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CHIC COMPACT: Audi’s entry-level A3 sport sedan embodies marque’s best qualities

Harken back to 1984. Audi has just introduced its aerodynamic tour de force, the 5000 sedan, in America.

The automaker’s sales shot up, thanks in large part the 5000’s European-ness, that undefinable but instantly recognizable approach that made so many other competitors suddenly look and drive, well, old.

But all that momentum hit a brick wall. Owners started reporting the cars tended to continue accelerating even when drivers stomped on the brakes as hard as they could. Folks were running into garage doors, and worse: One woman ran down her child in her own driveway.

The media jumped on the story, the phenomenon known as unintended acceleration was born, and it nearly torpedoed the German company.

Turns out drivers were stomping on the gas rather than the smallish, Euro-style brake pedal, which was set closer to the accelerator than in typical American cars.

Three years later the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its report exonerating Audi, but the damage was done. It took years for Audi to climb back to acceptance, but boy, has it. Audi is now battling it out with fellow Germans BMW and Mercedes-Benz for the American luxury crown.

The 2016 A3 is the latest arrow in its quiver, and what a charmer it is.

Our A3 2.0T quattro test vehicle might be the bottom rung in the Audi hierarchy, but it still has all the qualities the firm instills in each of its vehicles. Such as its superbly crafted cabin, sport-sedan handling, punchy engines, impeccable build quality and up-to-the-minute safety systems.

The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder pumps out 220 eager horsepower, driving all four wheels (quattro) through its super-quick six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

audi-a3interiorThe little compact grabs the tarmac as it slips through corners; powerful, progressive brakes slough off speed uneventfully.

Drawbacks? The rear seat is shy on legroom for full-size passengers, and the trunk is quite tight. If those are a deal-breaker, best to bump up a size to the A4.

But if the A3 fits you, it’ll deliver all the qualities upon which Audi has rebuilt, indeed enhanced, its reputation.

It’s a handsome little looker, and a sweet driver as well, delivering a healthy dose of enjoyment along with economy. Audi’s A3 earns an A+.