The A3 saloon is a natural extension of Audi’s premium hatchback. It’s based on the A3 Sportback, but has been subtly redesigned to give more presence on the road. As a consequence, the A3 Saloon shares no body panels with its Sportback sibling. 

It’s easy to mistake the A3 saloon for the A4, at least in terms of size. That said, Audi is keen to point out the differences between the new A3 saloon and the now somewhat dated A4. The new car is 24cm shorter than the A4, which is important for markets such as China where the A3 saloon will find good service as a first company car for junior executives. Naturally, such customers must have a smaller car than their bosses. 

While Audi won’t confirm that this was a major influence in its design of the A3 saloon, it’s hard to ignore that China is its single biggest market, followed by the US.

Two trim levels, Sport and S-line, are available, with S-line modles coming at a £2150 premium. For the extra money, drivers get 18-inch alloys over the standard car's 17-inch wheels, as well as S-line body styling and Xenon headlights. The premium trim is expected to account for 50 per cent of sales.

Three engines currently power the range: a 1.4-litre TFSI and 1.8-litre TFSi lead the petrol contingent and a 2.0-litre TDI stands as the sole diesel option for now. 

Two more units, a 104bhp 1.6-litre TDI and 181bhp 2.0-litre TDI, launch in December this year and spring next year respectively to bulk out the range.

The 138bhp 1.4-litre TFSI base engine comes with cylinder-on-demand technology, which shuts down two cylinders under low engine loads to improve fuel economy.

It’s a gutsy engine and gives good pull, but the trade-off between better economy and performance is noticeable at higher speeds. 

For better performance we’d recommend the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, which is £25,755 to the 1.4’s £24,305 but gives much better acceleration. It’s expected to take the biggest chunk of A3 saloon sales and it’s easy to see why: the engine is very refined and quickly settles down into a quiet rumble during motorway cruising.

To turn the A3 into a proper performance saloon your best engine option is the 1.8-litre TFSi, which puts out 178bhp and 184lb ft. The extra acceleration on offer really impresses, particularly from low down in the rev range, but high-speed refinement does suffer slightly. 

Two gearbox options are available on the A3 saloon, either a six-speed manual or seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic. We’ve tried both, and while there’s nothing wrong with the manual option our pick would be the automatic. It’s a £1480 option but gives short, clear upshifts and picks up on small pedal movements well. There’s some jarring with performance downshifts, but switching to paddle mode quickly negates it.

The A3 saloon uses the same electromechanical steering set-up as the Sportback, and like its sibling gives a light, well weighted feel. There’s very little feedback from the road, though, which in a performance-focused A3 saloon would become a drawback.

The interior and cabin will be familiar to anyone driving a current-generation A3 hatch. There’s a premium feel, especially on S-line trim models. Audi’s MMI navigation/multimedia system continues to perform well and impresses even more thanks to the addition of Google Earth imagery.

New to the A3 saloon is Audi’s Drive Select system, which allows the driver to alter throttle response and suspension set-ups. The usual options are available, including Dynamic, Economy and Comfort.

The A3 saloon is pricey, but works well as Audi’s first entry into the compact saloon class. It’s clearly aimed at bigger markets than the UK, and whether motorists here will be tempted by the sSaloon’s styling remains to be seen. It’s a competent cruiser, though, and a worthy opponent to rivals such as BMW’s 120i M Sport, Lexus’s IS 250 and Mercedes’ CLA 220 CDI Sport.

Top 5 Compact execs

  • BMW 3-series
    The 3-series remains strong in the areas it has always excelled but now it's more rounded than ever

    BMW 3-series

  • Mercedes-Benz C-class
    The C-class shares a lot of its looks with the new S-class, furthering its desirability

    Mercedes-Benz C-class

  • The Audi A4 saloon is bigger, roomier and more aerodynamic than its predecessor

    Audi A4

  • The CC offers a handsome alternative to the staid Passat

    Volkswagen CC

  • Volvo S60
    The Volvo S60 is offered with an impressive new D4 diesel engine

    Volvo S60


First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    6 March 2015
    Britain's least-known mid-sized exec gets new fleet credentials
  • First Drive
    6 March 2015
    Ford's Escort nameplate returns on this only-for-China saloon. Does it continue Ford's tradition of building sharp-handling cars?
  • First Drive
    4 March 2015
    CLA looks, bonkers 45 AMG performance, but with added estate practicality. An enticing mix, but is this Shooting Brake worth the extra?
  • First Drive
    4 March 2015
    Savagely rapid, four-wheel-drive diesel version of BMW's four-door coupé could be brilliant, or it could be a niche too far. We drive the 435d xDrive Gran Coupé to find out.
  • First Drive
    4 March 2015
    This is our first opportunity for a UK drive in a manual version of the new Discovery Sport. Does swapping cogs yourself make more sense?