‘floating’ dashboard with round air vents, climate control panel and redesigned instrument cluster, plus an optional 3D color display for the Driver’s Information System – the ultra-thin retractable MMI monitor and new electromechanical parking brake liberate space in the centre console for the optional MMI operating terminal.
In its most sophisticated form – MMI navigation plus with MMI touch – the upper side of the rotary pushbutton is designed as a touchpad – another ergonomic innovation. Drivers can input letters and numbers by finger motion.
Another area in which the new Audi A3 excels is in driver assistance systems. They range from radar-assisted adaptive cruise control to side assist, active lane assist, traffic sign detection, park assist and the pre sense basic safety system.
In the infotainment area, the latest A3 features an optional A3-specific Bang & Olufsen audio system, MMI navigation plus and mobile phone preparation with online services to bring ‘real time’ online traffic information and, through a WLAN hotspot, gives passengers access to the Internet while travelling.
The new A3 will launch in Europe with three four-cylinder engines. The 1.4-liter and 1.8-liter TFSI engines and the 2.0-litre TDI have outputs of 122, 180 and 143hp respectively. Compared with the previous model, they offer fuel economy improvements averaging 12 per cent.
The 1.8L TFSI is linked as standard to a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission; the 1.4L TFSI and 2.0L TDI are paired with a six-speed manual.
All engines in this first phase will drive the front wheels; with quattro permanent all-wheel drive – and further engines, including a 1.4L TFSI with cylinder on demand technology –following later in 2012.
The new A3 chassis has a finely-tuned power steering system with a electromechanical drive and an Electronic Stability Program integrating an electronic limited-slip differential.
The optional Audi drive select system lets the driver vary the operating characteristics of the steering weighting, throttle response and transmission shift points (when S tronic is fitted). It can also be upgraded to incorporate the optional Audi magnetic ride system with its magnetorheological fluid-filled dampers.
The A3 has a 16-year history at Audi. The first generation debuted in 1996 as a three-door model, and created the new premium compact class.
In 1999, the five-door model and sporty S3 rounded out the line-up. Audi sold about 880,000 units of this first model series.
The second generation, which followed in 2003, was even more successful and increased total sales to about 1.8 million units, despite increasingly stiff competition in the class.
The range diversified with the Sportback (2004), S3 (2006), Cabriolet (2008) and RS 3 (2011).
Over its production life to date, the A3 has represented more than 20 per cent of total Audi sales, establishing itself as a pillar of the brand’s success.