Audi A3 Saloon review
The Audi A3 Saloon rivals the Mercedes CLA, with stylish looks and a bigger boot than the A3 hatch
The Audi A3 Saloon is the latest member of the A3 family, following the three-door hatch and the five-door Sportback. It’s also the first time a saloon model has been offered as part of the A3 family, and when it comes time to introduce a convertible variant, it’ll use the saloon as a base. The saloon uses the same platform as the A3 Sportback, so it has slightly more rear legroom than the three-door hatch and 45 litres more boot space than the Sportback. The design, in our eyes at least, is more stylish than any other A3, too. It borrows its engines from the rest of the line-up, kicking off with a 138bhp 1.4 TFSI engine, which features cylinder deactivation technology. At launch there are no quattro variants but they’ll eventually be introduced along with an S3 version, featuring 296bhp for a 0-62mph time of around five seconds. The introduction of the first-ever A3 Saloon gives the A3 family a new lease of life.
Our choice: A3 Saloon 1.4 TFSI CoD Sport
Audi A3 saloon video review
If you want adventurous design, Audi’s latest saloon probably isn’t for you. The A3 has always been a smart but sensible choice, and the newest addition to the range is no different – although many buyers will still be drawn by the business-like and upmarket look. The traditional three-box saloon shape is classy and well proportioned, and at a quick glance you could easily mistake this car for an A4. With a strong shoulder line, familiar Audi grille, smart headlights and tidy tail, it’s every bit the junior executive model. Some people will prefer the four-door coupé shape of the Mercedes, but the clean and simple A3 is less likely to polarise opinion.
It’s even better news inside, where the design is bang up to date and the quality is superb. First-class materials are matched to faultless fit and finish, while the minimalist layout is simple yet classy. Slender dashboard switches and aluminium inlays add to the upmarket feel, and the standard fabric seats are very supportive. Better still, for an extra £795, you can opt for a plush leather finish. Standard kit includes dual-zone climate control and a multifunction leather steering wheel, while the 3.5-inch information screen rises serenely out of the dash at the touch of a button. This provides access to the easy-to-use MMI cabin control system, while SD card-based navigation is £495 extra.
The A3 Saloon is based on the same accomplished MQB platform as the regular A3 hatch, as well as the VW Golf, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia, and drives in the fuss-free manner you’d expect. With a good driving position and well weighted controls, you feel immediately at home. The front and rear tracks are 20mm wider than on the A3 Sportback, while Audi offers a choice of three suspension settings. A softer standard set-up is available on all versions as a no-cost option, with Sport models sitting 15mm lower as standard and the S line dropped a further 10mm. Or you can go for the £995 Magnetic Ride dampers, which provide Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual settings. Our Sport test car featured the standard suspension, and we’d recommend it, as it improves the ride and barely affects the handling. The A3 doesn’t feel quite as sporty as the Mercedes CLA – there’s more roll and a fraction less front end grip at the limit – but you’d need to drive them back to back to notice. On twisty roads, the Audi’s steering is light, but quick and accurate, while the handling is vice free. The standard Drive Select system allows owners to fine-tune the steering weighting and throttle response, although most of the time we found it’s best to leave the set-up in the auto setting.
The engines are fantastic but we’d mark out 1.4 TFSI CoD as the one to go for. The latest 138bhp 1.4-litre TFSI is 21kg lighter than the engine it replaces, and with 250Nm of torque at just 1,500rpm, it delivers lively performance and rapid in-gear response. Buyers will be able to specify a six-speed manual box from next month, while those wanting four-wheel drive will have to step up to the 178bhp 1.8-litre TFSI quattro, which has a December 2013 release date.
Audi’s dealers finished a disappointing 23rd out of 31 in the Auto Express Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey. That’s 11 places behind the Mercedes network, while overall the brand came 10th to its rival’s fifth. On the plus side, all the A3 Saloon’s components have been proven in other VW Group models. Euro NCAP has yet to test the new car, but it should match the three-door’s five-star rating, as it comes with seven airbags, stability control and Isofix child seat mountings as standard. Optional active safety kit includes blind spot and lane keep warning, adaptive cruise and a parking camera. All models have a space saver spare wheel and an electric parking brake.
Audi already offers three and five-door hatch versions of the A3, but the new Saloon edges both for boot space, with a 425-litre capacity. And while close rival the CLA has a 470-litre boot, the Audi’s standard split-fold rear seats drop flat to give greater versatility, as the opening into the cabin is wider. Plus, with bigger dimensions - more headroom, wider doors and more legroom - rear passengers will be better off in the A3 than the Mercedes. Up front, the seat doesn’t adjust as low as the sporty CLA’s, but otherwise the Audi’s driving position is excellent. It’s just a shame parking sensors and cruise control are optional extras.
THE new Saloon carries a £550 price premium over the A3 Sportback, with the entry-level Sport kicking off at £24,305. Tthe fleet users expected to account for 40 per cent of A3 Saloon sales are likely to be even more tempted when they see the low 109g/km emissions of the 1.4 TFSI Cylinder on Demand engine. Audi offers a £399 three-year/30,000-mile fixed price servicing deal, and also allows buyers to extend the standard manufacturer warranty to four years/75,000 miles for £245 or to five years/90,000 miles for £545.