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Driven: Audi A3 Saloon. Image by Audi AG.

Driven: Audi A3 Saloon
Junior exec vibes in something based on a small family hatchback, courtesy of the 35 TFSI S line.

   



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Audi A3 Saloon

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: smart looks, classy cabin, excellent refinement, smooth drivetrain, feels like a bigger car than it is

Not so good: staid chassis, hesitant DSG, expensive to buy

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S tronic S line
Price: A3 Saloon range from 26,335; 35 TFSI S line from 28,770, car as tested 31,010
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with Cylinder-on-Demand technology
Transmission: seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
Body style: four-door compact premium saloon
CO2 emissions: 134g/km (VED Band 131-150: 220 in year one, then 155 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 47.9mpg
Top speed: 144mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Power: 150hp at 5,000-6,000rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 1,500-3,500rpm
Boot space: 425 litres

Our view:

We always liked the old Audi A3 Saloon. An unusual decision to spur a plain four-door shape, with no pretence at any 'coupe-ness', off an existing five-door hatch looked a bold one, especially as you ostensibly sacrifice some boot space and practicality by going from a two-blob to a three-box design.

That said, the old A3 Sportback always looked a bit dumpy in our eyes and the Saloon was a much tauter, crisper piece of styling. Well, that still holds true in the fourth-generation cycle of Audi's posh C-segment challenger, although we will admit the regular and current Sportback is a lot nicer-looking car than its immediate predecessor, so the aesthetic gap between four- and five-door A3s is not as big as it once was. Nevertheless, the A3 Saloon is a corkingly handsome thing. It's so proportional and clean, and it almost immediately invites the thought 'do I really need an A4 or even an A6 instead?'. That's how desirable it looks, seriously.

This prestige air is not undermined by the A3 Saloon's interior, because it is another belting Audi cabin. You might not quite like the high-riding air vents sitting either side of the instrument cluster so much, but the rest of it is spot on and the A3 uses physical climate control buttons, rather than clustering every major ancillary on the (admittedly sharp and responsive) infotainment touchscreen. Anyway, not only is it ergonomically sound but the quality is unremittingly excellent, while there's decent space in the back for taller adults - not something we could always say of the old A3 Saloon - and even the boot is a sizeable 425 litres. Which is actually more than the Sportback's 380 litres with all seats in place, remarkably.

Our test car was fitted with the super-sweet 150hp/250Nm 1.5-litre TFSI petrol engine, which features Cylinder-on-Demand technology to run on two pistons when throttle and road-speed loads allow. As you would expect of Audi, this system is utterly unobtrusive in operation and you only know when the A3 Saloon is running as a 'twin' when the instrument cluster tells you as much. In terms of physical perception, there's no clunkiness during the shift from four cylinders to two and then back again, and no real hesitation in acceleration if you decide to clog the Audi while it's running on just a brace of pots. In fact, you get more dithering from the S tronic dual-clutch transmission, which is OK but has some of that lagginess that these Volkswagen Group gearboxes can often exhibit.

That aside, the refinement of the A3 Saloon is immense. On a motorway, it feels every bit at home as its bigger four-door stablemates, with a stolidity and sure-footedness in the face of cambers and crosswinds that's most commendable. Proof in the pudding was an overall weekly average economy of 43.6mpg across 517 miles, set against a best of 51.4mpg; so it's not only smooth, comfortable and quiet to travel in, but the 35 TFSI is pretty frugal too.

The performance is good, as well, with the four-pot engine willing to rev if you ask it to and never becoming notably coarse. Naturally, it's not the quickest car in the world but it feels perfectly lively enough for day-to-day duties, while the brisk 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds certainly doesn't appear to be a total fantasy. About the biggest issue with the dynamic performance of the A3 Saloon is that, as is typical of most mainstream, non-performance Audi models, it's not very exciting. The steering and body control are both perfectly perfunctory, and there's little to report in terms of understeer either so the chassis is reasonably well balanced between both axles. Yet, somehow, you can't extract much joy from hustling the A3 35 TFSI down a challenging back road. It'll do such a thing, and do it capably, but there are better cars for driver involvement which are available elsewhere.

So it's really that visual appeal of the A3 Saloon which sells it best and, if you really want an Audi four-door but you don't want to break the bank, this tidy little machine proves you can go 'compact' and still feel like you're in something suitably prestigious. We just can't wait until we try the inevitable S3 and ultimate RS 3 performance derivatives, on the basis of this impressive showing.

Alternatives:

BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe: look at this. Now look at the Audi again. Then back at the 2 Series. Then at the A3 Saloon. Seriously, do you still think the BMW is worth another glance?

Mazda3 Saloon: Mazda does a stylish four-door version of its attractive hatchback and the Japanese car has a beautiful interior, albeit not the most impressive array of drivetrains.

Mercedes-Benz CLA: handsome little thing and not bad to drive, either, although the Merc's swoopy roofline means there's less space in the back of it than in the Audi.


Matt Robinson - 11 Dec 2020



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2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.

2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI S line UK test. Image by Audi AG.








 

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