by: JOHN M. VINCENT - Styled for the U.S. market, the Audi A3 is more conservatively clothed than many in the class.The compact luxury segment of the car industry barely existed a few years ago. Now it’s one of the fastest growing, with entries that include the Acura ILX, Mercedes CLA and the BMW 2 Series. But it’s Audi that’s set to blow the doors off the segment with the new A3 sedan. Intended to bring younger buyers into the brand, the A3 has a starting price of $29,900.

Part of a series that will grow to include a convertible, diesel, performance sedan and plug-in hybrid sportback, the A3 sedan will arrive at dealers in April.

Of course the newest Audi has the clean, minimalist design that we’ve come to expect and the confident handling that’s a hallmark of the brand, but it also brings a new level of technology and connectivity to the segment. By partnering with some of the biggest names in electronics, Audi has created a platform that is just as nimble with its technology as it is with its handling.

Through a partnership with AT&T, the A3 will be one of the first vehicles on the road to feature available high-speed 4G LTE telematics connectivity. It connects directly to the car, rather than through the driver’s smart phone, and feeds data to the optional Audi Connect system. A3s equipped with the system receive 6 months of the service for free. Owners will then have the option of a 6-month/5Gb plan for $99 or a 30-month/30Gb plan for $499.

The A3 carries the newest generation of Audi Connect, with full data streaming and search capabilities. Audi has a long relationship with Google, and that partnership extends into the A3 with the seamless integration of Google Earth and Street View images. Those images are presented clearly and smoothly on an ultra-slim screen that pops up from the center of the dash using state of the art graphics technology from NVidia.

Audi connect also acts as an in-vehicle WiFi hot spot, allowing connectivity for up to 8 devices. This utility is limited, however, by only a single available power port up front and a lack of USB ports to keep those devices charged.

A smartphone app extends the capabilities of the system, allowing hands-free integration of enhanced features. One of those features is “picture navigation.” Say my geographically challenged brother finds this great new barbeque restaurant, but doesn’t know the address. He can simply send me a photo of the delectable ribs, and my Audi A3 can use the photo’s embedded geographic information to guide me to savory bliss.

If you do know the address, you can simply enter it by handwriting it on the center of the A3’s MMI control dial. There’s no spinning an alphabet dial, just write with your fingertip and the system will recognize the letters.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - Two engines are available in the 2015 Audi A3, a 1.8-liter turbo (shown) and a 2.0-liter turbo.There are two powertrains currently offered. The base 1.8-liter turbo produces 170-horsepower and a healthy 200 ft-lbs. of torque across a wide band. Power is put to the front wheels through a 6-speed s tronic dual-clutch gearbox. The transmission drives like a traditional automatic, but with lightning-fast gear changes and the ability to be manually shifted. For spirited driving steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters would be a welcome addition, but they’re not available, nor is there a traditional manual gearbox option.

Stepping up to the 220-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo also gets you Audi’s venerable Quattro all wheel-drive system. Torque is bumped to 258 ft-lbs from 1,600 to 4,400 rpm. The 2.0T also utilizes the s tronic dual-clutch gearbox.

In a couple of days of carving canyon roads along the San Andreas fault between Palo Alto and the California coast, I had a chance to get behind the wheel of both drivetrains. The 1.8T is perfectly capable and composed, although it does show some manageable torque steer when you get enthusiastic. For the northwest, and its unpredictable weather, I’d opt for the more powerful 2.0T if just for the security of the Quattro AWD system.

There’s Macpherson strut suspension up front and multilink in back. Electronic stability control is able to apply a slight amount of braking to the inside front wheel to help twist the A3 through corners. On the drive route’s endless supply of rhythmic medium-speed corners the A3 never lost its confidence. Its electromechanical power steering is weighted well for the intended audience, although some serious drivers might find the standard setup just a touch too light. Audi Drive Select is optional and allows drivers to alter the throttle response, shift points and that steering effort to fine tune the A3 for different driving scenarios.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - The 2015 Audi A3's navigation screen rises electrically from a thin slot in the top of the dash.The A3 sedan’s conservative, yet athletic exterior design has been tailored specifically for the U.S. market. HID headlights and taillights are standard, with full LED headlights available. Audi pioneered the use of distinctive lighting graphic patterns and the A3 is easily identifiable, whether coming or going.

Audi’s minimalist design extends into the cabin, where it’s executed with a high degree of elegance and quality. Behind the thick three-spoke steering wheel is a simple gauge cluster with a customizable central display. Four large, chrome-ringed round air vents act as highlights along the dash width, while the circular MMI control dial anchors the center console. At only 7mm thick, the pop-up navigation screen topping the dash matches the sleek interior design. Leather seating is standard and a 705-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system is available.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive with ample room for all but the tallest drivers while the back seat is expectedly tight. There’s only so much room in the compact platform, and Audi rightly elected to give it to the folks up front.

The available selection of safety and driver assistance equipment is uncommon for the class and includes adaptive cruise control with full stop and go, blind spot warning, and lane control assist. A rear view camera is optional.

2015 Audi A3

Models: A3 Sedan. (A3 Cabriolet, S3, A3 TDI Clean Diesel, and A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid within the next 16 months.)

Base price: 1.8-liter turbo front wheel-drive, $29,900. 2.0-liter turbo quattro AWD $32,900.

Type: 5-passenger 4-door compact front or all wheel-drive sedan

Length: 175.4 inches

Weight: 3,175-3,362

EPA Estimated Mileage: 1.8L FWD 23 city/33 highway/27 combined, 2.0L Quattro 24/33/27.

Final Assembly: Ingolstadt, Germany

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