Audi A3 Saloon review
The Audi A3 Saloon is an excellent-handling and great-looking alternative to the Mercedes CLA
The latest Audi A3 has a lot to recommend it and, to our eyes at least, the saloon version brings a dose of extra style to the line-up.
With its traditional 'four doors and a boot' design, the Audi may lack the extrovert looks of the Mercedes CLA, but it makes up for that with a genuinely upmarket feel - especially if you can afford the LED headlamps and the S Line trim.
It's not a cheap car when compared with VW Group stablemates such as the VW Golf or Skoda Octavia but the well-equipped, comfortable and beautifully built interior adds to a sense of premium motoring, so you shouldn't feel shortchanged.
There's a great range of petrol and diesel options, plus the addede attraction of quattro four-wheel-drive and Audi's S tronic dual-clutch gearbox. The downsides are limited headroom in the back, and a boot that's well-proportioned but not as versatile as the A3 Sportback.
The Audi A3 Saloon is part of the increasingly extended A3 family – its sister-models are the three-door hatch and five-door Sportback. This four-door version also forms the basis for the more recent A3 cabriolet.
This model was launched in 2013, the first time a saloon has been offered as part of the A3 range. It owes its existence to the fact that markets such as China and the US prefer the four-door format over hatchbacks. Of course, Audi reckons it can sell a few here in the UK too.
The Audi A3 Saloon uses the same platform as the Sportback, so it has slightly more rear legroom than the three-door hatch. It also offers 45 litres more boot space than the Sportback.
It’s definitely not a ‘taxi special’ - Audi is pitching the A3 Saloon as a premium model in the line-up, so it’s available only in high-spec Sport Navigation and S line Navigation trims. It also carries a hefty price premium of around £1,500 over the three-door.
As you would expect, the A3 Saloon borrows its engines from the rest of the line-up, kicking off with a 1.4-litre petrol TFSI engine, which features cylinder deactivation technology (CoD). Also available is a 1.8 TFSI petrol engine, plus 1.6 and 2.0 TDI diesels.
You have to look quite hard for direct rivals to the A3 saloon. Mercedes makes a saloon version of the A-Class called the CLA but that has swoopy coupe-inspired styling whereas the A3 – while sleek – looks more like a traditional four-door. The Skoda Octavia shares the Audi’s platform but not its premium/executive badge, leaving buyers looking up to rivals such as the larger and more expensive BMW 3 Series saloon for alternative choices.
Engines, performance and drive
The A3 Saloon is based on the same accomplished platform as the regular A3 hatch, as well as the Volkswagen Golf, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia. Therefore, it 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 tyre tracks are 20mm wider than on the A3 Sportback, and Audi offers a choice of three suspension settings. The softer standard set-up is available on all versions as a no-cost option.
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We recommend all buyers choose the softer suspension because, without it, your Sport model will be delivered sitting on 15mm lower suspension as standard, while the S line is dropped a further 10mm. Like all other Audi S line models, this gives the A3 Saloon an unnecessarily firm ride on British roads.
Buyers can also opt for £995 Magnetic Ride dampers, which provide Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual settings. However, we still prefer the standard suspension as it improves the ride and barely affects the handling.
On twisty roads, the A3 Saloon feels agile and responsive, and its neat dimensions mean it is at home on narrow roads. It comes with an electronic diff as standard, so understeer is controlled. A four wheel drive quattro powertrain is available with all but the 1.4-litre petrol engine.
Audi’s smooth-shifting S tronic dual-clutch automatic is available with all engine choices, but lower-powered models come with a six-speed manual as standard.
Unusually, at least as far as an Audi saloon is concerned, we’re not recommending one of the diesel engine options.
In fact all the engines are fantastic, but we’d mark out the 1.4 TFSI Cylinder on Demand-equipped petrol as the one to go for. CoD means a pair of cylinders is switched off seamlessly when the engine isn’t under load – for example coasting on the motorway – which greatly increases efficiency.
The latest 148bhp 1.4-litre TFSI CoD is 21kg lighter than the engine it has replaced, and with 250Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm, it delivers lively performance and rapid in-gear response. The 0-62mph time is 8.2 seconds with a 139mph top speed.
