Audi has launched a new five-door A3 hatchback line dubbed ‘Sportback’. European sales begin shortly and the first right-hand drive cars reach the UK market in September.


Audi says the new five-portal body shell has more rear knee and head room and increased luggage capacity than the three-door yet retains the “sporting bias” of the shorter model which has been on sale throughout Europe for about a year.


The five-door is longer than the three-door and, in an apparent dig at BMW’s upcoming rear-drive 1-series line, Audi says its rival A3 is “likely to be more roomy than forthcoming premium compact competitors, thanks in part to the 68 millimetre increase in body length, and also to the fact that engines are mounted transversely and drive the front wheels, minimising engine and transmission intrusion into the cabin”.


The five-door’s boot is 20 litres larger than the three-door’s with the standard folding rear seat lowered.


The five-door is the first A3 to feature the controversial ‘gaping’ one-piece grille launched with the new A6 sedan line – Audi refers to it as the ‘single frame’ grille.


The engines on offer are mostly familiar from the three-door A3 line fuel -efficient four-cylinder 1.6 FSI petrol unit, 250PS 3.2 V6 and torque-rich 2.0 TDI with 140PS, allied to five or six speed manual transmission, and optional six-speed tiptronic automatic transmission or innovative twin clutch direct shift gearbox (DSG).


New is a turbocharged 2.0 T FSI petrol unit developing 200PS of power and peak torque of 280Nm. Claimed 0-62mph (100km/h) acceleration time for this variant is 7.1 seconds while top speed is electronically limited to150mph.


Some models also have a ‘quattro’ four-wheel-drive option, which Audi claims is unique in the class.


Audi models these days have trim, equipment and option packages that are pretty much standard in the various markets around the world, apart from the detail variations to suit local preferences and regulations.


In the UK, the brand’s largest right-hand drive market, the A3 Sportback will be available in standard, SE and Sport trim, and will be offered with a wide range of optional extras ranging from a combined DVD satellite navigation system and MP3 music player to (from 2005) a two-piece ‘Open Sky’ glass sunroof system which will enable much of the roof section to be retracted for maximum fresh air (from 2005).