Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Predictably, the 114bhp 30 TDI diesel needs to be worked quite hard, while the 148bhp 35 TDI is noticeably stronger and proves particularly relaxed on motorway runs.
The 148bhp 35 TFSI petrol, though, is our pick of the range. It’s cheaper than the 35 TDI but still offers strong performance throughout the rev range.
While the automatic gearboxes in some modern Audis can be annoyingly hesitant when you’re trying to accelerate briskly away from a standstill, this isn’t an issue in the A3 Saloon.
Suspension and ride comfort
The suspension you’ll find under your A3 depends on its engine and the badge on the bootlid. 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 an S line model, you also get lowered, firmer suspension by default, although reverting to the standard setup is a no-cost option. And in some countries (although not the UK) there’s also the option of adaptive suspension, which allows you to stiffen and soften the ride at the touch of a button.
Unfortunately, so far we've only been able to try that adaptive setup, with it mostly striking a fine balance between comfort and control when left in its Automatic setting. However, it’s not perfect, letting the car fidget about a bit, particularly between speeds of about 40 and 50mph. Switching to Comfort or Sport mode doesn’t cure the problem or make a dramatic difference to the way the car rides.
Like Audi’s bigger A4, the A3 Saloon has loads of grip, and handles predictably and securely, while the sportier S line suspension setup is only likely to improve its agility (albeit at the expense of some comfort).
You can change the weighting by engaging Sport mode, but the extra heft that this brings feels unnatural. Ultimately, then, there are better driver’s cars in the executive saloon class, but the A3 is always pleasant.
Noise and vibration
All of the engines are impressively quiet most of the time, but the fact that you need to work the 30 TDI diesel harder than the more powerful alternatives makes it the first to show signs of strain.
The automatic gearbox can also flare the revs of the 35 TFSI petrol engine at times. And while the diesels are easy to drive smoothly, the mild hybrid system of the 35 TFSI (which harnesses the energy that would usually be wasted during braking) gives its brake pedal a staged feel; it’s initially unresponsive, then bites a little abruptly.
The A3 Saloon lets in less suspension noise than the Mercedes A-Class Saloon, but road noise can be quite noticeable at higher speeds – the A4 and 3 Series both cruise more serenely.
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