Audi is claiming to have created a new segment in the compact premium sector with the latest version of the A3.
In the original A3, launched in the UK in 1997, the three-door variant comfortably outsold the five-door, which looked just the same as the three-door version but obviously had a couple of extra doors.
The new car will be launched on September 10.
Arriving more than a year after the second generation A3 three-door was unveiled, the new Sportback intends to bridge the narrow divide between a five-door hatchback and an estate.
Audi has created a car with its own name, and has also tried to give it its own identity, with a new-look front and rear.
It is set to do battle with the new BMW 1-series which, like the Sportback, will be available in September Walter de'Silva, Audi design director, said: 'This is not an A3 five-door, it's a new concept of car. It is not an Avant, Sportwagon or station wagon.
'Our idea in the beginning was very simple – it was to complete the A3 range with a car that was a new direction for the market and for Audi.
'We expect men, women and drivers with young families will have a good relationship with the Sportback.'
The first aspect of the A3 Sportback likely to make an impression is its face.
A driver glimpsing it for the first time on the road from the rear-view mirror will notice the aggressive front-end styling incorporating the new Audi grille first seen on the A8 6.0 L and the new A6.
The grille design is repeated in the centre of the steering wheel, while the rear end is all new, with light clusters influenced by the Audi Nuvolari concept seen at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show.
In profile, the roofline tapers towards the rear, hinting at coupe design cues. It can also be specified with roof rails.
The smallest wheel size available for the A3 is now 16 inches, so even the entry-level cars should have an imposing appearance. Three new metallic paint colours developed for the Sportback will also be available.
Carrying two extra doors within the wheelbase of the standard A3, the Sportback boasts 370 litres of luggage space thanks to an extended rear overhang of 68mm, and offers 1,120 litres with the seats folded.
However, this is only an increase of 20 litres over the three-door car in both measurements, so the Sportback is definitely not an estate.
Audi claims two golf bags can be stowed sideways, and the luggage area also has useful hooks for carrier bags full of shopping – as part of the luggage compartment package – and a near full-width grab handle moulded into the inside of the tailgate to make closing easier.
From 2005 there will be the option of the Open Sky System – a panoramic glass roof with a sliding panel over front seat occupants.
The interior mirrors that of the current A3 with an identical centre console layout and materials, and just enough space to seat two tall adults comfortably in the rear.
The engine line-up will be the same as the three-door A3, but Audi will also offer a new high-performance four-cylinder engine based on the 2.0 FSI.
A turbocharger boosts power to 197bhp with 207lb-ft of torque available from 1,800rpm to 5,000rpm.
With the standard six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive, the 2.0T should record 36.7mpg on the combined cycle, although with quattro the figure will probably be less impressive.
The engine is likely to be introduced into other models in the Audi range following its launch in the Sportback – for example the A6 range has a gap in power outputs between the 175bhp 2.4 V6 and the 251bhp 3.2 FSI V6. A turbocharged 2.0 FSI would seem to fill the gap quite well.
In the Sportback, the 2.0 TDI, the 3.2 V6 and the 2.0T will also be offered with Audi's DSG automated manual transmission.
The system, already used in some versions of the three-door A3 and the V6 versions of the TT, allows super-smooth upchanges – unlike other automated manual transmissions – but does not carry the fuel consumption penalty of most traditional automatics.
A six-speed Tiptronic automatic will be available as an option on the 2.0 FSI and the 1.6. Like the standard A3, the suspension and steering is also carried over.
The electro-mechanical power steering is speed dependant and is claimed to offer optimum feedback and a low level of sensitivity to vibration from the road.
Anyone who has driven a current A3 will know how true that is in practice, but it also consumes less energy than an electro-hydraulic system and some experts reckon it to be worth an extra 1mpg in normal driving.
Comparisons are bound to be made with the BMW 1-series when it is launched, although the BMW is more a conventional hatchback rather than a crossover vehicle like the Sportback.
But they are likely to be after a share of the same market –along with Volvo with the S40 and V50, the Alfa Romeo 147 and the Volkswagen Golf.
Company car drivers in the privileged position of selecting a stylish and practical compact premium car will be spoilt for choice.