Audi A3 Saloon review

There aren't many small saloons on the roads, but the Audi A3 Saloon - or Sedan if you're from the US - is looking to swell those numbers. Judging by the mass of BMW 1-Series Coupes, which is soon to be 2-Series Coupes, that we've seen on the roads recently there's certainly a market for the smaller saloon.

In the past the small saloon hasn't faired so well, often being rather ugly, or finding itself referred by adding "with a boot" to the end of the name. The Audi A3 Saloon isn't just an A3 "with a boot" though. One glance at this car and you'll realise that the hind quarters has had the same degree of precisely considered design as the front. The new A3 is a good-looking car and the saloon cousin doesn't let the family down. Just how good is it on the road?

Last Chance Saloon?

Audi has only offered the A3 as a hatchback, or Sportback, so far. That's unlike Volkswagen that has offered the Golf "with a boot" - the Bora or Jetta - for some time. The A3 Saloon is shorter than the A4 or the rival BMW 3-Series, for those who want saloon stylings while remaining compact. It does match the BMW 2-Series Coupe's dimensions quite closely, so we suspect this will be a natural rivalry. 

READ: BMW 435i Sport review

We can see the appeal of a small saloon: it's easier to park if nothing else, measuring 4.46m in length, some 20cms longer than the standard A3 hatchback, but still some way shorter than the A4's 4.7m length.

The biggest change that comes with the switch in styling, of course, is the boot. There's still good access to the luggage compartment, along with 425 litres of space. That's more than the 365 litres of the hatch, although the hatch has the advantage of easier loading and the option to carry taller items standing up.

There is enough room in the back seats to carry an adult comfortably, although the dropping roofline means the A3 Saloon loses some of the headroom that the hatchback offers, so it feels less spacious depending on your height.

If you're a company exec, that's probably not going to cause too much of a problem, as your back seat will often just be a sensible place to put your jacket and suitcase. But if you're eyeing up the A3 Saloon with thoughts of carrying a young family around, then the A4 could be a better choice, even if just to save you from the kids' kicking feet.

In the driving seat

The visibility out the back of the A3 Saloon isn't the best. We found that the alignment of headrest, B and C pillars meant that a quick glance into the blind spot wouldn't reveal much - things need to be a little more deliberate than in bigger saloon models.

Aside from those changes towards the rear of the car, we found things felt very much like the Audi A3 we know and love. There's the Audi interior complete with those familiar features which run across the family of Audi cars, including the neat round air vents and a fusion of black and chrome detailing. It all gives the dashboard a high quality finish throughout.

Sat in the driver's seat there's plenty of space and things fall naturally to hand. We like that there are options for controlling things like the volume direct from the steering wheel control or the small dial sat aside the gear stick. The latter might look like it has just been added as an afterthought, but it happens to fall into a natural place to tweak the volume up and down.

Brilliant basic spec

There are two trim levels for the Audi A1 Saloon: Sport and S line, so no SE available here.

A sporty look and feel is something that Audi intends for its smallest Saloon and that's the feeling we got. With the black Alcantara and leather interior on the Sport trim of the 1.8 TFSI model that we had for review, there are comfortable seats and great detailing across the interior. There's plenty of adjustment on offer from those seats and we found them perfect for long hours on the road, but they also give support for those faster-than-you-should corners.

With the optional black headlining things are a little dark inside, so we preferred to open the cover on the panoramic sunroof (£950) to let a little more light in. On the A3 Saloon this is slightly less panoramic than some - such as the A6 - as it doesn't cover the rear seats, but does provide more natural light during the day.

Our model included the top-rung £2,000 LED light package which brings interior trim lighting as well as advanced headlights. It looks amazing, but the price may deter some, as it starts to take the basic A3 Saloon price skyward.

The same can be said for some of the tech that's available. Our model was fitted with adapative cruise control which will make sure you don't drive into the back of the car in front, as well as the upgraded and excellent sounding 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen system. Interaction is based around the central 7-inch display that rises from the dashboard - a feature we've come to adore in all Audi models that we've seen it in. It might not be the futuritstic cockpit-like design of the Allroad Shooting Brake concept, but overall the A3's interior tech spec is top notch.

READ: Audi Allroad Shooting Brake Concept pictures and hands-on: The new Audi TT

Navigation of the entertainment system and satnav is via the controller behind the gear stick. Once you get a feel for it it's simple enough to use without taking your eyes off the road. We found the call quality to be good once hooked up via Bluetooth and the Audi will boost reception using the car's roof aerial when your phone is placed in the central Audi Phone Box should you opt for that £325 extra.

On the road

There's one difference between the Audi A3 Saloon and the A3 hatchback: sports suspension is standard. Our review model also came fitted with 19-inch wheels (£1,495) finishing off the looks nicely, but those rather aggressive looks are matched with a firm ride.

If you want something that's going to be a softer for those long motorway journeys then there's a free downgrade option to remove the sports suspension. Standard wheels are 17 inch, and will be more accommodating of road surface changes and potholes we would think.

Push the button to start the engine and the 1.8 TFSI petrol engine springs to life with a purr. This may not be the R8, TT RS or even the S3 Saloon, but there's still that sporty feel that'll put a smile on your face when nipping through leafy home counties lanes. Audi's 7-speed S tronic gearbox neatly skips through the gears to make everything effortless, but is still responsive. 

READ: Audi R8 Spyder V8 review

The pairing works well: there's power when you want it and although there's the selection of driving modes - including the dynamic mode for those that want a sporty response - we found that sitting in comfort mode gave the best drive.

That 180PS engine will take you to 62mph in 7.3 seconds and to a top speed of 146mph. If that sounds a little too racy for your needs, or you suspect the economy could be bettered, there's always the  150PS diesel among a number of other engine choices. There's the Quattro option for those who want all four wheels driving, but those in the market for a small saloon may still be taken with BMW's rear wheel drive on the incoming BWM 2 Series Coupe. Consider, though, that the A3 Saloon undercuts the basic price of BMW's new model by enough to take note.

Verdict

The Audi A3 Saloon offers everything you would expect from a saloon car, but in a compact form. It's lovely to drive and the good layout of the interior and the sharp design imparts that essential Audi quality. We love the design, the drive, and there are options galore giving you just about everything you want.

Equipped as ours was with the bold sporty look from those wheels there was no shortage of admiring glances, but if we were going to be taking this cruising on long motorway journeys then we'd probably make a few spec changes to achieve a softer ride.

The basic spec is good, starting at S line trim, but that means its pricier than the hatchback from the off. The additional options of our car took the on the road price sailing from from the £25,310 that the 1.8 TSFI Sport S tronic starts at to a heftier £37,280 once everything was accounted for. The Audi A3 Saloon starts at £22,825 as a 1.4 petrol, which makes it all sound much more affordable all round.

If you're looking for a small saloon that's sharp and high quality, then certainly put the Audi A3 Saloon on your shortlist. It's a great evolution of a great hatchback, but some might find that the slightly cheaper A3, with it's more accessible boot, will fit the bill just as well.



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