Audi A3 Saloon: car review
A stylish and sporty entry into the small saloon car market
What is it?
The saloon version of Audi’s popular A3. Saloons are coming back into style and this version offers more legroom and a bigger boot than the existing three-door hatchback and five-door Sportback models.
How safe is it?
A variant of an Audi was first crash tested some 76 years ago, so Audi has a good history of developing safety in their vehicles. The A3 has received the Euro NCAP advanced award four times for its safety systems, so expect the saloon to follow suit.
Who should buy one?
The A3 Saloon fits the bill of a junior executive car. It’s beautifully built, looks fantastic, is safe and efficient and drivers really well. If you are looking for a smaller upmarket saloon then this is a great place to start.
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
The A3 Saloon is available in either Sport or S line spec. Petrol options include the 1.4 litre ‘cylinder on demand’ engine that switches between two and four cylinders to increase fuel efficiency, and a 1.8 litre that is also available as an all-wheel-drive ‘quattro’ version. There are also 1.6 litre and 2.0 litre diesel versions. For our test, we had the 150 PS 2.0 diesel Sport fitted with a manual gearbox.
If you’ve ever sat in or driven an A3 before then you’ll feel at home right away. The interior is one of the best in terms of ergonomics with everything in the right place to help the driver stay focused on the task of driving. All controls are at arm’s length, logical and easy to use. Build quality and materials feel upmarket and everything from the closing of the doors to the changing of the gears is solid. The cabin definitely matches its very stylish exterior.
But we’re drivers and its out on the road where it counts, and this is where the initial attraction starts to dim just a little. Starting with the ride quality that may be a little too stiff for some, meaning you feel even the smallest of bumps on some road surfaces. However, we were driving the Sport spec where the suspension has been lowered by 15mm as well as being made stiffer. Also, the ride quality may have been exaggerated by the addition of the very smart, optional 18” wheels, but it’s the price you pay for a sportier car. You do get the option of comfort, eco and sport settings via the Drive Select system, and choosing ‘comfort’ does make a noticeable difference.
Another complaint is that the feedback from the steering is a little dull; we expected more from a car with a nod towards a sporting drive. Having said that, it isn’t by any means without its positives. The six-speed gearbox is designed to add to the sporty feel and it does that job very well. It’s also very easy to find a comfortable seating position and to drive, and copes effortlessly in both day-to-day traffic and on long motorway stints. It really is very nice to drive but even with the Sport spec, it’s a car that feels best when driven sensibly.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Although physically only slightly shorter (about 25cm) than its bigger brother the A4, from the outside it looks considerably more compact. However, inside it feels much bigger than you might expect thanks to smart use of space. Starting with the boot and folding rear seats, you get 435 litres of space, compared to 365 in the hatchback. Rear seat leg and headroom is somewhat limited but you can get four adults in for those shorter journeys. On the other hand, front legroom is very generous, meaning even the tallest drivers can get their legs in, a feature we love about Audi’s. Other strong selling points are the low emissions at just 108g/km, and impressive fuel economy at 68.9mpg combined. In a real world test of urban roads and motorways, we were able to achieve a figure very close to this. Visibility is good facing forward, but look over your shoulder and it’s slightly compromised by the sloping roofline. Overall it’s definitely a useable and practical small saloon.
It’s hard to fault Audi on their safety systems. The A3 Saloon comes with the usual features we now expect as purchasers of new vehicles (airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes etc.) but also includes items like an active bonnet where more space is created between the bonnet and the engine to reduce the potential consequences of a slow speed (16-34mph) accident. There are also adaptive brake lights that flash during an emergency stop (having seen these in action, we can tell you that they definitely get your attention) and useful basic items like a first-aid kit and warning triangle.
The basic spec in the Sport model we drove is excellent. As well as the list of standard safety equipment, you get 17” alloy wheels, the Drive Select system, sports suspension, and a 5.8” display with an MP3 interface. You also get Bluetooth, DAB radio, and sport seats. As with many new cars these days there is a huge list of optional extras, but if your budget stretches we would highly recommend the £950.00 panoramic glass sunroof that serves the dual purpose of adding more light in the cabin when closed and a huge opening when in use.
An entry level A3 Saloon starts at £22,825 with the model we tested costing £23,630 without the addition of the optional extras. When you factor amount of standard features, the build quality and brand name, it is a very competitively priced car. Even our Sport spec with the 2.0 litre engine will only set you back £20 a year in VED Band B car tax, and if you drive efficiently then you can expect over 60mpg.
A welcome addition to the small saloon car market.
AT A GLANCE:
Price: £23,630 (£29,965 as tested)
Performance:0-60mph in 8.7 seconds
Economy: 68.9mpg combined
Insurance: Group 17
Tax: Band B £20