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Deep Dive: Audi A3 Vario

About six months ago, we reported on an Audi project called the Superavant. Well, this project has been mothballed. The idea behind it has moved from the A4 segment to the A3. Here is why: the bigger A4-based car might have threatened the highly profitable A6 Avant, its more ambitious price point might have kept production volume from reaching a profitable level, and the large MPV-type approach might have been counter-productive in terms of brand image (see the Mercedes-Benz R-Class and BMW 5 Series GT).

Enter the A3 Vario (name yet to be confirmed), which offers about as much interior space as the A4 Avant while making do with a notably smaller footprint and a more dynamic bodystyle. This roomy and versatile high-roof A3 will cost about $3250 more than the sleeker and slimmer A3 Sportback.

Sounds familiar? In 2006, when Ulrich Hackenberg was still in charge of research and development in Ingolstadt, Audi released the Roadjet concept. Described as a feasible evolution of the Avant and Sportback themes, the Roadjet was later ditched in favor of the 2.8-inch shorter and 3.9-inch taller Q5 crossover. In terms of asking price and exterior dimensions, the A3 Vario aims at the gap between the A3 Sportback and the A4 Avant. Information gathered inside Audi suggests that the Vario will grow from the next-generation Volkswagen Touran (an MPV based on the Golf) and have a length of 177.2 inches -- which seems about right, since the current Touran is 173.2 inches long.

This is not necessarily a bad thing: the Audi A3 has always been twinned with the VW Golf, the A1 shares its DNA with the Polo, and underneath the Q3 lurks a Tiguan. The Touran replacement due in summer of 2014 will also switch to the more space-efficient MQB architecture. The Audi version will reportedly be more expensive and a bit bigger than its counterpart from Wolfsburg, but the new sporty space cruiser is also going to be 4.7 inches lower. Height-wise, it actually matches the discarded Roadjet. The cargo deck is believed to be able to swallow up to 23.0 cu ft of luggage, thereby eclipsing all current Sportbacks and every single Avant.

Since Audi intends to offer an optional third row of seats, the Vario will probably use a longer wheelbase than the A3 Sportback. Those who have seen early drawings predict an extended rear overhang, mildly flared wheel arches, a visor-shaped wraparound greenhouse, a sporty roofline, and a less-upright tailgate than the Touran.

Provisionally due to arrive in showrooms by mid-2015, the Audi A3 Vario (which has yet to be signed off by the group's product strategy committee) will tap the A3 parts bin, offer various Quattro options, and even be available in high-performance S3 trim. New engines include a 211-hp 2.0-liter TSI unit, an uprated 2.0-liter diesel good for 180 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and the aforementioned S3 that will churn out 280 hp and 280 lb-ft. Even in combination with Quattro and the S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox, all powertrains will meet the stringent EU6 standards. Eco-minded customers can choose between a 110-hp 1.4-liter compressed natural gas engine and a plug-in hybrid with a zero-emission driving range of up to 30 miles. The 150-hp 1.4-liter gas engine and the 108-hp electric motor are said to combine strong performance with exceptional fuel economy, but the success in the marketplace depends, above all, on the still-to-be-determined price Audi will ask for the A3 Vario.