by Jez Spinks

It’s nothing new for a particular car to be the envy of rival manufacturers, but the hue is never a richer shade of green when it comes to the Volkswagen Golf.

The little German hatchback has totalled more than 27 million sales over six generations since it effectively replaced the Beetle as VW’s ‘People’s car’ back in 1974.

And it’s not just the likes of the Ford, Mazda or Hyundai that aspire to be like the Golf, it’s also the established luxury brands.

At the 2012 Geneva motor show, there was an unprecedented trio of hatchbacks that in early 2013 in Australia will be joining the BMW 1 Series in vying for the attention of both younger buyers looking for a more premium offering and luxury car customers who want to downsize without losing out on creature comforts or advanced technologies.

 

Audi A3
Much fuss has been made recently about Audi’s pint-sized A1, but now it’s the turn of the company’s bigger hatchback. The design of the A3 brings few surprises, merely evolving a shape that first appeared in the mid-’90s.

Under the skin, however, lies the Volkswagen Group’s all-new ‘MQB’ modular platform that will provide the structural foundations for about 40 new vehicles including the seventh-generation Golf due locally in the first half of 2013.

More transparent to potential buyers will be a high-quality cabin that will again show why Audi is the brand you’d choose if you were to ever hire a car maker to do your house interior renovations. There will also be features and technology that have cascaded down from the company’s flagship model, the A8 limo – including a touchpad dial on the centre console for controlling the A3’s menu system.

Petrol and diesel engines will range in size from 1.2 to 2.0 litres, with a 1.6-litre diesel model producing emissions as low as 99 grams per 100km. For sportier-minded drivers, adaptive dampers and an optional sports suspension will be available, while further down the track S3 and RS3 performance variants can be expected.

 

Mercedes-Benz A-Class
The original baby Benz was infamous for rolling during an animal-avoidance test soon after its launch, and renowned for innovations such as a manual gearbox that dispensed with a clutch pedal and a ‘sandwich’ floor construction that helped protect occupants in the event of a frontal crash.

It also sold in respectable numbers – though to a generally older audience than what was anticipated by Mercedes for its most affordable model. The more mature demographic can be blamed on the MPV-like styling of the old A-Class, which was used in extended form for the sibling B-Class.

That higher-riding approach remains for the new B-Class but the new A-Class switches to a new-from-the-ground-up hatchback style as Mercedes aggressively chases a younger audience. Pricing in Australia will start from just $35,600.

The new longer and lower A-Class features a stylishly sculptured look, while the interior brings a major upgrade in materials and presentation over its predecessor. Apple-inspired touches such as the iPad-style central dash display and full iPhone compatibility will help ensure the new A-Class has greater appeal to the younger generation.

 

Volvo V40
Swedish for five-door hatchback now translates as V40 after Volvo unveiled its new small car challenger in March. The V40 is based on the platform of the not-so-practical three-door C30 and is the company’s first five-door hatch since the 440 of the ’80s.

Europe will account for 85 per cent of the 90,000 V40s Volvo will build annually, but the model will be available in Australia from as early as late 2012.

The range will include a turbo diesel emitting just 94g of carbon dioxide per 100km and a turbo petrol that can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds.

Volvo says it will be the best car to drive in the segment – a big claim considering it doesn’t set this kind of benchmark with any other vehicle and that it will compete against the standard-bearing BMW 1-Series.

Less controversial is an interior that follows Volvo’s XC60 SUV and S60 sedan in marrying distinctive Scandinavian design with high-level quality and fit and finish.

As it’s a Volvo you may be wondering about safety. Well, for starters there’s a system that helps prevent you running into the car ahead if you’ve become distracted, while the V40 aims to look after pedestrians like no car before it by not only featuring a pedestrian-detection system but also the world’s first pedestrian airbag incorporated into the front bumper.