New Audi A3 Saloon review

Category: Executive car

The 2024 A3 Saloon is a comfortable, composed and well equipped executive car

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  • Audi A3 Saloon interior driver display
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  • Audi A3 Saloon steering wheel detail
  • Audi A3 Saloon infotainment touchscreen
  • Audi A3 Saloon front seats detail
  • Audi A3 Saloon interior detail
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Introduction

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, Audi has also treated the A3 Saloon to a mid-life facelift in an effort to keep ahead of rivals. 

A new frameless grille, sharper bumpers and updated LED headlights with configurable light signatures have been added to give the A3 a more aggressive "RS look". Inside, the driver is treated to ambient lighting and a higher grade of materials. 

The engine line-up remains more or less unchanged and there are two performance variants (for more on those, see our Audi S3 review and Audi RS3 review).

So, is the face-lifted Audi A3 Saloon good enough to stand out among the best executive cars? Read on to find out how we rate it against rivals as disparate as the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé, Mazda 3 Saloon and Mercedes A-Class Saloon...

Overview

The Audi A3 Saloon impresses with its agility in corners, comfortable ride and respectable fuel efficiency. With its recent mid-life facelift, it now boasts a well-equipped standard equipment list and a sharper, more luxurious interior. However, if you prioritise spaciousness and superior cruising performance, the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series might warrant the extra investment.

  • Good ride and handling balance
  • Punchy 35 TFSI petrol engine
  • All versions are well equipped
  • Distracting infotainment system
  • Road noise at speed
  • Small boot by class standards
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Our Pick

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Audi A3 35 TFSI Sport 4dr review
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

At the time of writing, if you want a petrol Audi A3 Saloon, your only choice is the 148bhp 1.5-litre 35 TFSI. Fortunately, it's a highly flexible engine that feels livelier than the equivalent 118i BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé (0-62mph takes 8.1 seconds) and pulls strongly from low revs.

The 1.0 30 TFSI will rejoin the A3 Saloon line-up later. We weren’t overly enamoured with the pre-facelift version, which felt rather breathless at motorway speeds.

That’s not a criticism you can level at the 148bhp 2.0-litre 35 TDI diesel. It has more torque (pulling power) than the 35 TFSI and gets from 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds. It’s a relaxed performer and the additional grunt is great for overtaking on a motorway, although we’d still recommend the 35 TFSI for cost reasons.

You can’t get the A3 Saloon as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) – for lower BIK tax, company car drivers will be better off waiting for the revised Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSIe PHEV.

Suspension and ride comfort

The suspension 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 set-up 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 lower and firmer.

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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 Mercedes A-Class Saloon has too, but overall the A-Class is softer and comfier.

As you might expect, the sweetest-riding A3 Saloons are the softer Sport versions, not least because they come with the smallest 17in alloy wheels as standard.

Red Audi A3 Saloon rear left driving

Handling

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 set-up, 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 Gran Coupé’s. If you prefer, you can make it feel a bit meatier by engaging Sport mode.

If you can make the step up to a bigger executive car, you'll find an Alfa Romeo Giulia, a BMW 3 Series or a Jaguar XE even more fun.

Noise and vibration

All the A3 Saloon’s engines are impressively quiet most of the time. The standard fit automatic gearbox sometimes flares the engine revs if you’re a bit too enthusiastic with the accelerator, but it’s smooth through the gears.

The A3 Saloon emits less suspension or wind noise than the Mercedes A-Class Saloon, but road noise can be more intrusive at higher speeds, especially with bigger wheels fitted. The larger Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series cruise more serenely than both, though.

Driving overview

Strengths 35 TFSI feels lively enough for most; all models have a plush ride; S line and Black Edition models are sharp in the bends

Weaknesses Larger executive rivals are more fun in the bends; Audi A4 is quieter at a cruise

Interior

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. We like the fact that you get 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 12.3in screen, with various layouts to select from. It’s so good that you don't really need the optional head-up display.

Visibility, parking sensors and cameras

Slim front pillars ensure that the A3 Saloon provides a good view ahead. Wide rear pillars impede the view over your shoulder slightly, but standard front and rear parking sensors make parking easy enough. You also get an ingenious parking assist feature that can detect a suitable parking space and manoeuvre you in.

Bright LED headlights come as standard, and you can opt for matrix LED headlights that can be left on full beam at all times without dazzling oncoming drivers.

