The Audi A3 Saloon is one of a new breed of junior executive cars designed to bridge the gap between premium family hatchbacks and traditional executive saloons. It might cost more than the A3 Sportback on which it's based, but it’s much cheaper than larger saloons such as the BMW 3 Series.
From launch, buyers will have the choice of a 138bhp 1.4 turbo petrol engine (which can deactivate half of its cylinders to save fuel while cruising) and a 178bhp 1.8 turbo petrol. A 148bhp 2.0 diesel will also be available, while a sub-100g/km CO2 1.6-litre diesel will follow early next year.
What’s the Audi A3 Saloon like to drive?
Unlike the A3 Sportback, the new A3 Saloon isn't available in entry-level SE trim, which means sports suspension comes fitted as standard. This isn’t a good thing; the firmer set-up jostles you around a bit too much on bumpy roads.
However, for no extra cost, you can spec optional Comfort suspension – and we’d definitely recommend ticking the box because it brings a much smoother ride. There’s still a slightly firm edge at low speeds, but the A3 Saloon rides superbly on motorways and A-roads.
There is quite a lot of road noise at higher speeds. However, all of our test cars were fitted with optional 18-inch alloys, which no doubt amplified the problem.
Even with the optional softer suspension set-up, the A3 changes direction tidily and hangs on gamely through corners. The steering is light and accurate at low speeds, and if you want more weight to provide reassurance for faster cornering, you can choose Dynamic from the standard Drive Select system. Choosing this setting also sharpens the throttle responses.
The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel is a real highlight, being smooth, quiet and effortlessly flexible from low revs. It is quick, too, with 0-62mph taking just 8.7 seconds.
Both the 1.4-litre and 1.8-litre petrol engines are also remarkably refined. The 1.4 petrol switches between two- and four-cylinder mode so smoothly you’ll barely notice, and doesn’t feel that much slower than the 1.8. With that in mind, it’s hard to justify the larger engine's £1600 premium and comparatively high emissions.
The 1.4 engine's emissions are seriously impressive, at just 109g/km of CO2. The 2.0 diesel is even more efficient, pumping out 107g/km (in manual form), placing it two company car tax bands below a Mercedes CLA 220 CDI.
A BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics manages to scrape into the same tax band as the diesel A3 saloon, but its much higher list price means you'll have to sacrifice more of your salary to run one. As a 40% taxpayer, expect that additional amount to be in the region of £20 a month.
The automatic (S tronic) models are less attractive, because they emit more CO2 than their manual counterparts. However, even these versions work out cheaper than most equivalent rivals (even for company car drivers) because they’re so much cheaper to buy.
What’s the Audi A3 Saloon like inside?
The A3 Saloon is 15cm longer than the Sportback, and this extra length has increased boot capacity by 45 litres (to 425 litres). Being a saloon, the boot opening is fairly shallow, although the rear seats fold almost completely flat, making it easy to carry longer items.
The space between the front and rear wheels is no different than in an A3 Sportback, so you don't get any more legroom, and rear headroom is actually marginally worse due to a lower roofline. However, four six-foot adults still fit much more comfortably than in a Mercedes CLA, although a BMW 3 Series offers even more rear space.
The 3 Series comes off second best for interior quality, though. Every switch in the A3 feels substantial and beautifully damped, and the materials throughout the cabin are wonderfully classy. The fit and finish are close to flawless, too, meaning anyone downsizing from a larger executive saloon won't feel shortchanged.
It's pretty high-tech, too, because like the A3 hatchback, the saloon comes with the latest version of Audi's MMI (multimedia interface) infotainment system as standard. This has the central control dial that Audi drivers will be familiar with, but the shortcut buttons have been replaced by raised toggle switches, which are easier to use without studying the buttons.
Finding a comfortable driving position is also simple because there's loads of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. Rear visibility is much better than in a Mercedes CLA, thanks to the A3's more conventional notchback body shape.
Only two trims are available: Sport and S line. Sport trim gets you alloys, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control and sports seats, while S line versions add bigger alloys, part-leather seats and xenon headlights.
Given the A3 saloon’s tempting price, it’s perhaps understandable that cruise control, rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers cost extra. However, all of the things are available with the optional (£605) Comfort Package, which also brings acoustic side windows and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Should I buy one?
For those who'd rather drive a saloon than a hatchback, the new A3 saloon has an awful lot going for it. It's a much better choice than its closest rival, the Mercedes CLA, being more practical, better to drive, classier inside and significantly cheaper to buy and run.
In fact, it's good enough even to make you think twice before buying that BMW 3 Series. True, the 320d Efficient Dynamics is a bit bigger in the back and is slightly faster, but the Audi counters with a classier cabin, sharper handling and a much lower price.
However, the A3 Sportback has an even broader appeal, thanks to its more useable boot and that fact it costs around £900 less than an equivalent-spec saloon.
What Car? says...
BMW 3 Series
Engine size 1.4-litre turbo petrol
Price from £24,305
Torque 184lb ft
0-62mph 8.4 seconds
Top speed 132mph
Fuel economy 60.1mpg
Engine size 1.8-litre turbo petrol
Price from £25,955
Torque 184lb ft
0-62mph 7.3 seconds
Top speed 144mph
Fuel economy 49.6mpg
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £24,275
Torque 236lb ft
0-62mph 8.4 seconds
Top speed 132mph
Fuel economy 67.3mpg