Audi A3 makes the smooth shift to a saloon
Audi has finally created a saloon version of the A3, and it will silence male car bores
Audi’s capacious A3 saloon
Date Reviewed: October 22, 2013
When it comes to Ireland’s love of the boot we’re up there with the Iranians, the Turks and the middle-class suburbanites of Tashkent. This has nothing to do with romanticising the years of Jack Charlton’s lads hoofing the ball up the pitch, nor a fondness for a bit of no-nonsense ass-kicking when it comes to policing. What we’re talking about is a car’s rear end.
Hatchback me hat: if it’s not a saloon, then, according to the typical motoring bore in the bar, it’s only “a woman’s car”. According to these petrolhead pint-sippers, whether you can peek in at their luggage or not is a useful indicator as to the gender of a driver. Most bars have an expert like this, holding court over his Heineken, and the more Pringle jumpers in the audience the more likely that the boot rule is taken as an unspoken social norm. After all, this guy’s best friend’s wife’s brother used to live next door to a mechanic, so it stands to reason he knows more than most about cars. And if he says that the ultimate expression of motoring manhood is a boot, then you need a boot.
We laugh off the ways of our crazy continental cousins, for whom a hatchback or even an estate (yes, they’re that open-minded when it comes to motoring needs) is the natural choice. And we ignore the fact that these days mainstream car firms start with the touring or estate version when designing cars and work back to the saloon when time permits.
So when Audi announced it was doing a saloon version of the A3 I admit to feeling underwhelmed. Once more a car firm was pandering to a ridiculously old-fashioned stereotype of what represents a family car. You could hear the sniggers of the engineers in Ingoldstadt: “Herman, stick a boot on that A3 for the crazy Chinese drivers and the bankrupt Irish. Let’s call it the A3 limousine while we’re at it.”
Yet this was one of the big surprises of the year to date; I really enjoyed driving this car. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that as the regular saloons have grown larger over the years they have lost some of their agility and fun. Despite claims at weight loss and chassis rigidity they can’t help but feel a little bloated when compared with their predecessors from a decade ago.
What we have here with the latest saloon iterations of premium hatchbacks is a revival of the small, fun saloon. The A3 saloon is not alone: the likes of the BMW 1 Series coupé and to a certain extent the Mercedes CLA have similar traits. These are cars that carry the modern tech of today’s cars but in the format and scale of the small saloons that made these brands so well regarded so many years ago. Driving the A3 saloon provokes a Proustian moment, whisking me back to the early iterations of Audi saloons.
And yet, from the front nose to the interior switchgear, this is a proper modern premium car. This is more than just an A3 with a boot: the end product is really well proportioned, with eye-catching, sharp lines on the front. And yes, practically speaking, that 425l boot does its job in holding things and hiding them from prying eyes. The interior is well thought out, ergonomic and solid. Switches are where they should be – and that’s the best praise you can give for a car’s interior.
The engine range is initially a choice of two petrol and two diesel options. The petrol model line-up comprises a 1.4l 125bhp TFSI engine with a claimed combined fuel consumption of 5.3l/100km (53.3mpg).
This is joined by a 1.4l 140bhp TFSI variant. The diesel alternatives are topped by a 2.0l TDI that produces 150hp and 250Nm of torque, and a combined fuel consumption of 4.1l/100km (68.9mpg). This is joined by a 1.6l 105hp TDI diesel, which will be the big seller with prices starting at €30,530.
The 2l packs an impressive punch, even if engine noise is a little louder than one would expect, but in all iterations the six-speed manual offers light and fluent gear changes, making an automatic superfluous.
Fuel economy trade-off
Although the 1.6l TDI is more fuel efficient than the 1.4l petrol model, they both produce 250Nm of torque. The petrol variant is therefore more powerful, if you don’t mind trading off a little in fuel economy. The diesel-equipped A3 has a combined fuel consumption of 3.9l/100km versus 4.7l/100km in the petrol model, while the diesel also slips into a lower tax band with 99g/km against the petrol’s 109g/km.
If you are determined to opt for diesel then it’s worth considering that the price walk from the 1.6l diesel to the 2l is €1,780, which for a car in this price bracket is not extravagant.
There’s now a range of cars from all three German premium brands that can be had in the early €30,000s,
all capable of coping with the needs of family life, all with
the requisite boot and all with the refinement to qualify for the premium segment. The new A3 saloon is the most practical of the lot. It’s not cheap but it’s a great
all-rounder and we could certainly see several potential A4 buyers wondering why they would spend an extra €5,000 or more on the larger Audi when this is also on the forecourt.