Audi A3 Saloon (2016 - ) review
The Audi A3 Saloon is hugely impressive. It's stylish, refined, practical and good to drive. It's less spacious than full blown executive saloon, but more affordable to buy and run too.
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Audi may have resisted the temptation to use the old ‘four-door coupe’ moniker to make the A3 Saloon sound more exciting (and fair play for that), but that doesn’t mean the car is a frumpy three-box. It has sharp, crisp lines that give it a sleek, purposeful look, and that’s because Audi has done far more than just graft a bit of extra metal onto the back of an A3 Sportback. The Saloon is longer, wider and lower, and it also has a wider track. The flared wheelarches and integrated rear spoiler round off the A3 Saloon’s mean appearance, and if you go for an S line version, you’ll get even more sporty aesthetic upgrades, including a different grille, aggressive side skirts and larger wheels.
You expect any Audi saloon to feel lavish and premium inside, and the A3 certainly delivers. The interior design is simple and elegant, while the materials are dense and feel expensive. This really is a class act. The standard MMI infotainment interface also lends a sophisticated, high-tech feel, but luckily, it’s very simple to use. There’s a vast amount of adjustment for finding your preferred driving position, too. As an option, you can specify Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system, which replaces the traditional dials with a large configurable information screen. The unconventional way it works takes some getting used to, but what you won’t get used to is the hampered rear visibility, caused by a small back window with thick pillars.
The Saloon’s increased dimensions over the Sportback don’t give you any more passenger space, though what you get is sufficient for four adults to sit in comfort. Rear headroom is a little tight, especially if you specify your car with a sunroof, but anyone below six feet will be fine in the back. You do, however, get 45 litres more in boot space, taking the count up to 425 litres. That's only slightly less than you'd get from the more expensive, bigger saloons such as the Jaguar XE, and Mercedes C-Class. You also get split-folding rear seats that can extend the loading space if needed, but the shape and size of the boot opening means that room is harder to access than the Sportback’s, so it isn’t quite as versatile. Overall, it’s true that the A3 Saloon isn’t quite as roomy as bigger compact executive cars like Audi’s own A4 Saloon and the BMW 3-Series, but it’s still roomy enough for most people’s needs.
Ride and handling
There’s a range of different suspension setups to choose from, and you need to choose carefully. Entry-level Sport models have the best setup. The ride is comfortable enough to suit pretty much any buyer, yet the car still feels very sharp in the corners, with excellent suppression of body roll, lots of grip and steering that’s weighty and direct when set to its sportiest setting (the standard Audi Drive Select allows you to alter the behaviour of various controls). S line models come with a lower suspension that makes the ride a lot firmer, and it’ll be too firm for some tastes. The good news, however, is that those with their heart set on an S line car can specify the softer suspension as a no-cost option. S line buyers can also choose a lower-still suspension, but this makes life seriously uncomfortable. Audi’s Magnetic Ride suspension is available as an option, which uses adaptive dampers, allowing you to tailor the behaviour of the suspension depending on the driving mode. It works, and it works well, but if you choose the comfiest Sport suspension in the first place, there’s no need to spend the extra money.
So far, we’ve only tried one of the two turbocharged petrol engines available, the 1.4 Cylinder-On-Demand (which shuts down two of its four cylinders under low load to save fuel) with 148bhp. It’s fabulous, marrying a smooth, free-revving nature with strong, flexible performance. It’s so good, in fact, that the engine we haven’t yet tried, the 187bhp 2.0-litre, needs to be truly exceptional to warrant the extra you’ll pay to buy and run it. Diesel buyers are just as spoiled, with the offer of a 108bhp 1.6 (available only with front-wheel drive), a 148bhp 2.0-litre (front- or four-wheel drive) and another 2.0-litre with 181bhp (four-wheel drive only). The 1.6 is flexible enough for everyday use, if a little bit grumbly, while the lower-powered 2.0-litre gives you a considerable improvement in both pace and refinement. The most powerful diesel feels pretty rapid and punches well above its weight for a car this size, but it's only available as an auto. Depending on the engine, you can also choose between manual and twin-clutch gearboxes. There isn’t a bad choice to be made here, so it’s just a question of whether you prefer a traditional gearstick or steering-wheel mounted flappy paddles.
The A3 Saloon isn’t a cheap car by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks like good value for money and, when you compare it to (admittedly bigger) rivals like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, it starts to look like something of a bargain. It does a good job on efficiency, too, with all models returning competitive figures for CO2 and fuel economy compared with its nearest rivals. Like most Audi models, the A3 Saloon also has impressively strong resale values, which helps get you a bigger slice of your money back when you sell the car on, while the low running costs make it a compelling company car, and help keep things like road tax and Benefit in Kind very affordable.
The flawless fit and finish in the A3’s cabin suggests that it’s built to exacting standards, but even so, Audi’s reliability record isn’t what it should be. The company is languishing near the bottom of Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings. The three-year/60,000-mile warranty is about par for the course when compared with other prestige brands, but it’s nothing special compared with what some manufacturers are offering.
The A3 Saloon hasn’t yet been crash tested by the experts at Euro NCAP, but the fact that the hatchback scored the maximum five-star rating should provide some peace of mind. The car features all the safety aids you’d expect, including numerous airbags and stability control, and the options list features a wide range of seriously clever safety measures. These include the latest gadgets like radar-guided cruise control, active lane keep assist, and the ability to self-park, but none of these come especially cheap, and parking sensors, a reversing camera, and even rear side airbags are all optional.
While the A3 hatchbacks are available in a number of trims, the Saloon is only available in higher end Sport and S line trims. That means purchase prices aren’t as low as they might be, but it’s still way cheaper than its main rival, the Mercedes CLA. Both versions also come well equipped. Sport includes climate control, automatic lights and wipers and an infotainment system that includes sat-nav, Bluetooth and DAB. S line models come with part-leather upholstery and all sorts of sporty styling upgrades. There are loads of options and it would be easy to get carried away, but the packages, which bundle lots of desirable kit together, are best value, with the Comfort and Sound pack (fancy speakers, heated seats and parking sensors) and Technology Pack (Sat-nav, a full suite of online services) both really worthwhile choices.
Traditionally, small saloons haven’t done all that well in the UK, but we can see the A3 bucking that trend. It has the looks and the class to tempt buyers away from bigger executive saloons, and it’ll save them some serious money in the process. We love it, and we think buyers and company car drivers will, too.