The entry-level petrol motor is a punchy 148bhp 1.4 turbo that can also shut down two of its four cylinders to save fuel when you’re cruising along. It’s an excellent choice and is our favourite petrol engine. That said, we haven’t driven the 2.0 TFSI with 187bhp yet, but while not doubting it’ll be pretty quick, the extra running costs will certainly limit its appeal.
The diesel options are more likely to attract company car users, though, and it’s a strong line-up. The entry-level 108bhp 1.6-litre engine isn’t as gutsy as the bigger units, but it seldom feels underpowered and has a smooth power delivery. The 148bhp 2.0-litre is strong across the rev range, and we think it’s an absolute belter. So much so in fact, that while we’d agree the pricier 181bhp version does have a more defined surge as the turbo kicks in, the 148bhp diesel is so effective it makes this an unnecessary extravagance considering its added cost.
The standard gearbox is a six-speed manual that has a precise shift action, and Audi’s S tronic automatic transmission is available on all engines. It offers super-fast shifts, but the ’box doesn’t always react quickly enough to your commands when you try to use it in manual mode.
Another feature is Audi’s four-wheel drive system, called Quattro, that gets you off the line quickly in slippery conditions. It’s available in the 2.0 TFSI 190 petrol, both 2.0 TDI diesels, and is standard in the S3 performance model.
Speaking of which, the S3 comes with a 306bhp turbocharged petrol engine, and combined with that four-wheel drive system, it’s the real McCoy when it comes to high-performance saloons.
Audi A3 Saloon ride comfort
Audi offers the A3 Saloon with Sport and S line trim levels, avoiding the more basic SE that you can get on A3 hatchbacks. There’s a trick to getting the most comfortable version, therefore; opt for Sport trim level and then pick the no-cost option to ‘de-select sports suspension’. That will get you a suspension set-up that blends good bump and pothole absorption with a decent level of body control.
S line brings inch-larger 18in wheels as standard, and the S3 Saloon is lower and stiffer again; neither of these set-ups is unbearable, but they are undeniably firmer than the regular setting, especially at low speeds on the UK’s poor road surfaces.
Audi A3 Saloon handling
The A3 Saloon changes direction eagerly, and there’s enough grip for the car to stay easily on line if you’re trying to hustle it along a twisty B-road. You won’t suffer too badly from body roll, either – even if you deselect the standard sports suspension.
Regardless of which set-up you go for, the A3 Saloon’s steering is precise and has consistent weight, although it doesn’t offer a huge amount of feedback.
The whole package is capable and composed; you’d need to spend a lot on a BMW 3 Series to get anything more agile or involving to drive.
Audi offers Magnetic Ride adaptive shock absorbers as an option on Sport and S line versions (the S3 gets them as standard), but the regular mix of body control and comfort is so good that we wouldn’t bother ticking that box.
Audi A3 Saloon refinement
The A3 Saloon needs to offer a hushed environment if it’s to deliver on its promise as a smaller, cheaper executive option – and in the main it does.
The 1.4-litre petrol is smooth at a cruise, but even the diesels – 1.6 or 2.0 – aren’t too vocal once you’re up to motorway speeds and smoother than those in a 3 Series or C-Class.
It’s worth noting, however, that larger wheels do bring a bit more road noise, and this is one of the A3 Saloon’s weaknesses. It’s better on the smaller 17in alloy wheels, but even here it’s nowhere near as hushed as its bigger, traditional rivals, not least the A4. Wind noise isn’t too bad, however.
Instead of disguising its engine noise, the S3 Saloon celebrates it; one of its driving modes activates a sound actuator that feeds more of the motor’s roar into the cabin. It’s easy to turn off if you want a quieter cruise, though.
The manual gearboxes are slick, but while the automatics change gear smoothly most of the time, they can be a little jerky when you’re manoeuvring.
The A3 Saloon’s entry-level petrol engine has a broad spread of shove and is super smooth. It also shuts down half its cylinders when cruising to save fuel. If you’re fixed on a petrol edition, this is the one to go for. The engine can be combined with a manual or automatic gearbox.
2.0 TFSI 190
We’ve not tried this engine yet, but judging by the sub-seven second 0-62mph time, we don’t doubt it’ll be pokey. Comes with either two- or four-wheel drive and six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic gearbox
2.0 TFSI 310
Unique to the high-performance, four-wheel-drive S3 Saloon, this 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor has 306bhp – enough to take the S3 from 0-62mph in around 5.0sec. It’s one of the S3 Saloon’s strongest points, with only a little turbo lag and a terrific exhaust note. A manual gearbox is standard, but an automatic is available as an option.
1.6 TDI 110
This is the best engine in the line-up for CO2 emissions, and thus an appealing choice for company car choosers. It’s also smooth and has enough low-down punch for comfortable motorway cruising. Like the other diesels, it is available with a manual or automatic gearbox, and in front- or four-wheel-drive form.
Our pick 2.0 TDI 150
We think the 2.0-litre diesel engine (in this 148bhp tune) is worth the premium over the 1.6 because it’s a little smoother and offers punchier performance. It should still return about 50mpg, too, keeping running costs down.
2.0 TDI 184
This more potent version of the 2.0-litre diesel engine brings a bit more mid-range shove, but it’s not worth the extra cash over the 2.0 TDI 150. It shouldn’t cost you too much extra in fuel or company car tax, though.
The high-performance S3 is a model in its own right, with a powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and acceleration times that mark it out as a bona fide performance saloon. It gets 19in alloy wheels, lowered and stiffened suspension, a revised steering set-up, full-leather upholstery, heated front seats, a bodykit and aluminium-look door mirrors as standard.