2015 Audi A3 and S3 at the 2013 New York Auto Show

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  • Competes with: BMW 1 Series, Buick Verano, Mercedes-Benz CLA250, Acura ILX
  • Looks like: A remarkably nice update of the model that established this growing segment
  • Drivetrain: Turbocharged 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engines and 2.0-liter clean-diesel four-cylinder; six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; front- or all-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: Early 2014

While other manufacturers steered clear of subcompact luxury cars, Audi took the plunge in 2006 and held fast with its A3 hatchback, and lo and behold, other brands have joined the party. Now Audi has redesigned the A3, which will be sold in the U.S. primarily as a sedan for the first time. Another first, it will come in an S3 performance version.

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Though the redesigned A3’s world debut is scheduled for next month at the Shanghai Motor Show, Audi gave an exclusive preview to journalists on the eve of the New York International Auto Show’s press days. The sedan, and its S3 sibling, aren’t even going to appear at the New York show. After our time with the cars, they were immediately, uh, Shanghaied.

Audi developed the A3 sedan with the U.S. and China in mind, so naturally it couldn’t be small. It’s grown 6.5 inches in length versus the current hatchback to 175.5 inches and almost 2 inches in wheelbase to 103.4 inches. That’s about 10 inches shorter than the current A4 sedan. Audi says the next-generation hatchback will also return, but not until the end of 2014 and only as a plug-in hybrid.

The sedan will offer three gasoline and one diesel engine in the U.S., all turbocharged four-cylinders. The A3 will get a 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter that run on gas, and a 2.0-liter clean diesel in the TDI version. The new S3 performance version will get a high-output version of the 2.0-liter gas engine. Currently power estimates have been determined only for the 1.8-liter, at 170 horsepower, and the diesel, at 150 horsepower.

Though a manual transmission is offered overseas, the U.S. will get only the six-speed S tronic dual-clutch automated manual. For the first time, the new A3 includes Audi Drive select, whose four modes — Auto, Dynamic, Comfort and Individual — vary power-steering assist, accelerator sensitivity and shift points.

The A3 comes with front- or Quattro all-wheel drive, and the lower-output 2.0-liter will pair with optional Quattro in the A3. The S3 comes only with Quattro.

Though Audi says the new generation will be up to 17 percent more efficient than its predecessor, that’s for the European versions. Some of Audi’s engines run different cycles in the U.S. to control emissions, which can lower efficiency. We won’t know for sure what we’ll get until EPA testing is conducted.

Audi emphasizes that the A3 may be relatively small and affordable, but it won’t short buyers on features or luxury. Standard features include leather upholstery, a split-folding backseat, Bluetooth, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a panoramic moonroof. Also standard is the latest Multi-Media Interface. MMI employs a thin, 7-inch display that motors up from the dashboard. The A3 adds the touch-pad introduced by the A8 sedan; here it’s incorporated atop the familiar knob that’s the basis for all MMI systems.

Options include a navigation system, Bang & Olufsen stereo, blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control and Wi-Fi functionality for up to eight devices using 4G LTE connectivity.

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Photo of Joe Wiesenfelder
Former Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a launch veteran, led the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE. Email Joe Wiesenfelder

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