Audi is keen for you not to think of this as an Audi A3 with a boot grafted onto the back. Instead they see it as a totally new and different model that combines coupe styling and a traditional three-box saloon concept. Think of it as a mini Audi A4 and you'd be on the right lines.
Audi says every single panel is different from those fitted to the A3 hatchback. It's lower, wider and obviously longer and has its own distinctive styling attributes such as slimmer front lamps and more pronounced wheel arches. Whether the general public will see the Saloon as a distinctive model rather than an A3 with a boot remains to be seen, however.
This is where the case for the Saloon being a different model falls down a tad. To drive, the Saloon feels just like an A3 three-door hatchback or the five-door A3 Sportback. That's not something to complain about though, for the A3 was always a fine car with more than satisfactory driving manners. There's a choice of three engines initially – 1.4- and 1.8-litre petrols and a 2.0-litre diesel with the latter predicted to be the best-seller. The diesel unit punches out 148bhp, 320Nm of torque and just 107g/km of CO2, and will deliver a 0-60mph sprint time of 8.5 seconds and return 68.9mpg on the combined cycle. Of the petrol units, we'd plump for the 1.4. Thanks to Cylinder on Demand technology (at low engine load, two cylinders shut down to reduce fuel consumption), the small-capacity petrol will return a diesel-like 60.1mpg and emit 109g/km. It was certainly our favourite engine and when fitted with Audi's excellent seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission, it made for a pleasant and refined driving experience. More engines – in particular a super-eco 1.6-litre diesel – will appear in time as will a sporty derivative called S3. It'll be powered by a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
It's a paradigm of quality and good taste. The interior is the same as you'll find on any other A3 – so expect unparalleled build quality and logically laid-out controls. It's a stylish place to be too. Prices start at £24,275 for the A3 Saloon Sport 2.0-litre TDI which comes with a decent level of equipment as standard. So there's 17-inch alloys, Audi Drive Select (a system that allows you to change the car's character; from eco through to edgier dynamic modes), dual-zone climate control, a leather steering wheel, sports suspension, and a 3.5-inch colour information system. Sportier S Line models kick in at £26,425 (and top out at £28,105) and add larger 18-inch alloys, sportier body styling and cloth and leather seats. All models can have the hard-riding sports suspension deleted – something we would recommend.
For an A3 it is. The Saloon is 146 millimetres longer and 11 millimetres wider than the five-door A3 Sportback. The boot is also larger at 425 litres (with the seats up) – an extra 45 litres over the Sportback model. It's perfect for people who want a little extra room in their saloon car, but don't what to go the extra mile in buying the larger Audi A4.
It's a tricky one, this. Audi makes no bones about admitting the A3 Saloon hasn't been designed for the UK market. The Saloon has been built with the USA and, predominately, China in mind. And with the German brand seeming to be able to do no wrong in the UK market at the moment, Audi is taking its chances. They're taking the view that if it sells in strong numbers – great. If it doesn't – it's not the end of the world. The A3 Saloon's biggest rival is the sleeker Mercedes-Benz CLA, and while that car delivers more style, the A3 Saloon is a more conservative, level-headed choice – which is no bad thing. Small saloons are notoriously unpopular in the UK, so if you buy one it's not a foregone conclusion it'll hold its value any better than other Audis. We'd rather go for the A3 Sportback – it may a little less practical but it scores more highly in the desirability stakes.
Audi A3 Saloon Sport 1.4 TFSI
Engine: 1.4-litre, turbocharged petrol
Top speed: 135mph
0-60mph: 8.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 60.1mpg (combined)
September 26, 2013