The new Audi A3 sedan, pictured, isn't a replacement for the old hatchback; it's a relaunch of the original A4.
MARK RECHTIN

Audi backfills lineup with new A3

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Mark Rechtin is West Coast editor of Automotive News
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NEW YORK -- The auto industry is full of creeps.

By that, I mean automakers that engage in the phenomenon known as "segment creep" -- that gradual increase in vehicle size with each subsequent generation of product. Example: The current Honda Civic is as large as a '90s-era Accord.

So it's heartening to see Audi engage in a bit of lineup backfilling with the redesigned A3 that will arrive in early 2014.

As a former Audi A3 hatchback owner, I was conflicted about Audi's decision to eliminate the hatchback from the lineup, to be replaced by a sedan.

The styling of the outgoing A3 hatch was unique in the market. It was crisp, angular, and it stood out. But A3s were like dinosaur sightings. No one else wanted to dive into a segment that routinely sold hundreds of units a month. They were rare indeed -- except in San Francisco, where the A3 was the starter car for the dot-com set.

Then I realized that the new A3 sedan isn't a replacement for the old hatchback; it's a relaunch of the original A4. With a 104-inch wheelbase and 176-inch overall length, the 2014 A3 is barely smaller than the 2000 model year A4 -- a fantastic car that got the brand rolling in America once again.

What's more, with advances in packaging, the A3's interior space feels roomier than the old A4. A 6-footer can sit in the backseat with a 6-footer driving. That's a task that many larger cars struggle to accomplish.

"The only thing compact about the A3 is its size," said Heiko Pabst von Ohain, Audi AG head of product marketing. He was referring to a dramatic upgrade of the interior and the telematics.

The outgoing A3 was pretty Stone Age as telematics went. There was Bluetooth and satellite radio, and that was about it. The new A3 will have navigation with street view, a cell phone signal booster and an available 750-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo. You can use your finger to spell your destination on the scroll wheel in the center console so you don't take your eyes off the road.

Sure, the A3 hatchback will make a return in a plug-in hybrid version, but it's clear that Audi's U.S. focus will be on the sedan.

Executives wouldn't say how many A3s they plan to sell when the sedan goes on sale in early 2014, but Audi of America CEO Scott Keogh said the A3 will be the "catalyst" for Audi to reach 200,000 sales "far, far before 2020."

Maybe there's room for a cool little hatchback -- perhaps the A1 -- to drop in below the A3 here. There's room for creeps at the bottom end of the market, too.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter

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