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photoA sedan in hatchback country

Not so long ago, cars like Audi, BMW and Mercedes were the stuff of posters on little boys’ walls. Nowadays, it seems that wherever you look, you can spot one of these luxury-brand vehicles. Despite the slump in the Indian car market, the luxury segment has done well, and manufacturers are now seeing the commercial sense in bringing in their smaller, entry-level cars to woo a larger customer base.

Mercedes brought in the B-class and A-class, BMW the 1-series and Mini Cooper, but Audi was a little slower to fall in line. That is now changing. Audi is bringing a sedan, the A3, as its entry-level offering, a contrast to the luxury hatchback offerings from the others.

At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the A3 for one of its larger siblings. In your rear-view mirror, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for an A4 or A6. The large hexagonal grille, the bi-xenon headlamps and sharp bonnet lines are familiar. The arched glass area (windshield) looks like a smaller version of the A6 as well. But once you’re a little closer, you notice the differences. It’s much smaller and would compare with any of the mid-size sedans around. The daytime-running LEDs and a blackened portion of the roof give it a really smart look.

On the inside too, the A3 impresses with equipment and quality. The dash is similar to the Audi TT. There are some interesting touches like the funky turbine-like air vents and an interesting inlay on the dash that looks like glass but is a patterned plastic. The 7-inch multimedia screen pops out of the dash as you start the car and all the toggles are near the gear lever. It also comes with the scribble pad on the surface of the large central dial, which recognizes the worst handwriting and makes getting phone contacts fun and easy. Extra goodies are a sunroof and cruise control. Overall, the quality is good and, on the inside, you feel like you are in a premium car.

The A3 may be a sedan but it’s built on the platform of a hatch. The boot serves its purpose, for it’s a large, 425-litre space that swallows a lot. But the space in the back seat is comparable only to the competition’s hatchbacks. This could be one drawback.

The 1.8-litre TFSI is a bomb of an engine—responsive, quick and punchy. From the moment you accelerate, you get pinned to the back of your seat, surfing a massive wave of torque all the way to the redline. This refined, smooth power plant is always happy to serve up power whenever you demand it, and as a result, feels very drivable. However, because it’s ever so happy to leap forward, it can get a little jerky in stop-start traffic—it just takes some getting used to. The power actually comes in cleanly from 1,500 revolutions per minute and the 100-kilometre per hour mark is reached in just 7.3 seconds.

The 1.8-litre will please purists, but for the core practical, there is a 2-litre diesel as well. Audi is now using a new nomenclature based on the kind of performance an engine serves up. So this 2.0-litre diesel is now referred to as the A3 35 TDI, and the petrol as A3 40 TFSI. Simply put, the larger the number, the quicker the car.

Power delivery on the diesel is different from that on the petrol; the meat is really in the mid range. It doesn’t have the shove-you-in-your-seat kind of torque, but is more linear. There’s a bit of turbo lag, but it’s never bothersome, and even winding its way through traffic, the diesel seemed at ease. Out on the open highway, it cruised comfortably and got to high speeds effortlessly. The beauty of this engine, though, is in its refinement. It’s often hard to tell it’s a diesel.

The seven-speed, S-tronic, dual-clutch transmission in sport mode is a joy, shifting deftly up and down the range. In fact, it’s happy to drop down two gears in a flash to serve you a delicious platter of power when you want a quick overtake. It changes cogs seamlessly, but the fly in the ointment is that it won’t hold a gear in any mode—it shifts up automatically as soon as it hits the redline, not letting you flatten the throttle. But with all the spirited driving, we missed the paddle shifters—these might be something Audi would want to offer soon.

On the windy sections of the back roads we were testing on, the Audi showed us its other talents too. Taking corners at higher than expected speeds, feeling perfectly planted at all times. Although there was a hint of body roll, it always felt well in control. The car responds well to steering inputs, but a little more feedback to the driver would have made it more exciting. The A3 also impressed with the way it dealt with crater-filled roads; the ride quality leaves you feeling quite distanced from a bad road.

It’s easy to be impressed by the A3, especially once you’ve been behind the wheel.

The Audi A3 has been officially launched in India, with prices starting at 22.95 lakh for the entry level diesel 35TDI Attraction trim. The top line diesel variant, 35TDI Technology is priced at 32.66 lakh. There is only one version in petrol - 40TFSI Premium Plus, with a price tag of 28.95 lakh. If you are looking for a luxury compact car, this is the one to buy.

(All prices ex-showroom New Delhi)

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