The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.0
If you’re considering a mid-size executive saloon like the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series, then perhaps give the Audi A3 Saloon a look first. It’s smaller, but it’s also cheaper and it delivers the quality and driving manners to compete.
Reasons to buy
- Beautifully made cabin
- Very good to drive
- Engines are powerful and economical
At a glance
Running costs for a Audi A3
The Audi 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.
Reliability of a Audi A3
The flawless fit and finish in the Audi A3 Saloon’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 and the same is true of the JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study. 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.
Safety for a Audi A3
The hatchback version of the Audi A3 scored the maximum five stars in EuroNCAP crash tests back in 2014, but standards have moved on considerably since then. You get six airbags and Isofix child seat mounting points in the front passenger seat and outer rear seats, but if you want some of the more modern safety system, such as automatic emergency braking, you’ll have to pay extra. This is a shame when most more modern cars include it as standard.
How comfortable is the Audi A3
You expect any Audi saloon to feel lavish and premium inside, and the A3 Saloon 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.
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.
Features of the Audi A3
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.
All versions of the A3 Saloon come reasonably 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, while the Black Edition model adds black highlights to the exterior and some black alloy wheels. 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.
Power for a Audi A3
So far, we’ve only tried one of the petrol engines available, the 1.4 with 150 horsepower, labelled as the 35 TFSI. 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 190-horsepower 2.0-litre 40 TFSI, needs to be truly exceptional to warrant the extra you’ll pay to buy and run it. There’s also a 116-horsepower petrol called the 30 TFSI.
Diesel buyers are just as spoiled, with the offer of a 116-horsepower 30 TDI, a 150-horsepower, 2.0-litre 35 TDI and another 2.0-litre with 184 horsepower called the 40 TDI (four-wheel drive only). The 30 TDI is flexible enough for everyday use, if a little bit grumbly, while the 35 TDI gives you a considerable improvement in both pace and refinement. The most powerful 40 TDI 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.