Let the compact luxury wars begin.
With the sedans, Audi and Mercedes are entering a pitched competition for younger luxury buyers in the United States. Luxury brands usually worry that a move toward the mass market will take away from their exclusivity, but Audi of America President Scott Keogh insists the A3 will not compromise Audi's image once it goes on sale next year.
"We have delivered a car that absolutely matches the quality, the fit, the finish and technology of a full, 100 percent luxury car," Keogh said in an interview last month at the Frankfurt auto show.
Audi charges a $895 destination fee, so the full sticker price for the A3 will be $30,795, just $30 less than the $30,825 that Mercedes charges for the CLA, with shipping.
With no differentiation on price, Audi's marketers intend to strike the CLA on luxury.
Keogh says the A3 has a technological lead with features such as push-button start -- not available in the CLA -- and will come standard with a panoramic sunroof, leather seats and bi-xenon headlights.
Audi claims an aesthetic advantage as well. "We have a screen that's as thin as an iPhone, fully retractable coming out of the dash, made of magnesium -- a stunning piece of engineering," Keogh said. "What they put on? You can debate it, but it's basically just a rubber piece screwed on a screen, and the screen's just sitting on the dash … People will see the difference."
Consumers won't be able to comparison-shop the two models for a while longer, as the A3 won't go on sale until March or April. The CLA went on sale Sept. 20 and raced out of the gate, with 2,310 units sold by the end of that month.
Along with the Q3 crossover, which will arrive in late 2014, the A3 is crucial to Audi's plans for growing to the size of archrivals Mercedes, BMW and Lexus. But those brands, too, are moving down-market to extend their sales leads.
"We did not come to a volume price point to do niche volume," Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, recently told Automotive News. "As we ramp up, we see the volume potential of at least 30,000 over the course of time."