Audi A3 Saloon review
"The Audi A3 Saloon now has the latest in engine and interior technology"
- Sharp design
- Upgraded technology
- Efficient, modern engines
- Can get expensive
- Small boot opening
- Slightly dull handling
This is the latest Audi A3 saloon, a four-door junior executive car that proved very successful in its last outing. For this reason, Audi has chosen not to meddle too much with it, instead polishing the design, and revitalising the engine range and onboard technology.
From outside, some will find it tricky to tell the Mercedes A-Class Saloon rival apart from its predecessor. There are some sharper lines but the biggest changes are the slim opening above the front grille that's inspired by past quattro models, and new headlights with an L-shaped motif. The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is certainly more arresting but more polarising as a result too, while the Mercedes CLA and Mazda3 Fastback are also rivals.
Owners upgrading from the previous A3 will need to open one of the front doors to be wowed. Up front, there are far bigger changes, as the interior is now 'digital'. Gone is the old infotainment screen that looked rather tacked onto the dashboard, replaced with a sharp 10.1-inch display and standard Virtual Cockpit instrument screen. The old circular air vents have been replaced with rectangular items that jut out either side of the instrument binnacle.
Examples of the A3 Saloon with an automatic gearbox also get a stubby gear selector switch, freeing up more space for items like your wallet and phone. There aren't many physical controls but most owners will appreciate that the climate control buttons remain, thereby avoiding frequent forays into the infotainment to change the temperature. There’s a new jog wheel for the infotainment, similar to the original iPod dial.
Of course, the main difference between the A3 Saloon and the A3 Sportback is the lack of a rear hatchback for the boot. This makes the Saloon a smaller seller in the UK, where a larger boot opening is the norm, but its 425 litres of luggage space does trump the four-door Mercedes A-Class by five litres. Legroom is more than adequate for most adults in the back seats but headroom is tight for taller passengers.
The A3 Saloon's turbocharged petrol and diesel engines are punchy and efficient, offering between 108bhp and 148bhp at launch, with fuel economy figures from 48mpg for the 35 TFSI to around 67mpg for the 30 TDI, making the diesel a good choice for high-mileage drivers.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Of the three petrol engines on offer, the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo found in the 30 TFSI is most economical. It returns official figures of up to 52.3mpg and 121g/km of CO2, making it affordable to run for private and business buyers alike. Things aren't too bad if you opt for the 35 TFSI either, despite its larger, 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine. This uses clever cylinder deactivation technology to keep its figures down to 50mpg and 127g/km.
The entry-level 30 TDI diesel uses the same 2.0-litre engine as the 35 TDI, but tuned for economy rather than performance. Thanks to this it can return an impressive 64.2mpg, making it a good choice for high-mileage drivers. With more power and a standard automatic gearbox, the 35 TDI returns up to 62.8mpg and emits from 117g/km.
VED tax costs £150 regardless of engine, unless the price of the A3 Saloon passes the £40,000 mark, in which case a £325 surcharge is added in years two to six. The A3 tends to sit in slightly higher insurance groups than some rivals, so make sure you get a quote before buying.
Engines, drive & performance
From launch, buyers will be able to choose between two petrol and two diesel engines. Starting with petrol, there's a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo with 108bhp badged 30 TFSI, along with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder badged 35 TFSI that gets 148bhp. The latter benefits from mild-hybrid hardware, helping it save fuel and providing some extra pulling power when accelerating.
Both diesels use the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine but tuned differently to produce 114bhp in the 30 TDI and 148bhp with a 35 TDI badge. This engine has continued to evolve over many years, and it feels powerful and smooth, while also remaining refined even when accelerating. It’s not the quietest diesel engine we’ve come across but we doubt buyers who want the car’s fuel economy will see it as a dealbreaker.
A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted to the '30' versions, with a new design to improve efficiency. Opt for the 35 TDi and a seven-speed S tronic gearbox is the only option, with fast gear changes and less of the low speed roughness that could make it tricky to manoeuvre at low speeds in the old car. The chassis is an updated version of the VW Group's MQB platform, and the A3 Saloon feels similarly reassuring and planted. Adaptive suspension is also offered, giving the driver different stiffness settings to choose from. Even in the most comfortable setting, body roll is well contained in faster corners, while Sport mode gives a slightly sharper setup. The handling is secure and stable rather than involving or exciting.
Interior & comfort
By far the biggest area of change, the A3 Saloon's dashboard represents not only a shift in design but a change in philosophy for Audi's interiors. Two digital screens are now centre stage, with the rest of the dashboard designed around them. There's still a slightly more traditional look than in the Mercedes A-Class Saloon, though, because the Virtual Cockpit display is separate and nestled in an instrument binnacle behind the steering wheel.
Audi has also retained a few more physical controls than some rivals, even cars from the same stable like the Volkswagen Golf. Adjusting the air con with a touch-sensitive slider is an unnecessary distraction when you’re driving, so we appreciate the climate control switches, and there's even a small iPod-style jog wheel for the infotainment system behind the gearlever. It's possible to find some hard, scratchy materials though, including around the new rectangular air vents, so the Mercedes edges it for quality overall. We’d also prefer a button to access the driver aids settings (the lane-keeping assist is quite forceful), while the odd-shaped phone tray might not fit big smartphones.
Trim levels are Sport, S line, Edition 1 and Vorsprung, and even the entry grade is generously equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, cruise control and two 10-inch displays. S line gives the A3 Saloon a more aggressive makeover, 18-inch wheels, LED rear lights with 'Dynamic' indicators, privacy glass and sports seats.
Edition 1 and Vorsprung versions are limited to the more powerful engine choices, adding 19-inch wheels, Matrix LED adaptive headlights and black exterior trim. Edition 1 models get Alcantara seats, while Vorsprung brings Nappa leather and a powerful Bang & Olufsen stereo.
Practicality & boot space
Four-door saloons haven't proved popular in the UK in recent years, but the A3 Saloon has managed to capture a niche audience. Room up front is little different to the A3 Sportback, and has been increased by 20mm versus the outgoing car, but in the back headroom is slightly restricted. At least taller adults will find there's plenty of legroom on offer.
The boot opening isn't as practical as the Sportback's hatch but there's a generous 425 litres of luggage space, which is five litres more than the A-Class Saloon but five litres less than the 2 Series Gran Coupe. You can also fold down the rear seats, or use the ski hatch to pass longer items between the rear passengers.
Reliability & safety
While the Audi A3 appears to be an entirely new model, it's still based on an evolution of the MQB underpinnings found underneath the outgoing A3, along with the Golf, Leon and Octavia. We're hoping for solid reliability as a result.
The A3 didn't appear in our 2020 Driver Power survey, but Audi itself was ranked 21st out of 30 manufacturers. That's nothing to rave about but it did beat rivals BMW and Mercedes. Owners found reliability and build quality poor, with 20% reporting a fault within the first year. Customers were more impressed with the interior design and sat-nav systems.
Euro NCAP gave the Audi A3 a five-star safety score after crash-testing it, so there will be no worries about how safe it is. It features Audi's latest safety kit, including Car2X technology that can communicate with other vehicles and local infrastructure to warn of nearby hazards. Top-spec Vorsprung gets a driver assistance pack with adaptive cruise assist, lane-change assist and traffic sign recognition, and you can add some of the features to cheaper models for extra cost.