The bigger 1.8 litre TFSI petrol doesn’t feature CoD, but its 178bhp brings greater performance and as a result it’s only available in S line quattro guise with S tronic gears. It will do 0-62mph in a snappy 6.8 seconds and has a 146mph maximum.
There are three diesel options, the first being a 1.6 litre 109bhp that does 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds, or 11.2 seconds in quattro-equipped cars.
The 2.0 TDI is available with either 148bhp or 182bhp. The lower-powered version is slower to 62mph with a time of 8.6 seconds with manual gears, whereas the 182bhp model with quattro and S tronic knocks the sprint off in 6.9 seconds and goes on to a 147mph maximum.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The most efficient engine in the Audi A3 Saloon range is the 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which in its most basic trim has a six-speed manual gearbox and returns 72.4mpg as well as CO2 emissions of 104g/km. When fitted with Audi's quattro drivetrain, emissions increase markedly to 127g/km while economy drops to 60.1mpg.
The other diesel engines in the line-up are the 2.0-litre TDIs. When fitted with the S tronic system in 148bhp guise, the 2.0 manages 62.8mpg and emits 118g/km of CO2. If you stick with the regular six-speed 'box, then efficiency increases thanks to 68.9mpg and 107g/km of CO2.
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Opt for the more powerful 182bhp 2.0 TDI, and the best you’ll manage is 67.3mpg and 112g/km from the manual version. The S tronic quattro version returns up to 58.9mpg and 127g/km.
The petrol engines are also efficient. The 1.4-litre TFSI unit with Cylinder on Demand technology and S tronic gearbox will return punchy performance, plus 60.1mpg and 109g/km of CO2. Without the S tronic 'box, it'll still manage a credible 110g/km of CO2, as well as 58.9mpg.
The other petrol engine in the Audi A3 Saloon range is the 1.8-litre TFSI. In quattro spec with the S tronic unit bolted on, it does 42.8mpg with emissions of 153g/km of CO2.
The Audi S3 quattro Saloon is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, which produces 296bhp, 40.9mpg and 159g/km. Unsurprisingly, thanks to its performance, it's the least efficient car in the line-up.
Insurance groups for the A3 Saloon range from 14 for the slowest diesel model – the 1.6 TDI – all the way up to group 36 for the high-performance S3 version. The punchy mid-range models are grouped in the early 20s.
Although it’s quite pricey to buy new, at least compared with VW group stablemates such as the Golf and Skoda Octavia, the Audi’s premium badge makes it quite a strong performer on the depreciation front.
The smaller, most fuel-efficient diesel models are expected to do best, but you should be expecting residual values of between 46 and 51 per cent after three years, according to our experts.
Interior, design and technology
Audi’s design philosophy tends to run along the lines of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, so the A3 Saloon is barely distinguishable from other cars in its compact car range.
From head-on, the saloon looks identical to the A3 hatch, while moving to the side reveals the standard three-box shape that marks out all of the Audi saloons. Indeed, when viewed from a distance, and with no scale of reference, the A3 Saloon could be confused with an A4, A6, or even the flagship A8.
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For some people Audi’s uniform look isn’t a bad thing, as the sharp, no-nonsense lines, tight panel gaps and distinctive light clusters give the car a simple, yet classy appearance. In fact, the optional LED daytime running lights even make the A3 appear quite stylish, although as part of a £2,000 LED headlamp upgrade package they certainly don’t come cheap.
Step inside the Audi A3 Saloon, and again it's immediately evident that the cabin shares its layout with the A3 hatch. That means you get a pop-up display screen on top of the dash, round air vents, a bank of switches and a rotary control wheel just behind the gear lever to operate the infotainment system. You also benefit from Audi’s excellent build quality, but again there are no surprises.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The standard-fit infotainment package on all A3 Saloons includes sat-nav with mapping on the 5.8 inch colour display screen that pops out of the dash. The stereo comes with an 8-speaker installation, a single CD player and Bluetooth or USB/cabled connectivity for streamed music.
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If you want to upgrade, £1,145 gets you the Technology Package that brings HDD-based sat-nav with a high-res seven-inch display and 3-D mapping. You also get a DVD player and additional MMI Touch (touch sensitive) functionality with handwriting recognition for when you want to enter postcodes or phone numbers.
