I'd just passed Noyelles-sur-Mer, cruising on the A16 at 80mph en route to Le Mans, when I finally decided it was time for a break.

After all, by that point I'd been behind the wheel of our new long-term Audi A3 saloon for almost four hours, including the trip under the Channel Tunnel.

What bemused me slightly, however, was that I felt like I could quite happily driving along indefinitely in the A3 – which was no mean feat.

Its 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine is refined at cruising speeds and capable of delivering decent acceleration, even from 60mph upwards, while the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission rifles through the available ratios quickly and smoothly.

With the sports suspension deleted and a decent amount of sidewall, it rides in a pliant and comfortable fashion too. This, coupled with supportive seats and myriad workload-reducing features like cruise control, meant that it is an effortless car to drive.

For a smaller car to prove so unobtrusive on what was a 380-mile high-speed motorway trip was an impressive achievement. Even in heavy traffic, as I passed through Rouen, its comparatively small footprint and automatic transmission kept stress to a minimum.

I was, in that particular instance, thankful I was not driving the substantial RS7 behind me that was clearly having to work hard to avoid cars, pedestrians and kerbs as we wove through the busy city streets. Even more so given the fact that, every ten minutes or so, a police car seemed to need to squeeze between the rows of static traffic, forcing everyone up onto the kerb.

Eventually we broke free of the congestion, heading back out onto the motorway and settling into another fast-paced cruise before reaching Le Mans. The A3 saloon hadn't put a wheel wrong throughout, it'd averaged a claimed 46.2mpg and it'd done around 300 miles on just over half a tank of fuel.

I've always been a fan of small saloons – my first car was a Triumph Dolomite 1850HL – even if they suffer some inevitable compromises compared to their hatchback counterparts, like poorer access to the boot. Primarily it's a personal thing; I just like the way they look.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realised that I'd probably prefer to choose an A3 saloon over the equivalent A4. There wasn't, for me, any box that it hadn't ticked.

It had enough room in the boot for all my gear, it was an easily manageable size, it could sit four adults with ease and – even with 'just' a 1.4-litre engine – it'd proved spritely and long-legged enough. Opting for the A3 would also save you some £1500-odd compared to the A4.

Previously those looking to downsize from a larger premium car into a smaller one may have been left disappointed, but to me the A3 proved that this just wasn't the case any more.

So, if you're looking for something smaller and more cost-effective these days, but want to retain a premium badge and on-road manners, have no fear – you might be pleasantly surprised by just how competent the more compact options are.