Length is up by 18mm over the previous shape A3 Sportback, width by 20mm and 58mm for the wheelbase

Length is up by 18mm over the previous shape A3 Sportback, width by 20mm and 58mm for the wheelbase

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It seems hardly a month goes by when there isn’t one new form or another of the new Audi A3 being announced. Glenn Brooks, who attended the UK launch of the Sportback, looks at what's ahead for the local importer's best selling model.

Can it really be just over a year since the third generation of this C segment model first appeared at the Geneva motor show? Six months later, the Sportback turned up at the Paris motor show, and most recently we saw the international debut of the first ever A3 saloon, a car that will come to the UK later in 2013. No mention yet of a replacement for the cabrio but it’s a safe bet that it won’t be too far off.

The UK is due to receive quattro variants just before Christmas, while Germany and certain other markets will have a CNG-petrol bifuel model, the A3 g-tron, from year-end. The A3 e-tron, a turbocharged plug-in hybrid follows in 2014. The 1.4-litre petrol engine and electric motor variant will be for Europe and the US, and it will come as a Sportback only.

Let’s not also forget the S3 and S3 Sportback, as well as the S3 saloon. The S3 was launched across Europe in early 2013, while the S3 Sportback is due in German showrooms from August and UK ones in time for the new 53 plate. The S3 Sedan will be on sale in LHD European countries from late 2013 and in the UK from early 2014. Cars for the US will follow later next year. Will there be an RS 3? Considering that the Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG boasts 360hp compared to 300 for the S3, you do wonder how long Audi can hold off before topping that.

Britain is one of Audi’s best global markets and the old-shape A3 five-door was especially popular here. The company has done something clever to distinguish the Sportback from the A3 – for the first time it has a longer wheelbase. That 2,637mm between the front and rear wheelarches is not only a 36mm stretch over the three-door car but it also applies to the saloon. As the four-door car’s main global markets will be the US and China, the extra roomy interiors demanded by buyers there should go down a treat. Audi of America in fact, has chosen not to import a direct replacement for its A3 Sportback and will instead wait for the sedan – a better fit for its customers.

Some trivia about those two wheelbases and an interesting point about the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform. Did you know that the three-door version of the Golf sits on the longer wheelbase, while the A3 and the new SEAT León SC (another three-door hatchback) do not? Not sure why, though I did ask the VW press people on the car’s UK launch but there wasn’t a clear answer. The new SEAT León (five-door) also has the lengthier version of this architecture. It should also be the basis of next year’s TT as well as a variety of other future Group models.

AU360 is the most global A3 yet, with build taking place in not only Ingolstadt (Germany) and Györ (Hungary), just as it did for the second generation car, but also in China for the first time. The FAW Volkswagen JV's new Foshan plant in Guangdong province will start making the saloon and Sportback alongside the new Golf this northern hemisphere summer.

Most of the UK’s A3s are or will be sourced from Audi’s main plant in Germany but the parent company has been busy greatly expanding the capacity of its Hungarian factory in anticipation of higher global A3 sales. The site’s manufacturing capacity has just risen to 125,000 units. Formerly it was something of a specialist operation, building mainly the low volume Cabrio. Incidentally, hatchback versions of the A3 are built at Ingolstadt, while sedans for North America and Europe will come from Györ.

One of the big changes of the new shape model is a major weight loss. Version for version, this is claimed to be around 90kg and that comes from all sorts of areas. Examples include the use of hot-shaped steel in the occupant cell, as well as aluminium for the front wings, bonnet and front axle subframe. The car itself is slightly longer, wider and taller than the old model, while the Sportback’s boot has an extra 10 litres of cubic capacity (now 380, which is 15 more than the A3), making the weight loss all the more impressive.

A 1.6 TDI engine, already available in the A3, joins the Sportback range from May. When paired with a manual gearbox, it not only delivers an official CO2 average of 99g/km but up to a claimed 74.3mpg. For now, a 1.4 TFSI is the smallest petrol engine, and thanks to its aluminium block, there is a 21kg weight loss compared to the previous unit of the same capacity. In the summer two further TFSI engines join the existing 180PS 1.8. These are a 105PS 1.2 and a 140PS 1.4 with Cylinder-on-Demand (COD). Audi says that the deactivation of the second and third cylinders at low to intermediate loads and when coasting play a big part in the 1.4 TFSI returning up to a stated 60.1mpg.

The local importer expects 65% of Sportback orders will be from the fleet market, while the overall engine mix is anticipated as being 40% 2.0 TDI. Audi says that variant attracts the lowest BIK company car liability in its class, at 15%. Prices start at GBP19,825 for the 1.4 TFSI 122PS six-speed manual in SE trim, and rise to £27,180 for the 1.8 TFSI 180PS seven-speed S tronic S line.