A couple of hundred pounds more gives you Audi Connect, which turns your car into a Wi-Fi hotspot. The optional Audi sound system is £255 and gives you a 10-speaker system with 180 Watts of output. For £750 you can specify a Bang & Olufsen surround sound system with 705 Watts and 14 speakers.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The driver and front-seat passenger are very well looked after in the A3 Saloon, as the front row accommodation mirrors that in the rest of the range. That means a very good range of adjustment for driving seat and steering wheel, and comfortable seating with a good view of the important controls and the road ahead.
The interior quality is excellent, which adds to the comfortable ambience, and if you’re feeling lavish you can splash out on luxuries such as quilted leather seats that add to the premium feel.
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On a more practical level, while visibility out of the back isn’t brilliant, it’s noticeably better than the Mercedes CLA saloon with its coupe-like hind-quarters.
Cabin storage is decent too, with a good-sized glovebox, cupholders and storage under the flip-up armrest.
At 4,460mm the A3 Saloon is noticeably longer than its five-door A3 Sportback stablemate, which is only 4,310mm. However, the Audi saloon is also noticeably shorter than the 4,630mm Mercedes CLA and the 4,624mm BMW 3 Series saloon.
The 1,796mm Audi and the Merc are equally wide between the mirrors, but the BMW is a little wider at 1,811mm. Surprisingly perhaps, the 1,416mm tall A3 Saloon is a couple of cms lower than the CLA, while the 3 Series splits the difference.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
It’s easy to forget the A3 Saloon is not a big family car, but that said its small-ish back doors aren’t really an issue. However, a low roofline does mean that you might bang your head when getting in and out.
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Although it’s a full five-seater, passenger space in the back is tight. There’s only just enough legroom for adults – but certainly more than in the three-door hatch. You’ll squeeze three abreast on the back seat too if necessary, but three adults won’t want to stay there for long journeys.
The Audi does offer two air vents and a 12V socket in the back to help passengers feel looked after, though. The latter will be particularly useful if you have kids who want to power their Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets.
The Audi A3 Saloon gets an ample 425-litre boot and its flat sides create a square load area that’s extremely useable. In comparison, the A3 Sportback's boot offers a less generous 380 litres, while the more expensive BMW 3-Series saloon offers a giant 480 litres.
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The back seats fold flat to accommodate larger items, but they leave a distinct step in the floor and can only be dropped from inside the passenger compartment, which makes using them a bit more hassle than it might otherwise be.
There’s also an optional Through-Load set-up, which comprises a drop-down centre armrest with cupholders and a storage compartment.
A well-thought-out towing hitch is a £625 option. The ball is removable, while the 12-pin socket swivels out of sight behind the bumper skirt.
Reliability and Safety
The A3 range is still fairly new, and our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey shows owners are impressed with the build quality and in-car tech. Decent performance and running costs, plus a great driving experience, helped the car finish 27th in our Top 200 cars, although it wasn’t the highest-placed Audi in the survey – the Q3 came 14th and the A5 Sportback was 26th.
For reliability, the A3 came in 36th overall, which isn’t a result to be sniffed at, and on that score only the Q3 did better – ranking 18th.
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On the safety front, the tech that impresses owners includes some smart safety features which ensured the hatchback version of the A3 earned a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. As well as seven airbags and a host of electronic driver aids, the Audi gets a pedestrian-friendly active bonnet and driver-tiredness monitor as standard. Kit such as blind spot warning and a lane keeping aid is on the options list.
Although the A3 Saloon hasn’t been tested, you can be pretty confident that the EuroNCAP ratings for the hatchback model would translate into similar results for the saloon. The A3 hatchback’s 95 per cent safety rating for adults was particularly impressive – the Mercedes CLA scored 91 per cent – as was its 87 per cent rating for child safety.
The Audi’s three-year/60,000-mile warranty used to be par for the course, but it looks increasingly ungenerous in an era when budget brands such as Hyundai and Kia are offering five- and seven-year warranties. Audi’s premium rivals BMW and Mercedes both offer three years too, but at least they don’t put a mileage cap on cover.
The fixed cost is £159 for an interim service, or £309 for a full service - but you can opt for a variable service schedule based on the car's on-board monitors, instead of an annual routine.
Audi also offers a three-year maintainence plan for £16 per month, which private buyers can include with any finance deal.