2014 Audi A3 offers a handsome invite to small luxury cars

Neal Pollack

Sometimes, a car appears and you immediately say, “I’d really like to drive that.” Other times, you see a car and think, “if all goes well in my life, I might actually be able to afford to drive that.” Rarely does a model fit both criteria. But the new Audi A3 sedan is one of those.

Audi teased the A3 for weeks ahead of the New York Auto Show, creating high expectations. They didn’t disappoint. After a tantalizingly annoying “slow reveal” under a sheet, the first glance seemed a little Jetta-like. Other than some slick, narrow LED headlights, the car could transport itself back in time to 1998 and not frighten anyone. But it does the job well enough, and the interior, featuring now-industry standard leather seating with accent stitching and sloping horizontal dash, is refreshingly modern without trying too hard. By the time we considered the whole package, we found ourselves thinking, in extremely sophisticated car-guy lingo, "ermagerd I want one."

Audi is going modestly downmarket (or, as it likes to say, “entry-level luxury”) with the A3. By 2020, it says, Generation Y will represent a full 44 percent of that segment. So many automakers try to appeal to wealthy younger buyers, but the A3 appears to actually fit the bill: It’s compact, cool-looking, and loaded with technology. We’re at least a year away from anyone being able to get behind the wheel, so it’s hard to tell exactly how appearances will meet reality. We do know that when it releases into the wild in 2015, the A3 will come with three engine choices: 2- or 1.8-liter gas, or a 2-liter diesel. The S3 Sport model will come with a hot 2-liter engine of its own that will get about 300 hp and should be a compact blast to drive.

It’s easy to look at the A3 sedan and dismissively think that Audi has gone full Volkswagen, but, I guess the question here is: So what? With the Mercedes CLA and the Acura ILX and Lexus IS all jockeying for favor, we’ve entered a kind of golden age of entry-level luxury. Is Audi supposed to not compete? The A3 should do well in its league.