What are you driving?
It's the new Audi A3 Saloon, swiftly arriving to market at the same time as the fourth-generation A3 Sportback. Our test car is the '30 TFSI' model in S line specification. That means a turbocharged three-cylinder, 1.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet, making 110hp and 200Nm of torque. It's the most modest unit in the A3 portfolio. Other engine options at the time of writing include a 116hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel and a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine putting out 150hp.
Prices for the A3 Saloon start at €31,035 for the 1.0-litre engine in 'Attraction' trim. That gets LED headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels, digital instruments, 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment and smartphone mirroring as standard. The A3 Saloon SE, starting at €32,610, adds 17-inch wheels, cruise control, a split-folding rear seat, dual-zone climate control and a few aesthetic upgrades, while the S line model is the most visually attractive. It comes with 18-inch wheels, S line exterior styling, leather upholstery, sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, LED rear lights with dynamic indicators and other interior embellishments. Incidentally, as tested, the A3 30 TFSI S line Saloon is €590 more than the equivalent five-door hatchback.
Name its best bits
I like the design language of the new Audi A3, though whether you notice the sculpting of the car's flanks depends massively on the paint colour. And even though the slot at the leading edge of the bonnet has no function, it adds to the appearance, as do the shapely LED headlights.
The interior is mostly successful, too. It's of high quality with tactile switchgear and materials used throughout. The sports seats that come with the S line package are lovely, though I wish Audi wouldn't persist with such an extremely flat-bottomed steering wheel. Behind that, the digital instruments look sharp, even if they're not massively customisable. It's impressive that they're standard across the line-up. As is the central touchscreen. This looks great and is really snappy in operation. Below that is a new set of climate control buttons, which is far more compact and more satisfying to use than the unnecessarily large extra touchscreen found in larger Audis.
In the back, the doors open wide and there's more than adequate space for feet and knees in the outer two positions, though taller passengers may have to stoop. The middle seat should be considered for kids or temporary use only.
Ambling around, the 1.0-litre engine is wonderfully quiet and isolated from the cabin, while it punches above its weight in terms of outright performance. On sports suspension, the A3 Saloon resists body lean in corners well and feels biddable rather than engaging. Then again, you don't buy the entry-level model and expect the chassis of a hot hatch. Around town, it copes well.
Anything that bugs you?
Though we approve of the overall appearance of the new A3, the fake exhaust styling is a low point. Some won't care.
More importantly, make sure you test drive a 30 TFSI model if that's what you're considering buying, as we found the calibration of the engine and the interaction between it and the six-speed manual gearbox wanting. As mentioned above, outright performance is not in doubt and, when you're up to speed, the dinky three-cylinder engine will surprise some with its ability. However, at low revs, it feels lacking, almost as if there is old-fashioned turbo lag at work. We can only presume that's in a bid to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. But the thing is that many will buy the entry-level petrol A3 to use around town, and that's where this issue is exacerbated.
And why have you given it this rating?
Make sure you take our rating as aimed at this particular version of the Audi A3 Saloon rather than the whole range. The tuning of the engine detracts from the car sufficiently for us to suggest that buyers in the market for a petrol model instead consider the '35 TFSI' option (the 150hp one). Sure, it's more expensive, but if you can do without the (undoubtedly attractive) S line package, you could get an SE with a few choice options for the same price as this 1.0-litre car. Whichever way you go, there's no arguing with the fact that the new Audi A3 Saloon is an appealing and high-quality proposition, raising the bar of the junior Audi saloon.