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 the all-paw, five-pot 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 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.
Audi A3 Saloon's design influence
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. In 2016, Inglostadt gave the whole A3 range 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. Topping said range is the monstrous 394bhp, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder RS3.
There are three core trim levels for the main A3 Saloon range - Sport, S-line and Black Edition. Entry-level Sport A3 Saloons come with 17in alloy wheels, xenon headlights, cruise control, rear parking sensors 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 get, plus 19in alloy wheels, heated front seats, a Nappa leather upholstery, adaptive dampers and an Audi Sport tweaked suspension set-up, while the Black Edition S3 gets black trim exterior trim, tinted rear windows and a Bang & Olufsen audio system.
New for the A3 saloon range is the introduction of an RS model. Sharing much with the RS3 hatchback, and as you would expect to find with Audi Sport's finest work there is a butch bodykit, RS-specific braking system, suspension and steering set-ups. There is also lots of interior badging just to remind you that you're not driving any old A3 saloon, and a specific RS-emblemed Virtual Cockpit.
Powering the Audi A3 saloon
There are seven engines that power the range - four petrol and three diesel. A 148bhp 1.5-litre TFSI leads the range, replacing the 1.4 TFSI heading up the line-up previously, and previous encounters with this unit in the facelifted Golf suggests it should be well-suited to the A3. The rest of the core petrol range is made up of a 187bhp 2.0-litre TFSI, which is also available with Audi's quattro four-wheel drive system. 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 187bhp version of the same engine, and both 2.0-litre variants will be available with quattro.
The Audi Sport models are petrol-powered only, with the 305bhp S3 propelled by a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. The RS3 meanwhile gets a delightful sounding 2.5-litre, five-cylinder unit which punches out 395bhp helping the saloon version to 62mph in 4.1 seconds and on to 155mph.
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 the performance-focused A3 saloons does 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 200t and Mercedes-Benz's CLA 220 CDI Sport, while it is also a compelling option alongside the classy BMW 3 Series.