Audi has joined Mercedes-Benz in offering a new compact sedan to capture the hearts of young and thrifty drivers with luxury aspirations. The Audi A3 sedan will debut early this year as a 2015 model and compete against the new Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class for an identical starting price of $29,900.

Fleet buyers may already be familiar with the outgoing, five-door, second-generation A3. The new car will be available as a sport hatchback, but not until later in the year — and as of press time, only in the form of a gas/electric plug-in hybrid.

The next 18 months will see a total of five A3s roll into the North American market, including a cabriolet, a TDI clean diesel and a super-sporty S3 sedan.

Specs for the 2015 Audi A3.

Specs for the 2015 Audi A3.

Meanwhile, the A3 sedan is dressed to impress. It’s significantly shorter and smaller than the A4 — the back seat isn’t exactly cavernous — but the outward appearance is nearly indistinguishable from the other larger sedans in Audi’s “A” family: The front fascia-dominating grille/bumper cover/license plate holder, bi-xenon headlights and chrome accents are all in place.

The most apparent departure is in the more compact rear end — where a built-in spoiler tops the trunk line and arches over decidedly understated taillights. A panoramic sunroof is standard.

Standard cabin equipment includes leather seating, Bluetooth and a powerful stereo. The list of available options appears to be just as long as any other Audi. The interior design is appealingly minimalistic with surprisingly few buttons and dials, while an LCD touchscreen emerges from the top of the dashboard to display navigation, infotainment and more controls.

The base A3 sedan is powered by a 1.8-liter turbo four-banger that delivers 170 horsepower (hp) at 180 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. A turbocharged 2.0 will power the Quattro all-wheel drive configuration.

Audi has moved the A3 to the Volkswagen’s MQB platform, where it will soon be joined by the third-generation Audi TT. The OEM refused to skimp on the underpinnings, equipping the new A3 with a dynamic suspension and Drive Select — a system that allows drivers to experiment with four settings that control shift points and steering.

Fleet managers who have never considered upgrading to a highline marque now have two good options in the A3 and CLA-Class. So take them both for a spin. You might end up raising the company’s profile as well as your own.

Originally posted on Business Fleet