The Audi A3 is a bit of an odd duck in Audi’s U.S. lineup, mainly because it’s only available in a four-door hatch format here. That’s about to change with the reveal of the Audi A3 concept, a sedan-based vision of the next-generation car that’s making its world debut at the 2011 Geneva auto show. The concept is strikingly similar in form to the now-legendary B5 S4, a car that changed the way people think about performance sedans.
All the dimensions of the new A3 Concept match up to the old B5, with length, width, and height within a couple of inches. The good news: The new A3 is apparently a few hundred pounds lighter, weighing just south of 3400 lbs. Audi saved weight by building the doors, hood, and trunklid out of aluminum. The unibody is apparently still formed out of steel, since this is an entry-level car, but the floor panel varies in thickness and has been optimized for strength. Audi also claims it is using new joining methods for the unibody, but didn’t go into more detail.
The drivetrain for the A3 is classic Audi that even predates the B5. Under the aluminum hood is a 2.5-liter turbo direct-injection inline five-cylinder tuned to sound like the rally cars of the 1980s. Although it is far more efficient and cleaner than the road-going versions of the old five-cylinders, it produces power similar to the racing engines. The FSI engine, also found in the TT-RS, is tuned to produce 408 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque from 1600 RPM all the way to 5300 RPM. And it does all this while delivering 26 mpg in the European urban cycle.
The A3 uses Audi’s seven-speed S Tronic dual-clutch transmission and quattro all-wheel drive. Reverse, neutral, and drive are selected using buttons mounted in the center console, while park is engaged in the transmission when the parking brake is activated. Manual shifting is accomplished with traditional steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The lack of a shift lever is just part of new clean, minimalist aesthetic of the interior. A machined aluminum rail runs through the center of the dash, which houses many of the car’s systems controls. The instrument panel consists of two large dials with an 8-inch computer screen between them. The display is configurable based on driver preferences. The infotainment screen rises out of the dash, allowing for a cleaner look when it isn’t needed, and the MMI controls have been reworked. It still uses the traditional rotary control, but the top is now a touchpad that allows for more Apple-computer-like control. The high-end sound system uses speakers surrounded by aluminum frames that extend outward when the stereo is in use. Audi states that the light and airy feel, along with much of the technology used in the A3 concept, will make it into production cars in the very near future. Its movable speakers and instrument panel display screen are already found in high-end models like the A8.
To carry all the new technology, the A3 concept uses McPherson strut suspension in front, with the majority of the components made of aluminum. The rear suspension uses a 4-link set-up that is mounted on a separate sub-frame to help isolate the body from road noise and vibration. The A3 also uses Audi’s Drive Select system with five different modes to suit different driving conditions. The wheels use a combination of aluminum and Carbon-Fiber Reinforced Plastic, or CFRP. At 20 inches, the wheel size is larger than what you would expect to find on a compact sedan, but so is the equally large 245/30/20 tire size.
The biggest departure for this A3 concept is obviously the fact that it is a sedan. Previous generations of A3s have been hatchbacks, closely based on the Volkswagen Golf platform. This styling is distinctly Audi, featuring a muscular appearance below the beltline with flared fenders and swooping character lines across the sides of the car. The front and rear fascias are aggressive and show the evolutionary direction of design language. The front and rear have additional CFRP inserts and the lights are a new generation of Audi’s signature LED technology. Intakes below the headlights give them a floating appearance, and the downward angle emphasizes the prominent front grille. Audi says the roofline and thick C-pillar were designed to bring the look of a coupe into the small sedan and add to the sporting character of the car. The trunk is finished with an integrated spoiler lip and rounds out the aggressive persona.
Luckily, Audi has given the car the performance to back up the looks. Acceleration is rated at 4.1 seconds for the 0-62 mph sprint using launch control. Top speed is limited to 155 mph. With its rigid chassis, all-wheel drive, and low weight, the A3 Concept should no doubt handle with typical Audi brilliance. While this sedan is still just a concept at the moment, Audi has expressed an interest in offering a smaller sedan in the North American market. This car seems to have all the makings of an S or even RS model, but even detuned, it certainly appears as though it would make a great entry-level sedan, the preferred body style of the U.S. market.