Lux hatchbacks: New Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-class (photos)
Both Audi and Mercedes-Benz showed updates to their lower-end vehicles at the 2012 Geneva auto show. Both the A3 and A-class compete with hatchback versatility and premium cabin technology.
The cheapest car Audi sells in the U.S., the A3 is getting a major update for the 2013 model year. Audi revealed the first body type, a three-door hatchback, to get the update at the 2012 Geneva auto show. Earlier this year, at CES, Audi whetted our appetites by showing off the cabin tech that would be going into the new A3, without revealing the whole car.
In this three-door type, the length and height remain the same as the current model, but Audi stretched the wheelbase and widened the stance. When the five-door model is unveiled, it will probably follow suit with similar length as the current five-door, but include the longer wheelbase.
Audi announced three engines for the European market, 1.8- and 1.4-liter gas engines and a 2-liter diesel, all turbocharged. The 1.8-liter represents a downsizing from the current 2-liter, which should enhance fuel economy. Audi says these engines are all new, suggesting even the 2-liter diesel has been updated.
The most impressive aspect of the new A3 is that, although it is on the lower end of the model lineup, Audi does not skimp on cabin tech. The available navigation system includes the same connected Google Earth integration as in the A6, A7, and A8. Audi is also offering many driver assistance features, such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.
This car displayed at the show does not have the navigation option, so the menu items appearing on the LCD are minimal. But the LCD is standard, an LED-backlit screen that rises up out of the dashboard when in use.
The dial and buttons below the shifter are Audi's multimedia interface (MMI), the means of controlling content on the LCD. The top of the dial is a touchpad, letting you enter letters and make other selections on the screen.
Very impressive is the available Bang & Olufsen audio system, which has 705 watts of amplification and 14 speakers. Although a 900-euro (about $1,183) option in Europe, the audio quality is excellent, with finely detailed reproduction and solid bass.
Mercedes-Benz has sold the A-class in Europe for years, but never in the U.S. But at last year's New York auto show, the company revealed an A-class concept, the venue suggesting the A-class could appear at U.S. dealers. If so, it will give the Audi A3 heavy competition as an attractive, luxury compact car.
As shown in Europe, the A-class can be had with three different gas engines, as well as diesel engine options. The gas engines are a 1.6 and a 2-liter, both using direct injection and turbocharging. The A-class will be sold as the A180, A200, and A250, with horsepower ranging from 115 to 211.
A-class models will be further differentiated by trim levels: Urban, Style, and Sport. The Sport trim, shown here, was engineered by Mercedes-Benz's AMG division, which developed a completely different front axle to improve handling.
Mercedes-Benz gives the little A-class the full tech treatment, so buyers of a lower-end car will not have to do without useful features. Radar-based collision prevention actually comes standard on the A-class, at least in the European market. In addition, it can be equipped with blind-spot detection and automatic parallel parking.
The LCD mounted in the car not only shows the standard Mercedes-Benz menu paradigm, but does it with a much improved aesthetic style over the current Mercedes-Benz interface. This look should filter out to other Mercedes-Benz models.
Mercedes-Benz says its app will fully integrate the iPhone with the car, giving drivers access to the iPhone's full functionality, with other types of phones to follow. That would be an impressive feat, although there will probably be some restrictions on what you can do while driving.