In 1996 Audi created this luxury niche for compact hatches when it introduced the A3.
The first A3 was an immediate success, and soon Audi's rivals followed - BMW with its 3 Series-based Compact, Mercedes with its C-Class Sports Coupé and Alfa with the 147.
Although the A3 is much the same size as the VW Golf, with which it shares its underpinnings, the car is more upmarket and luxurious.
And it's bang up to date, for the new A3 is the first car in the Volkswagen group to use the new Golf 5 platform.
But don't expect any big surprises - this car is more evolution than revolution.
At first glance the new model's design isn't at all radical - in fact it actually appears a bit conservative, not necessarily a bad thing.
Despite this obvious resemblance with the first generation model, the new A3 is classier, sportier and even more refined - and this is not only in terms of looks. The entire body is now tauter and more athletic in appearance.
Under the skin it features more modern technology and a new range of engines.
As predicted by Wheels24 Audi South Africa is introducing the new A3 in stages starting with a new 2-litre TDI model. Next year a 2-litre FSI and 3.2-litre V6 model will join the local line-up.
The new A3 shows Audi's new design direction and according to Audi it has the new "family resemblance".
The car's double grille, joined by vertical lines, hints at Audi's new design direction which includes a more vertical grille. This design will be even more prominent on the next A6 which is due for international release next year.
Other striking features of the new A3's front-end styling are the inward taper of the sides and the dynamic shaping of the clear-glass headlights. Overall this gives the car a confident and forceful character.
It is also a bigger car than before. Audi has lengthened the A3's wheelbase by 65 mm while its body is 30 mm wider. In terms of overall height the A3 was lowered by 10 mm.
Thanks to this the car now has an even more coupe-like look - which is even further enhanced by shorter body overhangs and the greater slope of the C-posts.
The rear end of the body is notable for a significant reduction in joint lines and a clear, graphic division of the surface areas.
The 2-litre TDI model also has 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels as standard.
The obvious benefit of the bigger dimensions is a larger interior with more space for front and rear passengers. There is plenty of space for leg, head an elbow room and four adults will fit comfortably in this three-door hatch.
The driving position is lower than before and the steering wheel is height and rake adjustable.
Furthermore the interior design appears sportier than before, and typically Audi, fit and finish are of high quality.
There are also a lot of TT styling cues such as the circular aluminium-look ventilation outlets. The interior door handles are also of brushed aluminium and the air-conditioner's rotary controls are aluminium-edged too.
The instrument cluster is compact in its dimensions, with a chronometer look. The new-design console-mounted "dog-leg" handbrake allows more console space to be utilised for things such as cupholders.
Standard equipment on the TDI includes "easy entry" front seats, electric windows and remote central locking. There are also electric climate control, and a sun screen for the rear window.
A host of optional items are also available such as satellite navigation, BOSE sound system, parking sensors, sunroof, leather or leather/Alcantara trim and seat heating.
The first A3 model to go on sale has a new 2-litre turbo-diesel engine. This four-cylinder unit has a power output of 103 kW at 4 000 r/min and a whacking 320 Nm of pulling power from 1 750 r/min to 2 500 r/min.
Top speed is 207 km/h and the car will got from 0-100 km/h in 9.5 seconds.
Higher injection pressures of up to 2.050 bar and the use of a variable blade geometry (VTG) turbocharger are the key to high torque even at low engine speeds.
These engines respond vividly to the accelerator, run up freely to high revs,and are highly efficient in operation.
This efficiency translates to low fuel consumption, with an overall average of 5.5-litre/100km.
The launch model features a slick six-speed manual gearbox and early next year it will also be available with Audi's new direct shift gearbox (DSG).
The A3 has a sports suspension setup an a new four-link rear suspension of totally new construction.
It also comes with a all-new high-precision servotronic electro-mechanical power steering, also of new design.
The 2.0 TDI, with its high torque over a very wide range of engine speeds, is a real pleasure to drive, urging you to push it to its limits.
This diesel engine offers decent performance for the size and weight of this car and one is surprised by its sheer strength of its mid-range acceleration making this A3 model a very nice overall cruiser.
Despite its diesel genes it feels, handles and performs with a sporty flavour.
The ride is firm and the A3 tackles all kind of corners with confidence and precision, offering exceptional road grip. This is thanks to the superb new rear suspension design.
Its road behaviour seems able and very safe and drivers will be satisfied with the overall ride.
Although some Audi fans may find the new A3's design a tad bit conservative it is definitely a trendsetter, offering a lot of elegance and class. Build quality is exceptional and the car has a solid feel to it.
Like its predecessor it is a cut above the rest and I think Audi will again have lots of success with the new model. The new A3 is a very desirable car and in the 2.0 TDI guise it offers a sporty, yet economical, ride.
The refined turbo-diesel model is in a league of its own, and very versatile.
Although it is probably too early to say, we predict that the TDI A3 will be the most popular in the range when the line-up is completed with the arrival of the 2.0 FSI and 3.2 V6 models next year.
The big question mark hangs over Audi's use of turbo-charging in its A3 petrol models. Is this gone forever - or are we going to see some stunning "super sports" A3 turbo models in the future?
2.0 TDI 6-speed Manual: R234 500 (November 2003)2.0 TDI DSG: estimated at R250 500 (March 2004)
2.0 FSI 6-speed Manual, Attraction: estimated at R202 000 (May 2004)
2.0 FSI Tiptronic, Attraction: estimated at R215 000 (May 2004)
2.0 FSI 6-speed Manual, Ambition: estimated at R 212 000 (May 2004)
2.0 FSI Tiptronic, Ambition: estimated at R225 000 (May 2004)
3.2 V6 6-speed Manual: estimated at R306 500 (August 2004)
3.2 V6 DSG: estimated at R322 500 (August 2004)