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2015 AUDI A3 : Back to the Future

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AUDI keeps moving ahead with simply better and better cars in its earnest effort to catch and top its rivals from the Rhineland - BMW and MBZ. The latest effort is the thoughtfully designed 2015 A3. Naming is a bit of a phase shift, as the previous A3 was a hatchback only and the new one is a sedan and head of a soon to come family of virtually everything but a new hatchback. In truth, the new A3 is really a return to the size and proportion that made the original A4 a sweetheart, who came to grow fat and far less svelte as it matured. Hatchback fans (like me) will simply have to cry in their beer for a while, as no A3 wagon is planned and, yet again, the bean counters have decided Americans don't want sporty hatchbacks with their luxury.

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No matter ... the new A3 is a beauty and a very smart, tight and sensible ride. Styling hews closely to the well established Audi themes - nothing new here - but all things in good (and proven) taste. No drooping overhangs, artfully tight contours and a balanced contemporary look .. all wrapped in something that's easy to park and maneuver in the confines of the urban jungle. Overall length is not quite compact, but very manageable, and the wheelbase is now 105.5", a slight stretch from the previous A3 that adds just enough extra space to make this one a true 4 passenger touring car .. cozy, but nice.

The interior is always Audi design's strong suit, and no dropping that ball here. Modern and traditional at the same time with a place for every tweek and every tweek in place, it is a pleasant space to spend time. Rich real leather is standard as is a "wraparound" dash concept with a pop up multi-display screen, adding the latest tech touch. Hardly space age, or really very progressive, but all well done. One nice feature is the industry's first 4G LTE connectivity, with a data plan option to feed your need for bits and bytes. When enabled one cool thing this connectivity does for you is add true photo backgrounds courtesy of Google Earth to the NAV system maps. The upmarket audio option is designed by renowned sonic specialists Bang and Olufsen with 705 watts and 14 speakers. Excellent sound and clarity - if not quite as personally adjustable nor as loud as I'd like - the factory knows best I suppose, and it did make beautiful noise.

On the road there's little to fault, as AUDI has a firm command of ride and handling balance and some of the best suspension engineers in the business. The base A3 comes with front wheel drive and a 170 HP 1.8 liter turbo four, while the uplevel version sports Quattro all wheel drive and a 220 HP 2.0 liter motivator. The smaller engine seemed adequate, but in truth the larger motor and Quattro chassis was much more refined and better matched to the luxury/sport image. The going, stopping and tear assing thru the twists and turns of NorCal coastal roads in the funky patch between Woodside and Santa Cruz where we test drove the A3 all proved highly satisfactory. No fuss, no muss, no bother .. and you won't find a more composed and comfortable compact sedan lurking in anybody else's showroom.

On the bottom line the new A3 starts at a sound bite friendly $29,900 - all the better to fend off competitor Mercedes CLA, which has been tearing up the entry lux market since its recent introduction. That's a tasty price, but sadly very, very few A3s will roll out the door for anything close to that number. As noted, you'll want the big motor Quattro model, probably the NAV and the B&O audio for sugar, so you are looking at more like $37K for the right stuff. That's no bargain, but you will enjoy the ride and likely not look back.

In the end, AUDI has taken a very conservative bet here and gone back to the winning formula that started its sales growth with the original A4. Traditional brand-specific styling, proven platform, just enough new tech to make it contemporary, and segment competitive pricing make for a very attractive proposition. Only snag is the fairly compact Euro sizing, now minus the flexibility of a hatchback body. If you favor efficiency over ostentation, you've found your German sport sedan .. if not, the flashier rivals beckon.

• dean seven

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