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While other markets are more accepting of hatchbacks, for the U.S. market it was determined necessary to produce a classic three-box sedan. The Audi A3 Sedan is the first model specifically developed for the U.S. market. For those who like hatches, however, the Audi Sportback will be coming to the U.S., as a plug-in hybrid.
The Bauhaus school of design, which officially operated from 1919 to 1933 in Germany but continues to resonate among architects and graphic and product designers, is highly influential on the design of Audis, says Dany Garand. It is clean, rational and functional in its approach. Audi designers, he says, add some sensuality to what might otherwise be somewhat cold. (Image: Bauhaus-dessau.de)
Audi made a €900-million investment in its factory in Hungary to manufacture the A3 Sedan (and other models). Shown here is a robotic laser welding station installed in the plant.
Although the A3 may be the entry vehicle in the U.S. Audi showroom, the Audi A1 is available in other markets. Consequently, from a global perspective, this is not an entry-level car for Audi. As a result, the car is available with features including actual aluminum, high-end Bang & Olufsen audio, AT&T 4G LTE connectivity, and Google Earth-based navigation.
Dany Garand (along with colleague Marcus Gleitz) designed the 2015 Audi A3 Sedan. It is a car that was specifically designed for the U.S. market. Previously, Audi had offered the A3 in the U.S., as in other parts of the world, as a hatchback. But George Peterson, president of automotive analysis firm AutoPacific (autopacific.com) points out that in the U.S., hatchbacks don’t resonate very well (unless you happen to be very young), that they are largely perceived as cars purchased by people who can’t afford to buy a full car, a car with a trunk. (And there is a series of other points that Peterson raises about hatches, ranging from safety to storage security: “So, a premium hatchback starts life with a litany of negatives before it gets on a person’s consideration list.” In the U.S.)
Thus, as Garand puts it in his voice that has a strong French-Canadian accent, “We made it to fit best for the United States market.”
Americans like trunks. They like the three-box design. And Garand emphasizes that this is a car with a true three-box design: “It is not an A3 Sportback with a trunk attached to it.” The A3 Sportback continues to exist in Germany (and elsewhere). (And the Sportback will be coming to America late in 2015 as a plug-in hybrid model.)
There is another A3 variant with a trunk. The A3 Cabriolet. “The Cabrio and the Sedan are the same up to the A-post,” Garand says. He also says that the two have the same front and rear bumper. “We had to design these two cars together to make sure they would both look good.” The Cabrio, which has two doors, not four, has a shorter length (174.1 in. vs. 175.4 in.) and a smaller wheelbase (102.2 in. vs. 103.8 in.), so the proportions had to be right for both.
And speaking of smaller, Garand says that while in the process of designing the Sedan he was also involved in designing the new TT at the time, which is a smaller vehicle compared to the Sedan (TT: 164.4 in. long; 98.6-in. wheelbase). He shows a drawing of three rooflines: “The longest silhouette is the A4 and the shortest is the TT. The A3 Sedan is well balanced in the middle position. It fits between the classic sedan and the sporty coupe.”
And speaking of the roofline of the A3 sedan: “We didn’t want to make a four-door coupe. It is a very true sedan: The roofline is in three segments, it’s not just a falling line.”
(About that French-Canadian accent. Yes, he works for Audi in Ingolstadt. He’s worked for the company for 14 years. But he was born in Montreal. He received an MA from the Royal Academy of Art in London in 1990. He worked at Honda’s European design studio in Germany, then decided to make a return to Quebec, where he went to work at Bombardier, designing things like Ski-Doos. After a few years there, he decided to make a return to automotive, and he joined Audi.)
Garand says that a big influence on the way that designers at Audi execute is the early 20th century Bauhaus aesthetic. It is rational and functional. There is little extraneous. “It gives a timeless quality to Audi design,” Garand says. He says that one consequence of the Bauhaus approach is the way the overall volumes are laid out, with the cabin representing one third of the overall body.
“But Bauhaus is a little cold, a little frigid in some respects. We need to combine this with some sex appeal, some sensual design.” Which brings them to designing the various lines and creases in the car, to providing tension in select surfaces. He notes, “We don’t design just with lines, but with light and shadow, as well.”*
The sheet metal of the body side has a crisp line running from the top edge of the LED headlamp back along to the top of the tail lamp. It has a small radius. “We always made the lines really, really sharp,” Garand says, and recalls that when they talked to the people in production who would have to stamp the body panels, they were concerned that it couldn’t be done. He explains that the toolmakers had to apply some knowhow because given the sharpness of the lines, there would be a tendency for the steel to wrinkle in the areas where the tool first hits the metal; this wasn’t something that could be reworked, so the stamping has to be performed correctly from the start.
(The A3 Sedan is produced at Audi Hungaria in Györ, Hungary. To accommodate it and other models, Audi invested some €900-million to build a new two-million m2 production facility that includes a stamping, body, paint, and assembly shops.)
The A3 Sedan, Briefly
The Audi A3 Sedan is a five-passenger car. It is powered by an in-line, four-cylinder, turbo direct-injection engine—there is a 170-hp 1.8-liter for front-wheel drive and a 220-hp 2.0-liter for quattro versions—that features a cast-iron block and aluminum head. Both engines require premium fuel. The engine is mated to a six-speed, dual-clutch transmission. The chassis features McPherson struts in the front with lower A-arms and stabilizer bars; there is a four-link rear suspension setup. The steering is electromechanical.
Structurally, the car makes use of extensive amounts of high-strength (including ultra-high, hot-stamped) steels, as well as aluminum (e.g., decklid, package tray, suspension components). The curb weight for the 1.8 is 3,175 lb.; it is 3,362 lb. for the 2.0.
The A3 Sedan is the first vehicle in North America to offer a 4G LTE data connection; Audi has partnered with AT&T on this capability. The vehicle is offered with Bang & Olufsen audio, NVIDIA graphics processing for infotainment, Google Earth navigation, and other features.
*Speaking of sexiness, Garand cites the 2006 version of the James Bond movie Casino Royale. Specifically, a point at 1:04:44 in the movie when Bond is wearing a tailored dinner jacket from Vesper Lynd. “He knows he looks good. She knows she made the right decision. They feel great. Good and confident. This is how we feel about the car.”