What Car? says...
Audi doesn't sell estate cars – it sells Avants. And there are no hatchbacks in its range, just Sportbacks. So it's a bit of a surprise that the saloon car version of the Audi A3 is called... the Audi A3 Saloon.
If anything, though, the A3 Saloon's name rather undersells it, because the swoopy roofline and extended tail give this four-door executive car its own distinct identity and appeal. Broadening that appeal, it's available with a choice of two petrol engines or one diesel, and a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version is on the way.
Meanwhile, in terms of size, price and intent, the A3 Saloon’s closest rivals are the Mercedes A-Class Saloon and the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé. They're all available in mainstream versions aimed at buyers and company car drivers who don't have the need or budget for something bigger.
On top of those direct rivals, we’ll also compare it with the larger models that dominate the executive car market – namely the Audi A4 and the BMW 3 Series – to see whether the Audi A3 Saloon is good enough to let you downsize without regretting it.
Read on over the next few pages to find our how we rate it in all the key areas, from handling and performance to boot space, practicality and running costs. We'll also tell you which of the engines and trims Audi offers for the model makes the most sense.
Once you've decided which car or SUV is best for your needs, we can also help you find it for the lowest price if you search our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. They're a great place to find all the latest new executive car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Our pick of the Audi A3 Saloon engine options is the 148bhp 1.5-litre 35 TFSI petrol. It’s gutsy throughout the rev range, and has a respectable 0-62mph time of 8.7sec. It feels livelier than the 218i BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé but can't quite match the pace of the A200 Mercedes A-Class Saloon.
The entry-level 108bhp 1.0-litre 30 TFSI petrol engine isn’t quite as versatile, and takes 10.6sec to do the 0-62mph sprint. That’s not to say it's not quick enough, it just doesn’t pull as hard from a standstill and you have to work it to get up to speed.
The diesel option – the 148bhp 35 TDI – is strong enough to make good progress and is relaxed on motorway runs. It’s only available with an automatic gearbox (you can have the petrols with a six-speed manual), and that gearbox proves annoyingly hesitant when you’re trying to accelerate briskly from a standstill.
Suspension and ride comfort
The suspension you’ll find under your A3 Sportback depends on its engine and the badge on the back. Lower-powered models (with less than 148bhp and the number 30 in their name) have a less sophisticated rear suspension setup than the more powerful versions (badged with a 35). If you go for S line or Black Edition trim, you also get sport suspension, which is both lower and firmer.
Despite the stiffer options, S Line and Black Edition models remain impressively cushioning most of the time. It's slightly more forgiving than the equivalent 2 Series Gran Coupé M Sport, and, when you do hit rough stuff, the car recovers its composure quickly, with little bobbing or bouncing around afterwards. That's a trait the A-Class Saloon suffers from too, but overall the A-Class is softer and comfier.
As you might expect, the sweetest-riding A3s are the softer Sport versions, not least because they come with the smallest 17in alloy wheels as standard.
With the sports suspension equipped, the A3 Saloon is sharper to drive than the bigger Audi A4. It corners really predictably and securely, gripping the road well, with a lovely balance front to rear that leaves it, and you, unflustered by quick changes of direction. In Sport trim, with the slightly softer setup, it rolls a bit more but still feels very tidy to drive.
It helps that the A3's steering is reassuringly weighted and responsive, even if it's not as sharp as a 2 Series'. If you prefer – and have one of the 35 badged engines – you can make it feel that bit meatier by engaging the Sport mode.
Noise and vibration
All the petrol engines are impressively quiet, as is the 35 TDI diesel, which is much more hushed than the equivalent A-Class Saloon or 2 Series Gran Coupé diesel.
The automatic gearbox can flare the engine revs at times, but the six-speed manual alternative is light and easy to use. You can also gauge the biting point of the clutch easily, and all the A3s we've tried have progressive brakes.
The A3 Saloon emits less suspension and wind noise than the A-Class Saloon, but road noise can be more intrusive at higher speeds, especially with bigger wheels fitted. The larger A4 and 3 Series cruise more serenely than both, though.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Regardless of which trim you go for, the Audi A3 Saloon provides a fundamentally good driving position, and there’s plenty of seat adjustment (including four-way lumbar adjustment) to help you get comfortable.
All the controls and screens you use frequently are within clear sight or easy reach, helped by the centre area of the dashboard being angled towards the driver. This includes simple physical switches to operate the climate controls.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display comes as standard. It shows all the driving information on a crisp, 10.3in screen, with various layouts to select from.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Slim front pillars ensure that the A3 Saloon provides a good view ahead. Thick rear pillars impede the view over your shoulder slightly, but standard-fit rear parking sensors ensure that parking is easy.
If you want to make that task even easier, ticking some option boxes can give you front sensors, a full 360-degree bird's eye view camera, and even a system that can park the car for you.
Bright LED headlights come as standard, but can be upgraded to matrix LEDs if you add the optional Technology Pro pack. They can adapt the main beams so they can remain on full beam without dazzling other drivers.
Sat nav and infotainment
Every version gets a large and crisp 10.1in touchscreen infotainment system, but we prefer the system in the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé and the BMW 3 Series. That’s because the A3 Saloon’s system doesn’t have any physical controls.
