Special Coverage

Geneva
Auto Show

GENEVA – Audi styling chief Stefan Sielaff says the A3 sedan concept, unveiled at the auto show here, is ideally suited for the U.S. market, and that a production version likely will arrive in 2013.

The concept reflects the first iteration of the new A3 architecture, meaning the sedan is getting a higher priority than the hatchback. There’s no word yet on when the new hatchback will be unveiled.

The current A3 only is available in a 5-door Sportback, or hatchback, body style and serves as Audi’s entry-level model. In the U.S., sales have disappointed since the A3 launched in 2005.

Sales were up 69.3% in 2010, to 6,558 units, growth Audi says was due almost entirely to the introduction of a diesel model. Still, the volume places the A3 near the bottom of Ward’s Lower Luxury car segment.

But the A3 experiment proves U.S. luxury-car buyers are not interested in anything resembling a hatchback, even if it’s given a more upscale name. A sedan version should be more popular in the U.S., Sielaff tells Ward’s.

“In China and the U.S., this will be the main volume,” he says of the sedan concept. “I’m not a marketing expert, but this is what we’ve been discussing the whole time when we did this car.”

Audi describes the A3 as a 4-seat “notchback sedan” measuring 14.6 ft. (4.4 m) long, with a low, wide stance.

The wheelbase measures 8.6 ft. (2.6 m), but Sielaff lets slip that a cabriolet version of the A3 will have a wheelbase that is 1.4 ins. (3.5 cm) shorter. It is unclear whether the convertible version will be offered in the U.S.

In concept form, the A3 has a 5-cyl. 2.5L turbocharged, direct-injection gasoline engine producing 408 hp and 369 lb.-ft. (500 Nm) of torque. Audi says the concept sprints to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 4.1 seconds.

Power is routed to the quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system via a compact 7-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission.

Fuel consumption, rated at 26 mpg (9.1 L/100 km), is boosted by a regulated oil pump, the intelligent Audi thermo-management system and an energy-recovery system.

The sheet metal resembles the current A4, which sells considerably better than the A3 but still lags rivals by a wide margin in the U.S.

But Sielaff says he sees enough differentiation between the concept and A4 for both to court specific customers.

“We have a policy at Audi to do a family resemblance, a genetic code of sorts,” he says. “The car first should be an Audi, then we see where it fits in the model hierarchy.”

He points to the flared fenders that hint at the power under the hood, as well as two prominent lines accentuating the flank. Broad, flat taillights are sculptured and flow into a spoiler edge on the tailgate.

The doors, hood and tailgate are made of aluminum. Audi says the extra stiff body delivers precise handling, excellent vibrational comfort and a low curb weight of 3,395 lbs. (1,540 kg).

Inside proportions are generous, thanks to the long wheelbase. Sielaff says the cockpit was designed to give an impression of lightness and airiness. Four large, round air vents above the center stack punctuate the instrument panel.

The driver-information system includes an 8-in. (20-cm) display screen that can be programmed by the user and controlled by a touch pad.

The concept, with its cream-colored leather, looks sophisticated and futuristic. But Sielaff says about 85% of the interior content likely will make its way into the production vehicle.

“Maybe not all the features,” he says. “We used a lot of real aluminum because there was a lot of model building in this car.”

tmurphy@wardsauto.com