Audi A3 saloon: Niche work if you can get it

Audi A3 saloon 1.6 TDI Sport

Audi A3 saloon 1.6 TDI Sport

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FEW carmakers have mastered the art of the niche car quite like Audi has, and here’s another new model that they’ve added to their list. It’s an A3 with a saloon boot, making it the first “three box” design A3 and a potential starlet to thousands of British buyers.

It’s going to be popular. The car finds a balance of talents that marries everything a junior premium car buyer wants, but it’s still compact and feels a nicer size on the road. The A4, which is about 25cm longer than the A3 saloon, might seem a little surplus to requirements next to its younger brother; at least in some potential buyers’ eyes.

Extending the bodywork at the back has given this A3 an extra 45 litres of boot space over the hatchbacks, totalling 425 litres, although it loses the obvious boot height advantage of the three-door and Sportback. The exterior changes are a lot more far-reaching than just a new boot, though.

The A3 saloon is being built in a brand new Hungarian factory, finished only a week before the car’s international media launch and built to produce most of the car’s exterior parts in-house. As such it doesn’t necessarily need to share body panels with the hatchback A3s, so the saloon has been pumped up a little with more pronounced shoulder lines and body creases. It looks tauter and sharper than the cars it shares genes with. The boot has a subtle lip spoiler built into it and the wheel arches have been flared more – although they do kink strangely back in on themselves.

On the inside there is a range of finishes from the functional to the stylish. Full leather, cloth and leather/Alcantara options are available depending on the model, but the quality and production standards are generally top-drawer. The only caveat is the outmoded navigation software for the otherwise delightful pop-up screen. Instructions often come later than they should, or even altogether too late.

As for model availability, two trim levels have been primed for the car’s September UK arrival. As always, S line will be the range-topping grade – expect big wheels and upmarket detailing – with Sport sitting beneath as a cheaper entry point but in the same vein of slightly more aggressive styling than you get with the hatchback models.

A big chunk of A3 saloons are expected to sell as company cars, to drivers who might well want to sacrifice the size and equipment levels of something like a top-spec Mondeo or Insignia for the badge appeal of the smallest Audi saloon. These buyers will have one suitable engine at the car’s launch: a 107g/km, 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel.

Two petrols will be on offer as well, with an adequate 1.4-litre TSI turbo benefiting from Cylinder on Demand technology and a more powerful
1.8-litre TSI above it. Unfortunately, none of these three engines feels quite as strong as they do in other, similar-size VW Group cars. The real star of the show, which unfortunately won’t be coming to the UK until the very end of the year, is the 1.6-litre TDI diesel.

The reason that it’s easily the pick of the bunch isn’t just the fact that it’s the lowest-CO2 choice at 99g/km, and nor is it only the fact that it’ll be cheaper than the larger option. It’s more about its all-round ability and the fact that, in the real world, it feels barely less pokey than its bigger brother. It’s astonishingly smooth and tractable, too, and if you let the revs drop to just 1,000rpm in fifth gear in slow traffic, accelerating away brings no engine booming or clattering, no vibration through the gear lever and no jerky throttle response. It’s incredibly easy to drive smoothly with the 1.6 TDI, and that’s good for fuel economy.

As for the ride and handling, three suspension set-ups will be available. Sport is standard, with softer, taller “standard” suspension available as a no-cost option. There’s also an S line configuration, but since the Sport variant is a little firm already, especially faced with potholes, S line might be a bridge too far on these shores. Audi’s Magnetic Ride suspension is a worthy, if rather expensive optional extra.

There simply aren’t any logical reasons not to at least consider the A3 saloon if its size, body style and pricing structure fit your needs. It’s nice to drive, affordable to run and looks great. It might not blow your socks off in any area, but nor will it ever give you a 
reason to regret buying it.

VITAL STATS

CAR Audi A3 saloon 1.6 TDI Sport

PRICE £23,000

CO2 EMISSIONS 99g/km

PERFORMANCE Max speed 120mph (TBC); 0-62mph 10.7s (TBC)

FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined) 60mpg

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