Steve Sharpe drives Audi’s new A3 saloon
Audi’s saloon version of its premium A3 hatchback made its first appearance on UK roads in autumn of last year.
The first ever booted A3 began the Vorsprung durch Technik brand’s foray into the world’s largest market segment – the compact saloon class.
It integrates more seats-up load space than the A3 Sportback with similarly ample passenger accommodation and performance, the latter helped by a lightweight construction process that trims weight to as little as 1,205kg.
The design of the new A3 Saloon is a cross between the classic three-box concept and the coupé philosophy.
Its overhangs are short, and its “tornado line” design element forms a distinct light-refracting edge that runs along the entire side.
Above the side sills, the dynamic line rises more sharply than in the other two A3 models.
The side surfaces have more pronounced curves, and the wheel arches are also slightly more flared.
At the front, the bonnet contours, bumper and air intake design and the single frame grille have been redesigned, while at the rear, lights with broad and low cuts emphasise the car’s horizontal lines and there’s an integrated ‘kicked-up’ boot spoiler.
The A3’s look adds up to more than the sum of its parts, with little stylish touches like the rear lights and side creases coming together to make a stylish looking but uncomplicated car.
It gives the saloon an upmarket look, fitting for a car in a class generally described as junior executive – a first company car for that young buck in accounts who’s got his eyes on the boss’s parking space,
The A3’s actually not that much smaller than the A4 but it appears to be more compact.
Inside the cabin Audi have really thrown the gauntlet down to its rivals.
The quality of the materials used is faultless – the plastics are soft and springy to the touch, the leather upholstery in my test car beautifully soft and comfortable, with a wide, suede-like stripe running down the middle.
The finish is as you would expect from Audi, with all panels and such slotting together perfectly.
But what’s really impressive is its simplicity.
The tablet-slim satnav / media screen is hidden in the upper dashboard, to rise vertically and smoothly when the ignition is turned on, disappearing when power is switched off.
The CD player is tucked away in the glove compartment, which means the controls are just a few discreet buttons in the dash and a controller in the central column.
The heating controls are tucked in a narrow strip above the gearstick.
It’s all contoured in design and minimalist in concept, and beautifully laid out, with simple speed gauges and stylish silver-ringed circular air vents.
You’re familiar with it within minutes of the first drive,
As the saloon has the styling of a bigger executive car you’re struck by the compactness of the interior on first inspection, but there is plenty of space inside.
The saloon is 15cm longer than the Sportback version of the A3, due to the longer rear overhang, and this extra length increases boot space. The rear seats can fold flat for extra room, too.
Legroom in the front is fine and there’s a decent amount in the rear. Similarly, headroom is generous in the front and ok in the rear for normal sized adults.
There were two TFSI petrol engines – a 1.4 (140PS) and 1.4 (180PS) – and one 2-litre TDI at launch, with a high performance S3 following in February of this year and also 1.6TDi.
I drove the 2-litre diesel version, which was paired with a six-speed manual gearbox.
As a manufacturer, Audi is renowned for its refinement and this saloon isn’t letting the company down.
The engine throbs gently at idling speeds and even when the power is applied engine noise refuses to rise above a thrum.
The two-litre diesel engine provides the A3 with remarkable all-round capability.
It powers the saloon from 0 to 62mph in 8.4 seconds, takes it to a top speed of 132mph and is capable of returning up to 67mpg.
Something that’s new to the A3 saloon is Audi’s Drive Select system, which allows the driver to alter throttle response and suspension set-ups. Options available, include Dynamic, Economy and Comfort, depending on the type of journey or driving you’re looking at.
CO2 emissions are just 108 grams per km, which really takes a chunk out of the annual car tax expenditure.
In real terms it means that the A3 has impressive power on tap.
It’s quick off the blocks but also pulls strongly at lower revs. There’s no discernible weak spot through the acceleration but it’s particularly strong while overtaking in higher revs.
Settled at any speed, the A3’s as happy trundling around town as it is cruising on motorways.
All the while there is very little noise coming through from the outside world. Wind noise is kept low, the engine keeps to a distant rumble and it’s only some noise coming through from the road which is at all noticeable.
A good driving position allows a clear view all round, the turning circle is good and the steering is light but well-weighted for simple urban driving.
But take a trip out of town and the A3 is equally at home. The Sport version I drove sits low on the road, helping the saloon to corner supremely well. It grips tightly from entering the bend to exiting, and there’s a constant feeling of control.
The six-speed manual gearbox is sublimely smooth, and it’s difficult to clunk a gear-change even if you try.
The Saloon is around £500 more expensive than the A3 Sportback, with the entry-level Sport kicking off at £22,825, rising to more than £33,000 for the S3.
That’s cheaper than comparative models from Mercedes and BMW.
There are just the two trim levels available, but Audi have included a lot of equipment on the lower-spec sport model, including alloy wheels, air conditioning or climate control, the MMI radio with folding screen and standard digital radio, Audi Music Interface (AMI) iPod connection, a Driver Information System, the Bluetooth mobile phone interface with voice control and a multi-function steering wheel.
If you feel you have to have bigger alloys, part-leather seats and xenon headlights, as well as some fancy body styling, you’ll want the S Line trim.
The A3 Saloon is a fabulous car – powerful, comfortable, economic and great to drive, a worthy addition to the A3 stable.
The problem is, that young buck in accounts isn’t going to want to move up to a bigger car.
Audi A3 Saloon
Engine: 2litre diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
0-62: 8.7 seconds.
Top Speed: 136mph.
Economy: Avg 68.9mpg