2015 Audi A3 and S3: Up Close

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It's one thing to hear automotive executives liken their entry-level luxury car to their largest luxury car, but it's quite another to, sort of, agree with them. The new Audi A3 sedan is no A8, but it's a heck of a lot more luxurious and feature-packed than you'd expect it to be.

The new compact sedan is 6.5 inches longer than the current A3 hatchback, and the designers endeavored to make the new sedan appear longer, with a creased hood that comes pretty far forward to meet the grille. From many angles it does the trick, but if you view the car's profile, it still has the stubbiness associated with front-wheel drive. Modest fender flares give the car a sporty, broad look.

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The white A3 TDI at the preview was equivalent to a well-equipped Premium Plus model, so it didn't represent the base trim level, but Audi says the greatest visual difference is smaller wheels. Checkmark-shaped LED running lights are an Audi signature (though everyone seems to be copying them). The red, sportier S3 wears LED headlights, which won't be standard on the A3.

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The front seats have plenty of travel, so legroom is fine for tall occupants — definitely better than the current generation. With those seats set for reasonable front legroom, but not all the way back, I was able to get into the backseat, but it was snug. (I got my foot caught when attempting to get out.) I'm 6 feet tall, and my hair was just brushing the ceiling.

The center floor hump is exceptionally high, so it's best to think of the A3 and S3 as four-seaters. When the hatchback returns late in 2014 as a plug-in hybrid, Audi says, it will have the same exterior and seating dimensions as the sedan.

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The trunk seems enormous for a car of this size — an attribute many automakers use to justify a lack of folding rear seats. That's not the case here; they're standard equipment.

The cabin is definitely luxurious, especially compared with the current A3, which is merely a hair richer than an uplevel Volkswagen Golf. Aluminum trim is genuine and, true to Audi form, is machined to an interesting texture. The air-conditioning vents aren't quite as impressive; their elaborate design allows you to adjust airflow diffusion, not just the overall volume of air as typical Audi vents do. They just seemed brittle to me. Audi says these vents might not be on the U.S. versions.

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The main interior differences between the A3 and S3 include the S3's flat-bottom steering wheel and diamond-stitched sport seats. The A3 has a power driver's seat; the S3's is manual, including a height adjustment. Sadly, the six-speed manual in the A3 we photographed will not be coming to the U.S.

The super-thin MMI display emerges from underneath a trapdoor atop the dashboard — nice and high, bright and crisp. I wasn't convinced when I heard the A8-style touch-pad had been incorporated into the rotary knob controller, but it actually feels pretty natural. It's wide and nicely accented with an illuminated ring. It's interesting to see the latest iteration of MMI in Audi's most modest product, but of course, other models could always see an upgrade before these arrive.

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