Flash-free luxury

April 27, 2010
by Tony Whitney

The A3’s 17-inch cast alloy wheels project the look of a performance automobile.

Photo: Audi

Considering these challenging economic times, it’s perhaps surprising that there are so few cars on the market that can be termed “compact luxury.” After all, management people nowadays are usually anxious to project an image of thrift and it’s tough to do that with a full-size sedan or SUV bearing a luxury nameplate.

In fact, it is possible to drive a premium nameplate car without necessarily making too much of a show of it, thanks to products like the Audi A3. The A3 offers all kinds of luxury features and a prestigious badge up front without the bulk and in-your-face ambiance of a big sedan.

The A3 fills something of a yawning gap in the marketplace. Beyond the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, BMW 1 Series, Acura CSX and Volvo C30, there’s very little out there that fits the compact luxury designation.

In Canada, hatchbacks have always had a certain popularity, but the market here hasn’t justified many imports. The notion of a small but luxurious sports hatchback just never took off in the huge US market, although the VW/Audi Group has sold a fair amount of its performance-oriented VW GTI models over the years while staying faithful to this configuration.

Specs at a glance:
BODY STYLE: Four-door hatchback
ENGINE: 2.0-litre gasoline/2.0 litre TDI
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic/manual
PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100km/h in approx 7.5 seconds (gasoline engine)
FUEL ECONOMY: 9.4 litres/100km city; 6.9 litres/100km highway (gasoline, automatic transmission)
PRICE: $32,300 base

The A3 has been attracting buyers who probably haven’t bought an Audi before; the automaker is no doubt happy to get them into the Audi family.

Trim designThere’s nothing dramatic about the A3’s body shape, but it’s nice and trim and, as is expected from an Audi, very well painted and well finished. It has the sporty stance of its relative the GTI and the four interlocking rings of the iconic Audi badge set its frontal look off nicely.

The large 17-inch cast alloy wheels help to impart a performance look and the overall effect is very eye-catching. Open up the rear hatch and you’ll find lots of useful space; with the rear seats folded, it’s almost wagon-like back there.