Overall rating: 4/5
Audi has added to its A3 range with an all-new saloon version that should prove to be a popular model for the Irish market. Aesthetically it is more than just an A3 Sportback with a boot added on; Audi has in fact designed what could be one of its best-ever looking saloons.
In the Metal:
The first thing you think of when you look at the A3 Saloon isn't that it's just a smaller A4, but rather why didn't Audi do this sooner? Indeed the previous generations of A3 had proven to be so popular that when the latest model was launched last year it wasn't a big departure in terms of style - a case of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.
The main feature of this car over the A3 and A3 Sportback is of course the boot. Interestingly the designers have added 45 litres of boot space - bringing the total up to 425 litres - while still leaving the rear with a relatively sleek appearance. It doesn't quite have the traditional fully formed three-box shape that the bigger A4 has, nor is it quite as sporty looking as the equally new Mercedes-Benz CLA.
Proportionally the car looks very good and even without choosing the optional S-Line trim level it carries a lot of style. The front is of course instantly recognisable and is very much in keeping with the latest design language from Ingolstadt, but it's worth noting that the A3 Saloon does get unique front end detailing so don't think that Audi has simply grafted a larger boot onto the rear of an A3 Sportback. In side profile there is a more steeply sloped rear screen in comparison to the A4 while from behind the styling is similar in ways to the Audi A6. Rear lights extend out to the rear wings while the incorporated indicators run the full length along the top of the rear lights giving a really nice appearance for those following from behind.
The interior design is a simple, well thought out affair that has that feel of quality that Audi seems to be able to consistently keep rolling out. Rear passengers will have similar amounts of legroom and taller passengers shouldn't find headroom too much of an issue as the roof just slopes more sharply after the rear seat line.
When sitting in the driver's seat the view is the same as per the rest of the A3 range, although the one big drawback is rearward visibility, which is surprisingly limited and isn't helped by what seems to be an unnecessarily small rear view mirror. Parking sensors and a reversing camera that are standard on SE and S-Line trim levels do make parking that little bit easier.
From a driving perspective the 2.0-litre TDI unit is a much loved engine and in the A3 Saloon it packs a fair punch thanks to 320Nm of torque. Despite the output it remains a frugal engine capable of returning an impressive quoted fuel consumption figure of 4.1 litres per 100km (68.9mpg). The six-speed manual gearbox has a positive feel, gives a good selection of gears and is well suited to the engine. While commuting in slow-moving traffic (of which there was a lot of on our test route) it is quite happy to be left in second gear and in most cases easily pulls away in it too.
The poor road surfaces on the outskirts of Budapest did give a good indication of how the car might perform on some of our less regularly maintained roads in Ireland and the A3 in most cases performed well. With the larger, heavier diesel engine up front, the car seemed to cope marginally better over the bumps in comparison to its petrol equivalent but the difference may go un-noticed by many. Road noise could be better though, as at higher motorway speeds there seemed to be a disproportionate amount of wind noise in the cabin - this was experienced on more than one car.
The steering is well-weighted and the level of assistance can be adjusted if the car is equipped with Audi Drive Select, which is a standard feature on the highest S-Line trim level. That said even switching between the different modes the electromechanical steering does lack any significant feeling of connection with the front wheels, which more enthusiastic drivers may find a slight disappointment.
What you get for your Money:
This may be Audi's first foray into the compact saloon segment, but overall it has produced a well-rounded car in the A3 Saloon. The fact that the Saloon is just an €850 step up from an A3 Sportback will give many potential hatchback buyers something to think about. Customers will like the fact that some of the more 'premium brand feel' items such as the 5.8-inch popup screen are standard on all versions and while the S-Line model does look very attractive the entry level version, which comes on 16-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels, still looks very smart.
Although now the smallest saloon in the current Audi range the new A3 lacks none of the technology or options that are seen in some of the larger cars. Buyers can opt for a 705-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system as well as the new Audi connect system, which allows the driver to connect to internet services via the car's MMI interface and includes an advanced satellite navigation system that uses images from Google Earth & Google Street View. It is also possible to setup a Wi-Fi hotspot within the car.
Audi's new A3 Saloon may well make a lot of sense to small families as much as to business users. In built up towns and cities the slightly smaller dimensions over an A4 for example make it far easier to navigate and squeeze into those tight parking spaces. A good selection of economical engines will reduce the level of polarisation between petrol and diesel too. The real question now is just what will this do to A4 sales?