Road Test: Audi A3 Saloon
The Audi A3 Saloon is a small but perfectly formed premium four-door. - By Dave Humphreys
Audi saloons come in all shapes and sizes, from the range-topping A8 L, ideal for industrialists and plutocrats to the middle-management-driving A6 and more modest A4. But of all of these cars, it’s the smallest that ranks among the best, proof that good things do come in small packages. The Audi A3 Saloon was such a hit the first time around that it follows more closely behind the recently introduced A3 Sportback hatch.
Similar to its five-door hatchback sibling, the A3 Saloon faces some stiff competition from its premium rivals, namely the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz A-Class Saloon. Looks are always a subjective thing, but the Audi comfortably beats the BMW in the aesthetic department and looks the higher quality car when parked next to the Mercedes.
Its exterior carries many of the typical Audi signature features, such as the sizeable single-frame grille and sharp-looking LED headlights. Along the flanks, there are blistered wheel arches that serve as a nod to the company’s heritage, and the rear also falls into the current trend of fixing what appear to be fake exhausts to the bumper. They’re a minor blemish in an otherwise handsome three-box shape. Most importantly, it doesn’t look like some designer stuck a boot onto the hatch.
In comparison to its predecessor, the A3 Saloon is four centimetres longer than before, measuring 4.50 metres. No matter where you view the A3 Saloon from, it’s hard to find a bad angle or line on it. There’s a classiness to how this Audi looks and in no way does it seem like a cheaper or baby version of the company’s larger saloon cars. How the roofline flows into the rear is especially nice, and helps to give the A3 great proportions. That boot can swallow up the same 425 litres as before, but rear passenger elbow room is better than before, while headroom in the front increases by two centimetres, so it feels more spacious inside.
And that interior is one of the reasons why you’ll want to buy one - it’s top rate for the segment. Over the years Audi has earned a solid reputation for crafting stylish and upmarket interiors in its cars, and the A3 Saloon is no different, despite it being at the lower end of the brand’s range. There’s a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, and on Edition 1 and Vorsprung models this panel is upgraded to a larger 12.3-inch display. A high-quality 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display is slightly angled towards the driver.
All cars get Audi’s MMI Navigation Plus system and Audi Connect Plus that helps drivers access a variety of web-based services like online traffic information and news. In time, that will expand to include Amazon’s Alexa, while the ability to connect and mirror your smartphone is nowadays an essential feature for many.
Elsewhere, the look and feel of the cabin leaves you in no doubt that this is every bit the premium saloon. All of the surfaces, such as the metallic dashboard inserts, detail stitching across the top of the dashboard and the gently bolstered seats, leave you in no doubt that this is a quality piece of engineering.
That continues when you get driving as the A3 Saloon delivers a ride that is refined and composed. Some business users may be drawn to the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, but the similarly powered 1.5-litre TFSI petrol unit is a lovely engine that doesn’t perform poorly in the fuel economy stakes either. It’s helped by cylinder deactivation technology that can shut off the ignition in two of its four cylinders when the car is travelling at a constant speed and not under load.
What is more surprising is how sweet the 108bhp 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine is to drive and how well it performs in pulling the A3 Saloon along. If you’re not too up to speed on the latest engine technology, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a 1.0-litre engine might seem a bit on the small side for such a car, but you’d be amazed by how well it suits the Audi.
Three-cylinder engines can often have a slightly coarse nature to them and can sound it too. Still, in the Audi, it remains suitably muted, and due to how it delivers power to the front wheels, many might not even think it was merely a 1.0-litre engine under the bonnet. It performs best if you’re sticking to city or urban driving when the engine isn’t as strained and overall power output isn’t as much of a priority.
When you get the Audi out onto the motorway it can start to show its lack of raw pace, resulting in you having to work both the engine and six-speed manual gearbox a little more vigorously. If this is more like the driving you’re typically going to do then opting for the larger capacity 1.5-litre TFSI engine is a wiser move. Equally, suppose you regularly undertake longer commutes. In that case, the TDI diesel is capable of returning excellent fuel economy figures, and when mated with the automatic transmission, it makes for a very competent motorway cruiser.
The sports suspension that comes as part of the S line specification isn’t overly stiff, and it does help Audi’s performance when cornering at higher speeds. It resists body roll and has a progressive nature to it, rounding off sharper bumps just enough. Rolling on 18-inch wheels doesn’t generate a great deal of road noise, and they contribute to the overall look of the car. Image is what this car pulls off well, and if that’s something that is important to you, then the Audi will have a lot of appeals.
From its sharp styling to its high-quality interior, the Audi A3 Saloon is a very polished product that delivers on the driving front too. It’s easily good enough to give not only its nearest competitors a serious run for their money, but would also have you thinking twice about spending the extra that the slightly larger A4 would cost. As it stands, a well-specced Audi A3 Saloon is a thoroughly decent car and proves that size isn’t everything.
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