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A3 UP TO PAR: Pricing, trim size doesn’t mean Audi cut corners on its entry-level sedan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Germany’s luxury automakers are nothing if not thorough. If there’s a chance to create a new market niche, it won’t stay unfilled for long.

They’re also highly competitive. So when one of Deutschland’s Big Three – Mercedes-Benz, BWW and Audi – announces it will build an entry-level model with a starting point of around $30,000, rest assured the others will soon follow suit.

In Audi’s case, the entry into this niche is the new-for-2015 A3, a tidy-sized sedan that in no way exhibits cost-cutting in pursuit of a price point.

In fact, although it’s the least-expensive Audi sold in the U.S., all the premium qualities found in all Audi products are represented here, including meticulous assembly, top-notch materials and ergonomic cabin design.

While the interior at first glance comes across as rather subdued, particularly in all-black like our review sedan, that doesn’t translate into low-rent. In short order, the inherent quality of the littlest Audi shines through.

The tactile sensations of the well-lubed operation of the perfectly placed switchgear and knobs, the way the info screen slips silently and smoothly from the dashtop, the simple climate controls: These all add to a perception of cachet.

Leather is standard in all A3s. Front bucket seats are nicely supportive, with just enough bolstering to keep driver and passenger in place during energetic cornering. Room in the rear is fairly modest, but two average-size adults won’t complain too much.

a3interiorThe A3’s expertly tuned suspension proves its sport-sedan pedigree. Whether on rural two-lane twisties or an interstate slog, the A3 soaks up road imperfections while delivering excellent grip (thanks in part to our tester’s quattro all-wheel drive), nimble handling and a smooth highway ride.

Our A3’s optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo motor, paired with a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, provided punchy acceleration paired with excellent fuel economy.

Audi wisely chose to bring the A3 to market with all the marque’s essential goodness intact, only in a smaller size. With this car, downsizing requires no sacrifices.