Superb engines and satisfying steering - we recommend you deselect Sports suspension, though
Great to sit in, with posh finish and clear controls
Plenty of kit and good crash test result
Audi's record is only so-so
Bigger boot than the A3 Sportback hatchback, but smaller opening
Even the lower (and cheaper) level, Sport, brings plenty of features as standard
All of the engines make the A3 saloon a swift and smooth car, and the 187bhp 1.8 turbo gives it almost hot-hatch pace. The car comes with Sport suspension as standard, which means the ride is pretty hard at low speeds. Luckily you can de-select this suspension and choose a more comfortable setting at no extra cost - either way, the A3 changes direction eagerly, with precise steering and plenty of grip on the road. It's a shame that road noise is noticeable because otherwise the A3's cabin would be impressively quiet. All of the controls are well weighted and feel satisfying to operate. A lower-powered diesel will join the A3 Saloon line-up later this year.
The cabin is built from the sort of high-grade materials you'd expect to find in a far more expensive car, while beautifully weighted switchgear and a super-slim infotainment screen add to the impression that no expense has been spared. The infotainment system lets you control most of the car's major functions via a central dial and a small collection of buttons. It's pretty simple to operate and some of the shortcut keys are raised, allowing you to find the one you want without taking your eyes off the road. The A3 Saloon has a longer rear overhang than the A3 Sportback hatchback, and this makes its boot bigger too; you can expand it even more by folding down the rear seats (they go almost flat). Bear in mind, though, that since it's a saloon the boot opening is fairly shallow. There are just two trim levels for the A3 Saloon. Sport models come are the best value and come with Bluetooth, a USB socket, dual-zone climate control, sports seats and sports suspension (a more comfortable set-up is available as a no-cost option), while S line versions add bigger alloys, part-leather seats and xenon headlights. All versions have Isofix fittings (with top tether points) on the two outer rear seats as well as on the front seat - a switch to deactivate the front passenger airbag (so you can put a rear-facing child seat here) is standard.
The current A3 range is too new to have clocked up its own reliability record but the previous-generation A3 didn't score too well in the 2013 JD Power ownership satisfaction study, and Audi came only 31st out of 38 manufacturers in What Car?'s reliability survey. Safety provision is more promising, with all models including stability control and head-level airbags for the rear windows, as well as six 'bags for the front occupants. A pop-up bonnet helps minimise injuries to pedestrians. However, it's a bit disappointing that you have to pay extra for Audi's Pre Sense system, which automatically primes the safety kit if a collision looks inevitable. None the less, the three-door hatchback version of the A3 scored the maximum five stars in crash tests by Euro NCAP, including 95% for adult safety and 87% for children.
The Audi A3 Saloon is more expensive than the A3 Sportback which, being a hatchback, has a more practical boot opening. Still, if a small saloon is what you've been waiting for then the A3 is a great place to put your money - it's great to drive, feels classy, and boasts excellent fuel economy. It's also cheaper than the slightly bigger BMW 3 Series and Mercedes CLA.