What is it?
Audi's latest addition to the A3 line-up marks its first entry into the modern compact saloon class. The saloon is wider and longer than the A3 Sportback, consequently it offers more load space than its estate sibling. The A3 saloon is also a completely new body design, sharing no panels with the Sportback.
The 138bhp 1.4-litre TFSI engine tested here is one of three redesigned engine units to be available at launch, the others being a 178bhp 1.8-litre TFSI and a 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI.
The engine range is likely to grow in future with the addition of two new entry-level engine options - a 104bhp 1.6-litre TDI unit and a 181bhp 2.0-litre TDI unit.
Cylinder-on-demand technology is also integrated into this entry-level engine, with the car's engine-management system shutting down two cylinders under low engine load to reduce mechanical wear, cut emissions and improve fuel economy.
What's it like?
The 1.4-litre engine pulls hard initially and keeps on going right into the higher rev ranges. There isn't the same flow of power as there is in the higher-powered 1.8-litre TFSI or in the 2.0-litre TDI version, but the smallest of the A3's engines still copes well in most situations.
Audi's A3 saloon is well refined in all areas with little or no engine noise intruding into the cabin. Add to that the fact that the 1.4 is a quiet engine anyway and the result is a competent but quiet cruiser.
Overtaking can take time while the engine musters all of its available horsepower, but the 1.4 is a trade-off between performance and economy. Audi claims the car can average 60.1mpg, and we had no trouble matching that on our test run.
We only had the opportunity to drive the six-speed manual versions of the 1.4-litre TFSI model, which won't be be available at launch; instead, the car will be offered initially with a seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox. The six-speed manual transmission will become available later.
Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch unit is a well-proven unit, however, so expect it to deliver quick and unobtrusive gearshifts. The manual option provided clear and fast changes, however, with little shift resistance. There's even fairly good acceleration on offer in sixth gear, which is handy for passing manoeuvres on the motorway.
The electromechanical steering fitted to the A3 is nicely weighted, but like most other units of its type it lacks feeling. It's unlikely that this will faze many potential buyers, but nevertheless it was a small disappointment on our test car.
The ventilated disc brakes on the A3 saloon perform very well, giving a balanced but decisive braking force with minimal effort required from the driver. Coupled with Audi's various active and passive safety technologies, the new A3 feels like a secure place to be.
Should I buy one?
If we're honest we would go for the 2.0-litre TDI diesel version for the extra power, but if you don't do enough miles to bring about the benefits of a diesel, then this 1.4 TFSI is a worthy option.
It's nimble and lively, with an engine note that's as pleasing at 30mph as it is at 70mph. The fitment of a seven-speed S tronic gearbox, a £1480 option, brings the price to £24,305. That still, however, gives the A3 saloon a considerable price advantage next to rivals like the Mercedes CLA 180 Manual and the Volvo S60 T3 R-design.