Audi A3 Saloon interior dashboard

Sat nav and infotainment

The A3's infotainment touchscreen is a good size – 10.1in – but you have to look directly at the screen to find and hit the icon you need. That makes it more distracting when you're driving than the systems in the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé (with its rotary dial) and the Mercedes A-Class Saloon (a touchpad).

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, a wireless phone-charger and built-in sat-nav. You get a six-speaker stereo, unless you upgrade to the 15-speaker, Sonos surround-sound system that's available as part of the Technology Pack.

Quality

As part of the A3 Saloon’s mid-life facelift, the interior underwent a refresh which has had a big impact. A prominent plastic ledge on the dashboard has been replaced with a tactile fabric crafted from recycled polyester, which we think is a great improvement.

Audi has also incorporated additional interior lighting strips, and we particularly appreciate the new perforated door panel inserts, which allow the ambient lighting to softly illuminate the cabin in the evening. 

That said, there are still cheaper-feeling hard plastics around, including on the centre console. Overall, the A3 Saloon compares favourably with the A-Class Saloon in terms of showroom appeal, but the 2 Series Gran Coupé and the more affordable Mazda 3 Saloon feel more luxurious throughout.

Interior overview

Strengths Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display is superb; great driving position; infotainment is easy to use for a touchscreen-based system

Weaknesses Interior quality has improved but is still not quite up there with BMW models

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Front space

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.

Rear space

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.

Red Audi A3 Saloon boot open

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, but they do at least lie fairly flat.

Boot space

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.

Practicality overview

Strengths Plenty of space up front; rear seatbacks split in a flexible 40/20/20 arrangement from S line trim up

Weaknesses Rear seats are a touch cramped compared to bigger rivals; boot isn’t that big

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2

As part of the A3 Saloon’s mid-life facelift, Audi increased the levels of standard equipment but pricing remains more or less in line with the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé and Mercedes A-Class Saloon. 

The A3's engines deliver fuel economy and CO2 emissions that are in line with its family car rivals, but if you’re a company car driver you’d be better off with the Audi A3 Sportback. That’s because you can get the Sportback as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), putting it in one of the lowest benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax brackets.

Equipment, options and extras

The entry-level A3 Saloon is so well-equipped that we find little reason to upgrade to the S line or Black Edition trims. Standard features include cruise control, three-zone air conditioning, power-folding door mirrors, 17in alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

For those seeking a sportier aesthetic and driving experience, the S line trim is worth considering. It includes 18in alloy wheels, sports suspension, S line front and rear bumpers, stainless steel pedals, a flat-bottom steering wheel and customisable multi-colour interior lighting.

Black Edition trim is steeply priced considering its offerings. It primarily adds a black exterior styling package, 18in wheels and door-mounted LEDs that project the Audi logo on to the ground when exiting the vehicle.

Audi A3 Saloon interior driver display

Reliability

The A3 Sportback comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and three years’ roadside assistance, which is the industry norm. You can pay extra to extend cover for up to five years or 90,000 miles.

We’d be tempted to do so, because the pre-facelift A3 Sportback finished in last place in the family car class in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey – below the BMW 1 Series (the hatchback version of the rival 2 Series Gran Coupé) in fifth, and the petrol and diesel versions of the Mercedes A-Class hatchback in 24th and 26th. Audi as a brand performed a little better, finishing 26th out of 32 manufacturers.

Safety and security

​​Every A3 Saloon gets automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning and traffic-sign recognition as standard.

In common with most cars these days, the model received a five-star rating after safety testing by Euro NCAP. The 2 Series Gran Coupé was found to be a bit better at preventing injury to adults up front and children in the rear.

Costs overview

Strengths Generous standard equipment levels; Audi 3's typically hold on to their value well

Weaknesses Pre-facelift model wasn't very reliable; company car drivers have to go for the Sportback if they want a PHEV


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FAQs

At a glance
New car deals
Save up to £2,334
Target Price from £27,063
Save up to £2,334
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Nearly new deals
From £21,999
RRP price range £28,650 - £52,965
Number of trims (see all)10
Number of engines (see all)8
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol, diesel
MPG range across all versions 34 - 61.4
Available doors options 4
Warranty 3 years / 60000 miles
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £1,616 / £3,834
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £3,232 / £7,669
Available colours