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. The only similarities between the two are the trim levels and the range being topped off by the Audi Sport tweaked S3 and for the first time RS3.
It’s was once easy to mistake the A3 saloon for the A4, before next generation of the latter came out, at least in terms of size. That said, Audi is keen to point out the differences between the new A3 saloon and then 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. While 2016, saw the whole A3 range given a facelift, which saw adjustments made to the front grille, headlights and bumpers, while the rear bumper and lights have been reprofiled. Inside there is a revised interior and more equipment added, while the 2.0-litre TFSI engine replaces the 1.8-litre petrol unit previously holding up the range. While the Paris Motorshow gave us a glimpse of the first ever Audi RS3 saloon, due summer 2017, which will pack a 2.5-litre, five-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet packing 394bhp.
There are three trim levels for the main A3 Saloon range - Sport, S-line and Black Edition, while those pining for an S3 will have two trim choices as well. The entry-level Sport A3 Saloons come with 17in alloy wheels, xenon headlights, cruise control, and automatic lights and wipers. Inside there is dual-zone climate control, sports seats and Audi's MMI infotainment system, with a retractable 7.0in display, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, sat nav and Audi's online services.
Upgrade to the S-line trim and you'll find LED headlights, 18in alloy wheels, lowered sports suspension, additional interior storage and hooks, and LED interior lighting, while the range-topping Black Edition models gets tinted rear windows, black exterior trim and an improved speaker system.
Want an S3? Well, you will certainly be well catered for as the entry-level model gets all the equipment the S-line models include, plus heated front seats, a Nappa leather upholstery, adaptive dampers and an Audi Sport tweaked suspension set-up, while the Black Edition model gets black trim exterior trim and a Bang & Olufsen audio system.
There are six engines that power the range - three petrol and three diesel. A 1.4-litre TFSI and 2.0-litre TFSI lead the petrol contingent, with the latter available with Audi's quattro four-wheel drive system, while the range is completed by a 305bhp 2.0-litre TFSI unit that powers the S3 models. The diesel line-up is begins with a 108bhp 1.6-litre TDI, followed by a 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI which we would expect to take the bulk of the sales, and topped off by a 180bhp version of the same engine, and both 2.0-litre variants will be available with quattro.
Details on the 2017 RS3 may be thin on the ground, but we do know that a five-cylinder 2.5-litre TFSI petrol unit will power it, with the wick turned up slightly from the last gen RS3 hatchback with its power output increased to 394bhp.
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 A3 saloon is pricey, but works well as Audi’s entrant into the compact saloon class. It’s clearly aimed at bigger markets than the UK, and whether motorists here will be tempted by the Saloon’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, while it is also a compelling option alongside the classy BMW 3 Series.