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In-depth reviews

Audi A3 Saloon review – a swish executive contender

"The Audi A3 Saloon is a stylish compact executive car with efficient petrol and diesel engines"

Carbuyer Rating

3.9 out of 5

Owners Rating
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Pros

  • Sharp design
  • Upgraded technology
  • Efficient, modern engines

Cons

  • Can get expensive
  • Small boot opening
  • Slightly dull handling

Verdict – is the Audi A3 saloon a good car?

While most British buyers aren’t crying out for a hatchback-based small saloon, that doesn’t stop the Audi A3 saloon from being a thoroughly decent machine. It has pin-sharp looks, reassuring handling and it feels borderline old-school in its petrol and diesel powertrain offering – there’s no hybrid or EV here. It’s a similar story inside, where there’s enough tech to satisfy most, but without ramming it down your throat. The Sportback will suit most people better, but the saloon isn’t without appeal – especially in hot S3 guise.

Audi A3 saloon models, specs and alternatives

This is the 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, with another raft of updates for the A3 saloon’s 2024 model year.

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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. For 2024, its grille was made wider and flatter, while its bumpers were re-styled for a more aggressive appearance. The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is certainly more arresting but more polarising as a result too, while the Mercedes CLA is another upmarket rival in what is a fairly niche class in the UK, with hatchbacks still proving more popular.Image removed.

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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. Audi left this pretty much alone for its latest facelift, but there’s new ambient lighting, a smartphone charging pad and four USB-C ports.

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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.

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The A3 Saloon's turbocharged petrol and diesel engines are punchy and efficient, offering between 114bhp and 148bhp at launch, with fuel economy figures of up to 51.4mpg for the 30 TFSI to around 58.9mpg for the 35 TDI, making the diesel a good choice for high-mileage drivers. Performance fans will also want to look at the S3 with its 328bhp petrol engine and quattro four-wheel drive, giving it a 0-62mph run of just 4.7 seconds.

MPG, running costs & CO2

Running costs are competitive but insurance can be expensive for Audi models

Of the petrol engines on offer, the 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo found in the 30 TFSI is the most economical, and it replaces the use of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder in the entry-level model. It returns official figures of up to 51.4mpg and from 124g/km of CO2, making it affordable to run for private buyers, but slightly less attractive to business drivers after lower emissions. Things aren't too bad if you opt for the 35 TFSI either, despite its extra power, the clever cylinder deactivation technology in the 1.5-litre engine helps to keep its figures down to the same amount, while CO2 is very slightly higher.Image removed.

The entry-level 30 TDI diesel is no longer offered, but the 35 TDI uses the same 2.0-litre engine, tuned for performance as well as economy. It can return an impressive 58.9mpg in Sport trim, making it a good choice for high-mileage drivers. This drops to 55.4mpg in the fully-loaded Black Edition, and every diesel comes with an S tronic automatic gearbox.

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VED tax costs the standard annual rate regardless of engine, unless the price of the A3 Saloon passes the £40,000 mark, in which case a surcharge is added in years two to six, costing almost £600 each year in total. 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

Advanced petrol and diesel engines should suit most buyers

From launch, buyers were able to choose between two petrol and two diesel engines, but this was slimmed down a bit when the car was facelifted in 2024. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo with 108bhp badged 30 TFSI was discontinued. Instead, there’s now the 1.5-litre four-cylinder badged 35 TFSI that gets 148bhp, along with a detuned 114bhp version that takes on the 30 TFSI badge. They benefit from mild-hybrid hardware, helping save fuel and providing some extra pulling power when accelerating.

The diesel uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine for 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.

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That’s unless you go for the S3 saloon, with its 328bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine and quattro four-wheel drive. It also gets a host of performance upgrades to make it a seriously rapid saloon, capable of springing from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds. We’ve tried the S3 Sportback and found that changes for 2024 made it far more exciting, largely thanks to the addition of a ‘Torque Splitter’ that can vary power to the rear wheels. This has a similar effect to rowing harder on one side of a boat than the other, helping to boost the S3’s agility in corners.

Interior & comfort

The Audi A3 saloon's interior embraces digital controls

By far the biggest area of change, the current generation A3 Saloon's dashboard represented 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 and Black Edition, 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.Image removed.

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Black Edition versions are limited to the more powerful engine choices, adding 19-inch wheels, Matrix LED adaptive headlights and black exterior trim. The S3 gets a unique version of Black Edition with even more kit, including a sporting makeover, SONOS sound system and head-up display, while S Vorsprung brings tech like a 360-degree camera view, a panoramic roof and carbon fibre inlays.

Practicality & boot space

If you like four-door cars, the Audi A3 Saloon is practical for its size

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

Lots of the latest safety features are included

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 latest Driver Power survey, but Audi itself was ranked 30th out of 32 manufacturers in our 2023 results. That's going to be a worry for potential buyers, placing it behind Mercedes (25th) and BMW (21st). A fairly high 23% of Audi owners told us they had reported a fault within the first year. Customers were more impressed with the driver seat visibility and rear legroom.

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.

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Andy is Carbuyer's managing editor, with more than a decade of experience helping consumers find their perfect car. He has an MA in automotive journalism and has tested hundreds of vehicles.

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