Instead of being able to keep most of your attention on the road while you scroll down a list and make selections using the rotary controller (as in the BMWs), in the A3 you have to look directly at the touchscreen to find and hit the icon you need.
On the plus side, the screen is sharp, with good graphics, and the menus respond quickly. It's also packed with features – including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. The optional Bang & Olufsen surround-sound stereo, which comes as part of the Technology Pack, adds more power and extra speakers, giving a richer experience.
The A3 compares well with the A-Class Saloon for showroom appeal, and its materials are generally of good quality. But it's not faultless.
The dashboard’s prominent plastic ledge isn't particularly appealing when you touch it, plus there are some cheaper-feeling materials around the centre console that you'll find if you go hunting for them.
You can argue that the same is true of the A-Class, but the 2 Series Gran Coupé has a better fit and finish, and there are – admittedly pricier – larger executive cars such as the Audi A4 and the 3 Series that feel plusher and more robust.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s more than enough leg and head room in the Audi A3 Saloon for a couple of tall adults up front. However, while shoulder room is far from tight, it’s worth noting that the model is narrower than the Audi A4 and the BMW 3 Series but the Skoda Superb is bigger again.
The simple dashboard design doesn’t conceal a huge number of cubbyholes, but you do get storage areas ahead of the gearlever and under the central armrest, plus a couple of cupholders in the centre console. The door pockets are each big enough for a large water bottle too.
As you might expect from the stylish roofline, anyone over six feet tall won’t be particularly comfortable in the rear. Indeed, while there’s a fair amount of leg room, with lots of knee room and space under the front seats for your feet, head room is very limited. In fact, even those just under six feet tall will have to duck slightly.
Things are even worse for the person sitting in the middle seat, because not only do they have to compete with the lack of head room, they also have a big central tunnel to straddle. You wouldn’t want to be sitting three abreast for a long drive and if you plan to often use the rear seats, you’ll be better off with the A4, 3 Series or Superb.
There's not much storage space in the back for odds and ends, although the door pockets are each big enough to hold a small drinks bottle.
Seat folding and flexibility
The A3 Saloon’s rear seats aren’t exactly innovative, but they do offer a versatile 40/20/40 split if you avoid the entry-level Sport trim, giving you more options if you're carrying a few people and a longer load.
There’s a big step up from the boot floor once the seats are down too, but they do at least lie fairly flat.
The A3 Saloon has a 425-litre boot, which is fractionally bigger than the A-Class Saloon’s 420 litres and a lot bigger than the Audi A3 Sportback boot (380 litres). Both cars are a little way off the A4 and 3 Series for load lugging, while the Superb’s boot is enormous by comparison.
What’s more, due to the fact that it has a saloon opening, the boot is not as versatile as a hatchback model.
Don’t get us wrong – the A3 Saloon still has more than enough room for a child’s bike, or for the weekly shop to sit alongside a compact baby buggy. It’s just that it’s on the small side by the standards of the executive car class.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
Pricing and running costs for the Audi A3 Saloon are roughly in line with equivalent versions of the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé and the Mercedes A-Class Saloon. What’s more, it will cost you a lot less than an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series with the same sort of power and spec, whether you’re buying outright or on PCP finance. You can check the latest prices on our New Car Deals pages.
If you are choosing an A3 Saloon as your next company car, think about petrol rather than diesel – the A3's diesel engine isn’t RDE2 emissions compliant (unlike those of the A-Class Saloon), and that means you'll pay a 4% surcharge.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level Sport trim is the one we'd opt for because it has pretty much all the standard kit you'll need. You get 17in alloy wheels, cruise control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power-folding door mirrors, automatic lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control and leather upholstery. It also comes with the infotainment, parking and safety aids we've described already.
If you’re after something that looks a little sportier, mid-spec S Line gets sportier styling touches, 18in alloys and sport front seats. You also get selectable driving modes and sports suspension, but we’re not really sure those extras are worth the extra money.
With that in mind, top-spec Black Edition adds even larger 19in alloys and is mainly just a style upgrade on the S Line, swapping a lot of the exterior detailing from body colour to black. Again, we’re not sure it’s worth the larger price tag.
The A3 Saloon comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and three years’ roadside assistance (on a par with the industry norm). You can pay extra to extend the cover to either four years and 75,000 miles, or five years and 90,000 miles.
That’s above Mercedes and Volkswagen, but below BMW in 16th place and way below a lot of non-premium brands, including Kia, Mazda and Skoda.
Safety and security
Every model has automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane-departure warning as standard. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and traffic-sign recognition are optional.
When it was tested by the safety experts at Euro NCAP the A3 Saloon was awarded the full five stars. Looking deeper into the report, you’ll find that it did a good job of protecting adults in the front, scoring fairly well, but not quite as good at protecting children in the rear.
It’s worth noting that the A3 Saloon was last tested in 2020 and, since then, the tests have become more and more stringent.
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The A3 Saloon has a bigger boot than the Audi A3 Sportback (the hatchback version) but has slightly less rear head room. Space in the front seats is the same in both.
|RRP price range||£28,150 - £50,165|
|Number of trims (see all)||5|
|Number of engines (see all)||4|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol, diesel|
|MPG range across all versions||35.3 - 61.4|
|Available doors options||4|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,589 / £3,631|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£3,179 / £7,262|