The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.3
If you’re considering a mid-size saloon, give this 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 appointed cabin
- Very good to drive
- Engines are powerful and economical
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
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 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.
What's the interior like?
You expect an 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 lustrous. This really is a class act. The standard MMI infotainment interface also lends a sophisticated, high-tech feel, and it’s also very simple to use. There’s a vast amount of adjustment for your driving position, too. The hampered rear visibility, caused by a small back window with thick pillars, is the only real cause for complaint.
How practical is it?
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 tall will be fine in the back. What you do get is 45 litres more boot space, taking the count up to 425 litres. You also get split-folding rear seats that can extend the space if needed, but the shape and size of the boot opening means the space is harder to access than the Sportback’s, so it isn’t as versatile. Just as importantly, though, when you compare the A3 Saloon with bigger compact executive cars like Audi’s own A4 Saloon and the BMW 3-Series, it’s smaller, but it’s roomy enough for most people’s needs.
What's it like to drive?
Be careful with your choice of suspension setup. Both trims come with a lowered sports suspension as standard, and although it stops short of being uncomfortable, it’ll still be too firm for some tastes. What you can do, though, is specify the A3 hatchback’s more forgiving standard setup as a no-cost option. We recommend that you do. It’s way more comfortable than the Sport setup at all speeds, yet it still feels very sharp in the corners. There’s lots of grip and body roll is very well suppressed, while the steering is weighty and direct when set to its Sport setting (the standard Audi Drive Select allows you to alter the behaviour of various controls). It’s a truly impressive mix of abilities. Don’t even entertain the idea of going for the lower-still S line suspension option.
How powerful is it?
Two turbocharged petrol engines, a 1.4 and a 1.8, give 138bhp and 178bhp, respectively. There’s no point in choosing the 1.8, because the 1.4 feels every bit as quick and just as effortlessly flexible, plus it’s quieter, smoother and cheaper to buy. The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel, meanwhile, delivers muscular performance while staying impressively smooth and quiet. The other 2.0-litre diesel delivers 181bhp and is properly quick, with its 280lb/ft of torque available from just 1,750rpm, while still being just as smooth and quiet as the lower-powered engine. However, the extra performance isn't particularly noticeable over the 148bhp version, which is cheaper to buy and to run. All models have a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox as standard, and are available with Audi’s S tronic twin-clutch transmission as an option. We’d stick with the manual, though. The S tronic spends most of its time in high gears for the sake of economy, but that means it has to kick down too often when the car is inevitably left short of go.
How much will it cost me?
The other reason you should go for the 1.4 petrol over the 1.8 is that it’s far cheaper to run. That’s because it has the ability to shut off two of its four cylinders when you’re cruising, resulting in average fuel economy of 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 109g/km – mightily impressive given the pace it provides. The 2.0-litre diesel does even better with 68.9mpg, and 107g/km. Purchase prices look very tempting in isolation, but get more tempting when you consider that going for an A3 Saloon rather than an A4 Saloon will save you roughly two grand, and that’s before you factor in the smaller A3’s superior running costs.
How reliable is it?
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, and three of the brand’s models (not the A3) are included in the worst ten performing models.
How safe is it?
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.
How much equipment do I get?
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 alloys, climate control, and sports seats, while S line has part-leather upholstery and all sorts of sporty styling upgrades.
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.