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Audi A3 Saloon review (2013 onwards)
Audi A3 Saloon: summary
Amazingly this is the first time Audi has ever offered an A3-based saloon. Wannabe A4 buyers are going to love it.
What: Audi A3 Saloon
Where: Budapest, Hungary
Date: June 2013
Price: £24,275 - £28,105
Available: on sale now, arriving September 2013
Key rivals: Chevrolet Cruze, Mercedes-Benz CLA, Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Jetta
We like: makes the compact three-box design work where so many have failed, very efficient, strong value
We don’t like: not as practical as you might think, driving experience doesn’t sparkle
Audi A3 Saloon: first impressions
This is the first A3 saloon Audi has ever built. It sounds like it should be a fairly straightforward design proposition – take the regular A3 hatchback, stick on a boot, thus creating a classic ‘three-box’ silhouette. But no.
In fact, the A3 Saloon has been tweaked in every direction. The wheel arches are flared an additional 11mm, the side contours are sharper and rise more acutely, the entire front end gently refined, and the roofline is 9mm lower. That big boot adds 150mm in length over the latest A3 Sportback.
This means more luggage space. But it also makes that classic Audi saloon car look available to buyers shopping on a lower budget. So although British punters have turned away from the three-box compact in recent years – regardless of its global popularity – we suspect the A3 might just prove an exception to that rule.
The Saloon costs an extra £550 compared to the equivalent Sportback, makes all the efficiency promises we’ve come to expect, and surely has more of that magic Audi visual allure than any hatchback. The Mercedes CLA has some competition at last.
Audi A3 Saloon: performance
Though more will follow in due course, there are just three engines offered in the UK at launch: a 140hp 1.4-litre TFSI turbo petrol, a 180hp 1.8-litre TFSI turbo petrol, and a 150hp 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel.
The 1.4 TFSI petrol tempts with low weight and 'Cylinder on Demand' technology
Initial UK supply will also limit the petrols to Audi’s seven-speed S tronic paddleshift automatic gearbox, while the diesel will only be offered with a six-speed manual. In typically amusing international launch fashion,we were only able to drive the engine-gearbox combos the other way round...
So, we’ve sampled the petrols with a six-speed manual, and the diesel with the seven-speed S tronic. Fortunately, both gearboxes do a fine job, so you’re unlikely to have much cause for complaint.
As for the engines, in everyday driving there’s little to pick between the two TFSIs. Although the 180hp 1.8 accelerates 0-62mph much more quickly on paper, both produce the same 184lb ft of torque. Which means in cut and thrust traffic, the difference becomes scarcely noticeable unless you’re really gunning it.
This makes the 1.4 the more attractive proposition in our eyes. It also stands up very well against the diesel, where the petrol’s lower weight and clever ‘Cylinder on Demand’ – yes, that really is abbreviated to ‘CoD’ – brings it far closer in efficiency terms than you might expect. More on this below.
Audi A3 Saloon: ride and handling
The diesel also felt by far the most leaden from behind the steering wheel, with a surprisingly noticeable amount of extra heft for the front end to deal with when turning into corners and coping with bumps. Of which there are certainly plenty on Hungarian roads.
The A3 Saloon comes across as capable, but not exactly inspired
In this environment, the A3 Saloon proves reassuringly unflappable overall – despite every single one of the test cars we sampled being fitted with large 18-inch alloy wheels. So we can be reasonably certain that it should prove comfortable for customers back home in the UK.
Complicating matters, however, Audi will offer no less than three conventional suspension set-ups in the UK – with the further promise of adaptive options to come.
Buyers can choose Sport or S line specification. As standard, both of these get Sport suspension – which is 15mm lower than the regular suspension, a no cost option on the both trims and fitted to most of the cars we actually tried. S line also offers the no cost option of S line suspension, which reduces the ride height a further 10mm over Sport.
Confused? No kidding. But generally, the lower the car, the firmer the ride. So if you team the full S line chassis with the biggest wheel option – and up to 19-inch alloys are available – you can expect the A3 Saloon to be brittle. Try and get a test drive in your ideal spec before committing to a deposit.
Putting this issue to one side, in regular front-wheel drive form the A3 Saloon comes across as capable, if not exactly inspired. Both petrols seem well balanced, but hardly the height of dynamic gynasticism. They wouldn't see us day dreaming of light traffic on the long way home.
Quattro four-wheel drive is coming later, but only on the range-topping 1.8 TFSI.
Audi A3 Saloon: interior
The increasingly ever-present ‘Audi drive select’ system allows you to tweak the steering weight and throttle response, livening things up a bit. Alternatively there are also Efficiency and Comfort modes, with the former also dialling back energy-sapping ancillaries such as the air conditioning.
We expect modern diesel engines to be efficient, but petrol is catching up fast
The cabin shares its basic design with the rest of the A3 range, so there are fancier elements (depending on options) and slightly shabbier ones, but it’s all put together with supreme integrity. To our eyes it lacks the drama available from the Mercedes CLA, but perhaps that’s part of the point.
Rear headroom is better than in the Mercedes, but the CLS does have a bigger boot – with 470 litres of stowage compared to the Audi’s 425 litres. The A3 Saloon is 45 litres more commodious than the A3 Sportback, but the boot opening is decidedly less practical.
So, for all that the A3 Saloon’s rear seats do fold down, you won’t be getting a fridge in the back.
Equipment and options are comprehensive, and there are plenty of features that are bound to delight – including the infotainment screen that rises serenely out of the dashtop, the touch pad that lets you hand scrawl words one letter at a time, and the availability of app-laden wireless internet connectivity.
Audi A3 Saloon: economy and safety
We expect modern diesel engines to be efficient, and the 2.0-litre TDI naturally heads the A3 Saloon offering, emitting 107g/km CO2 with a claimed 68.9mpg combined. By the end of the year there will also be a 1.6 TDI variant offering 99g/km eco performance. We tried this on launch, too – it’s a sweet package.
If you like the design, the chances are you’re going to love the car
But petrol is catching up fast. The 1.4 TFSI’s 60.1mpg claim is attention-grabbing enough, but it also emits just 109g/km CO2. Putting it in the same annual car tax bracket as the 2.0 diesel, while also avoiding the 3% surcharge for company car drivers.
The trick to achieving this is the CoD – which enables the engine to switch off two of its four cylinders during times of low demand, thus saving fuel. The switchover is literally imperceptible, and there’s no kind of dashboard indicator at all. So we’ll have to take Audi’s word that it’s actually happening.
Out in the real world, we suspect the non-CoD equipped diesel will remain the more consistently frugal unit, but petrol technology is rapidly improving. All versions of the A3 Saloon – including the least efficient 1.8 TFSI – officially manage 50mpg, and are fitted with stop-start and other fuel-saving gizmos.
Safety levels are hardly remiss, either, with all the tech from the A3 hatchbacks carried over to the saloon, including autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring and sophisticated stability control electronics. There’s no Euro NCAP result yet, but with the same airbags and a strong structure it should do just fine.
Audi A3 Saloon: the MSN Cars verdict
If you like the design, the chances are you’re going to love the car. The Audi A3 Saloon brings benefits from both sides of the equation, combining the efficient engine and construction techniques for the regular A3 with a new look that’s far closer to those big Audis to which so many buyers aspire.
In our brief encounter we felt it lacked real driving sparkle, and it is worth noting the extra boot space doesn’t automatically mean additional practicality. But as a package of design, build quality, image and efficiency – not to mention CLA-busting value – the A3 Saloon isn’t short of appeal.