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car review

2014 Audi A3 sedanPetrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Audi has a lot riding on the A3 – it's a mainstay in the family, accounting for 20 per cent of Audi's sales worldwide.

Now the German auto maker is bringing its 2015 A3 sedan to North America next spring. But it arrives amid stiff, growing competition in the luxury compact car market from rivals such as Mercedes-Benz's CLA-Class, which comes out this fall for $33,900. Audi aims to stay one step ahead of the competition with its fuel-efficient four-bangers, attractive design, and gadgets galore in the A3. While prices haven't been announced yet, I'm banking the A3 will be competitively positioned and perhaps a little less than the latest Benz.

The A3 sedan rolls off the assembly line along with the Audi TT in Gyor in north-western Hungary. Audi Hungaria is the world's largest engine production plant. It marks a major milestone this year – its 20th anniversary. In 2012, more than 1.9 million engines and 33,553 vehicles were manufactured in Gyor.

When it comes to the A3 sedan, Europeans get more engine choices than Canadians. We'll get three turbocharged four-cylinder engines – two TFSI gas units and one diesel. The 1.8-litre TFSI gas engine delivers 180 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque and is paired to a front-wheel-drive or Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The bigger 2.0-litre TFSI produces 211 hp and 258 torque and comes with Quattro all-wheel-drive. While the a 2.0-litre TDI diesel power plant gets 150 ponies and 236 lb-ft of torque in a front-wheel-drive configuration. All engines come with one transmission choice – a six-speed S Tronic dual-clutch gearbox.

I begin my drive in an A3 sedan, powered by a 1.8-litre TFSI mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Here's the bad news: The stick won't be offered in North America. It's a shame because it's a nice, smooth shifter with short throws. Still, the base engine is spunky, yet fuel-efficient, rated at 5.6 litres/100 km combined highway and city driving.

If you really want to save fuel, the 2.0 TDI is the way to go. Sure, it won't break any speed records, hitting 0-100 km in 8.7 seconds. But what it lacks in instant acceleration it makes up for in fuel economy savings. With a rating of only 4.1 litres/100 km combined driving (equivalent to 108 grams of CO2/km) it'll save you serious cash at the pumps while reducing your carbon footprint. Plus, the ride and handling are amazing.

My TDI tester has the six-speed dual-clutch automatic. It shifts through the gears smoothly, without any break in propulsive power. The ride is firm, yet controlled; the steering tight. The sedan is agile and nimble and the diesel engine quiet and refined – it feels and sounds like a gas-powered vehicle. When stopped, innovative features such as a start-stop system automatically kicks in, killing the engine to save fuel.

Other cool gadgets designed to keep you safer on the road include a radar-based adaptive cruise control system, which maintains a set speed from the vehicle ahead. The system accelerates and brakes automatically – the driver doesn't even need to touch a pedal. Audi side assist helps with lane changes. At speeds above 30 km/h, radar sensors monitor what is happening at the rear from as far away as 70 metres. If there's a vehicle in your blind spot or one approaching quickly, a light illuminates and flashes in the side-view mirror to warn it's not safe to change lanes. Audi active lane assist identifies lane markings on the road via a video camera. If a driver approaches a lane marking at speeds above 65 km/h without activating the turn signal, the system will intervene by coaxing the driver to remain in their lane. A park-assist system with surround-view camera also comes in handy when parallel parking in tight spots.

The A3 sedan has a sporty stance on the road. At the front end is a single-frame radiator grille, wedge-shaped headlights and large air intakes; at the rear, a spoiler and twin exhaust tailpipes give it a sporty look. All-LED headlights and LED taillights are optional.

With a 2.64-metre wheelbase and an overall length of 4.46 metres, the A3 sedan is a nice compact size, which makes parking a cinch. Yet, it's big on space inside. The interior is clean, uncluttered, and sophisticated in its design and layout. Large round air vents are sporty and modern. The MMI infotainment system with the navigation comes with a sleek seven-inch screen that extends automatically from the instrument panel when you start the engine and disappears beautifully when you turn off the engine.

The two front seats are supportive and well-padded, but the rear seats are cramped for three adults – two is optimal for ample shoulder- and leg-room. The cargo area is also roomy. With 425 litres, there's plenty of space for golf clubs or grocery bags. The area also can be extended by dropping the split-folding rear seats.

The 2015 Audi A3 sedan will go on sale in April, 2014, followed by the high-performance Audi S3 sedan. Unfortunately you'll have to say goodbye to the smart and practical A3 hatchback. After 2013, it'll be replaced with the Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid.

Tech Specs

2015 Audi A3 sedan (TDI trim)

Type: Four-door, five-passenger luxury compact sedan

Price: Not available

Engine: 2.0-litre, turbo-diesel, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 150 hp/236 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4.1 combined city/highway; diesel

Alternatives: Mercedes-Benz CLA, Acura ILX, BMW 1-Series, Buick Verano