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car review

Audi A3

It's full-speed ahead for Audi. The auto maker from Ingolstadt, Germany, is on a roll.

In Canada, sales marked a milestone in 2011 – up nearly 18 per cent since 2010. And that number will likely rise with the changes in Audi's lineup this year, including its redesigned A4/S4 and its next-generation 2013 A3 hatchback, which will also be joined for the first time by a sedan.

The A3 is Audi's baby hatchback, introduced in Canada in 2006. Granted, hatchbacks aren't the most glamorous car design on the market, but they're functional and spacious. And the 2012 A3 hatchback isn't dull in design. It's practical, sporty, and attractive, inside and outside.

Available with either front-wheel-drive or Quattro all-wheel drive, the base model, a 2.0 TFSI FWD trim, starts at $34,100; while my tester, the most expensive version, a 2.0 TFSI Quattro, costs $37,500. A diesel version is also worth mentioning – the 2.0-litre TDI turbo-diesel costs $37,100. Unfortunately, it's only offered in front-wheel-drive – AWD isn't available on it.

Sure, the prices might seem steep compared to a cheaper VW Golf, which shares the same platform, but Audi's four-ringed badge carries prestige along with a sleeker exterior style and a higher-quality cabin inside. So the extra cash is worth moving up to the luxury nameplate, especially if you're looking to step into the entry-level luxury segment for the first time.

Under the hood of my tester is a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, which is peppy and powerful with its 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission – no manual transmission is available on the quattro or TDI trim. Still the automatic is smooth and precise.

The steering is accurate; the suspension sporty. The chassis soaks up imperfections in the road nicely, too. The A3 is agile, nimble and fun to drive. Whipping around corners, it's surefooted and sticks to the pavement like glue. Its small compact size makes it easy to navigate through crowded shopping malls and a cinch to squeeze into tight parking spots.

The fuel economy is another bonus. I averaged 8.0 litres/100 km combined driving, which is on par with EnerGuide numbers. The official rating is 9.6 city/7.5 highway using premium fuel. The diesel (with its 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque) does even better – averaging 6.7 in the city and a frugal 4.7 on the highway – hitting hybrid territory.

From the outside, the Audi A3 is handsome and sleek. A trapezoidal grille with Audi's four rings takes centre stage at the front. My tester has an optional S line sport package that adds muscular five-spoke, 18-inch wheels and performance tires, sport suspension, sport seats and a black headliner. But the package costs $2,000; if you're on a budget, you might want to skip the extras.

The A3's cabin is attractive – understated, but elegant. The materials are solid and don't feel cheap. The instruments are clear and easy to read, even in the dark. A beefy three-spoke leather steering wheel with paddle shifters feels firm in the hands – dials and buttons on the steering wheel let you access the radio easily without letting go of the wheel. It's easier to use than searching through all the buttons and dials on the centre console, which is a bit too busy for my tastes. It can be distracting and confusing at times to find functions fast.

My top trim tester is well-equipped, but even the base model won't disappoint. It comes with cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, sky roof, heated front seats and leather seats as standard features.

Inside, there's room for five passengers. The two front seats are supportive and spacious, even on long drives. The rear seats, however, are tight for three adults, especially shoulder-room. Two people would be more comfortable.

The cargo space is large – there's 370 litres, which is more than some sedans. There's enough space for golf bags or suitcases, but if you need more you can drop the rear seats for 1,100 litres of space. The rear seats, however, don't fold completely flat. When you lift the hatch, it raises nice and high, out of head banging range.

On the safety front, the A3 excels. Besides having bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, fog lamps in the lower front bumper, six airbags, ABS, brake assist and electronic stability control, the A3 is a 2012 Top Safety Pick from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received a good rating – the highest rating a vehicle can get in front, side, rollover and rear crash tests.

The Audi A3 is a practical hatchback with style and substance.

2012 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI Quattro

Type: Luxury compact hatchback

Base Price: $37,500; as tested, $39,950

Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, turbocharged, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 200 hp/207 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.6 city; 7.5 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Mini Cooper, Volvo C30, Mercedes-Benz B-Class, Lexus CT200h