The Audi A3 Saloon might look like a shrunken A4, but it offers some of the very best efficiency measures in its class and brings a cool elegance within the reach of those who might find an A4 a bit of a stretch. This rejuvenated version gets a more advanced 2.0-litre petrol engine, plus innovations like the Audi Smartphone interface and the clever 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument layout. All of this embellishing a classy, stylish and pretty practical basic package.
All A3 Saloons get an electromechanically assisted steering system and a next-gen stability control package which includes an electronic limited slip differential for composed deployment of power. The standard Audi drive select system lets the driver vary the throttle response, steering weighting and, where the S tronic transmission is present, the gearbox shift points. What's more, it can also be upgraded to manage the optional Audi magnetic ride system with its clever magneto-rheological fluid-filled dampers.
Engine-wise, many will want to avoid the entry-level unit (a 110PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel) in favour of the two powerplants that make up the heart of the range. The most obvious choice is the one most buyers will probably make, the 150PS 2.0-litre TDI diesel. Personally though, if we were buying this car, we'd take the other mainstream option, a 150PS version of the 1.5 TFSI petrol unit with clever CoD, or 'Cylinder on Demand' technology.
We're not sure we'd really want to go much faster than that in this car, but Audi centres are ready and willing to oblige those with a further need for speed. Diesel folk prepared to special quattro 4WD and tronic auto transmission get a pokier 184PS version of the 2.0 TDI unit. While those preferring petrol have the further option of an all-new 190PS 2.0-litre TFSI powerplant, the engine you have to have if you're looking for a mainstream petrol-powered A3 Saloon with the option of quattro 4WD.
This variant also gets a slicker 7-speed S tronic auto transmission set-up than diesel drivers can have and with this fitted, 62mph is just 6.8s away en route to 155mph. The same system is also an option on the ritziest version of this car you can buy, the potent S3 flagship model, which mates quattro 4WD to an uprated 310PS 2.0-litre TFSI turbo engine able to power you to 62mph in a fraction over 5s.
Yes, the A3 Saloon does look astonishingly like an A4 that's been scaled down slightly. Some might not be fans of Audi's Russian Doll styling approach and sure enough, there aren't too many surprises about the look and feel of this one. Still, given the upward trajectory of Audi's sales figures, perhaps that's no bad thing.
Exterior changes to this revised version are slight but the front looks a little more purposeful, courtesy of sharper lines for the familiar and now broader Single frame grille. The headlights are flatter, with distinctive outer contours and can now be ordered in Matrix LED form, so they are significantly brighter and constantly adapt themselves to avoid dazzling other road users, plus of course they never need to be dipped. Equally subtle changes at the rear aim to accentuate the width of this car - hence the horizontal illuminated graphics of the rear lights.
Inside, the 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument display used in the TT and other pricier Audis is now available in this one as an option. This displays the most important driving-relevant information in high resolution on a 12.3-inch diagonal TFT screen. The driver can switch between two views by pressing the "View" button on the multifunction steering wheel. In addition, the menu structure that works the centre dash MMI infotainment screen has been redesigned and is now more intuitive. As before, the boot's carrying capacity amounts to 425-litres with the seats up - 45-litres more than the A3 Sportback. This capacity can be increased by folding down the split rear seat backs. The boot lid automatically swings upward when unlocked.
It's easy to get a little blase about cars like the Audi A3 Saloon, to take its achievements for granted somewhat but let's pause for a minute and consider not the numbers but the philosophy behind this car. It's properly smart, offering a compact, light and efficient car without being overblown. Its key problem is probably the A3 Sportback, a car that's all of these things and which offers the added practicality of a hatchback.
Still, there's little doubt that the A3 Saloon looks a good deal more upmarket than a Sportback. In fact, most would have difficulty distinguishing it from an A4 without a sneaky look at the badge on the back. While it won't turn your head like a Mercedes CLA, there are many who prefer Audi's more discreet take on this more compact, compact executive saloon. As the A4 has become bigger and more sophisticated, it has created a space below it for Audi to demonstrate how well it does clean and elegant.Click here to find out more about our Audi A3 Saloon range