IF THERE’S a niche to be filled in the car market, Audi is often the first there. And so it is with the new compact Audi A3 Saloon, the 47th model in Audi’s line up. Saloon cars this size have been sold before, but not in the European premium segment. In the UK, especially, we like our hatchbacks – much more than buyers in other markets including the US and China. Audi says it doesn’t know how many saloon versions of its barnstorming A3 it will sell here, but they’re giving it a whirl anyway.
They’re right to do so. For a starters, it’s more handsome than the A3 hatch. It has the same familiar Audi-family face and bonnet we’ve seen on the A3, so from the front you’d be unable to see a big difference – though the headlamps are thinner – but because it’s lower, longer and broader, and has a boot at the back, it looks leaner and more elegant. Don’t think of it as a compact A4 either; this car has a look all of its own. Sleek and sporty, it’s far more stylish and contemporary than the larger model, which suddenly looks quite dull in comparison.
It’s certainly comfortable – it feels a lot like sitting in an executive saloon. The interior is almost identical to the A3 hatch and the fit and finish is solid. The rake of the rear screen, which lends the car its coupé-like form, means there’s a bit less room for heads in the back. On the other hand, there’s plenty of room in the boot, with 425 litres worth of space (60 litres more storage space than the hatch and 45 litres more than the A3 Sportback). Fold the seats, though, and the three-box design means it’s got much less space available than either of the hatches. So if you do like to fill your car with garden waste each weekend, you may be better off with the hatch.
If you’re one of those drivers who likes to begin your working day sitting in traffic on the M25, the A3 Saloon’s USP may lie in its cutting edge connectivity. This model is the first Audi to boast 4G internet and data access for its optional in-car Audi Connect system; a futuristic multimedia set-up that really works. One of the most useful features is the writing-recognition system, which is controlled by the central console. Despite the fact I’ve got the spidery scrawl of a GP, the technology still managed to identify whether I was drawing a G or a C. It’s easy to enter phone numbers and satnav destinations. After a little practice you can even do it without looking away from the road. I’m sure the official word is you shouldn’t do this at all while driving, but in the real world, in commuter traffic, people will, and it’s easier and safer than the touchscreen input of some rivals.
Truth be told, though, I was a bit underwhelmed by the 2.0-litre TDI 150PS manual model I drove. Kitted out with sports suspension and powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel that delivers 148hp, I expected it to be feistier. It’s no sprinter: it takes 8.7 seconds to reach 62mph, and on to a top speed of 137mph. The ride and handling is good and the sound of the diesel engine is subtle and satisfyingly distant, though there’s quite a lot of tyre and wind noise in the cabin. It’s more of a capable all-rounder, perfectly well suited to most people’s needs but not really excelling at anything. For something more exhilarating, I’d opt for the higher-capacity 181bhp diesel version, which arrives next year.
This 2.0-litre TDI 150PS is, however, economical and efficient, with a combined fuel consumption of 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of just 107g/km; impressive figures that will attract buyers for the tax savings to be made.
Combining the best features of an executive car with the size of a compact saloon body, this A3 is decent and stylish – a good, sensible buy for young families if you don’t think you’ll need the easier loading practicality of a hatchback. It’s more expensive than the hatch, but it feels like money well spent.
A3 SALOON 2.0 TDI SPORT (150PS) MANUAL
0-62MPH: 8.7 secs
TOP SPEED: 136mph
CO2 G/KM: 107g/km
MPG COMBINED: 68.9mpg
DESIGN Four stars
PERFORMANCE Four stars
PRACTICALITY Three stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Three stars