IAIN ROBERTSON 

Audi A saloon

Audi A saloon

With deliveries hoped to commence this summer, reports Iain Robertson, Audi’s latest compact 4-door has become more mature and markedly less of a niche-filler than its predecessor, although premium pricing means that the range starts at £26,870.

You know that near-obligatory statement, when you make a rare visit to the home of someone you know: “Oh, I like what you’ve done to the place!”, well that’s the same impression you get, when you gain sight of and then become ensconced within the latest A3 saloon. While our parents always ‘made do’ with the untiled bathroom and woodchip kitchen, we live in an era demanding a blend of technology, practicality and style. Yet, there are some classical features worth clinging onto; perhaps Victorian in the case of bathroom fitments.

The outgoing booted version of the well-regarded A3 hatchback, while adding a smidgen of interest to Audi’s lengthy model line-up, has always been a bit of an oddball. It has endured similar issues to the previous version of Mercedes Benz’s A-Class saloon (revised recently), in that a tacked-on boot is visually challenging and looks invariably like the design team ran out of ideas at the C-pillars. It is worth noting that BMW’s first saloon is the 3-Series, a direct and respective rival to the aforementioned marque’s A4 and C-Class renderings, which means that either the Munich competitor knows better, or that it simply has not massaged that end of its range for another niche-filler. I shall stick with the initial notion, hoping that the latter is untrue.

Audi A saloon

Audi A saloon

Regardless, a compact ‘sedan’ is mildly intriguing. A number of Middle and Far Eastern markets have a preference for cars-with-boots, rather than hunchbacks, which is why you might be greeted at a Thai airport car rental desk by a booted version of a more familiar Euro, or Jap hatch. There are some distinct benefits attached to a separate boot, not the least of which is a soupcon of added possession security that a hatchback with a displaced load cover cannot conceal. Yet, the resultant load space in a saloon is also longer and more accommodating than its hatched alternative. The booted variants can also be structurally more rigid, with associated refinement benefits.

While BMW is notorious for allowing its customer base to carry out R&D duties, which means that second generation models of Bavarian origins tend to be significantly better overall than their original iterations, it did surprise me when Audi first revealed its A3 saloon a few years back. Just stretching the body, while a popular VW Group exercise, with models like Golf/Jetta, Polo hatch/Polo saloon and Skodas Fabia and Rapid options, can produce ‘interesting’ results, they are also insubstantial, even though they are known to boost unit profits. From a personal viewpoint, the A3 saloon just never looked right.

Well, there is a key light on the horizon that, when it strikes the flanks of the new A3 four-door, reveals a marvellously purposeful outline, with bolstered flanks and a welcome personality enhancement. Installing wheel-arches, or a semblance of them at least, can be stylistically challenging, especially on entry-level models, where a smaller standard wheel diameter can appear lost within an airy cavity. Audi has been clever enough to recognise the potential visual pitfall, which conveys an alternative impression of bodywork stretched sinuously across wider track and tyres. It works very well and also harks back to the expanded wheel-arches of the Ur Quattro, which is good in brand value terms.

Audi A saloon

Audi A saloon

However, the new booted A3 is much more than just the results of a good body workout, as it is 4.0cm longer at 4.5m, 1.82m wide and 1.0cm taller at 1.43m. It is worth noting that cabin space has been increased usefully, while the boot retains its capacious 425-litres of carrying space. New models also give car companies an opportunity to expand their technological offerings and, with so many changes being made to ADAS (the various electronic systems that aid vehicle and occupant safety reportedly), the new saloon increases its menu of both manageable and irreconcilable addenda. As long as you can tolerate the warning notices and flashing LEDs, a fair few of them can be switched off, although the default settings are invariably full on! Although I struggle to understand it, the in-car communications package now incorporates some artificial intelligence and ‘swarm’ technology.

Less noticeable but valuable improvements have been made to the saloon’s aerodynamic status, with the front radiator grille now featuring a pair of electronically actuated ‘blinds’ that also help to decrease engine warm-up times and the higher but more pert boot lid gaining from a neat aerofoil. Reduced air resistance and optimised streamlining pays dividends at the fuel pumps, which brings me conveniently to the engine line-up.

Three engines are available at launch: two 1.5-litre TFSI petrol units and a 2.0-litre TDI option, all of which major on enhanced efficiency. The 35 TFSI is a familiar VW Group 1.5-litre direct injection engine that incorporates cylinder-on-demand technology and delivers 147bhp. Driving through a redeveloped six-speed manual gearbox, it is capable of returning up to 48.7mpg, while emitting 132g/km CO2 in Sport trim (WLTP). The optional transmission is the firm’s latest shift-by-wire, seven-speed automated type (DSG/S-Tronic).

Audi A saloon

Audi A saloon

A 48V mild hybrid system, capable of recovering energy during deceleration, supports the TFSi engine, with up to 37lbs ft of additional torque under acceleration from low engine speeds, which allows the car to coast with the engine switched off in a number of situations. A 1.0 TFSI, 107bhp three-cylinder petrol engine will be introduced soon. Unlikely to be the most popular choice, the diesel can return up to 62.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 119g/km. The only slight issue, even with the option of switchable suspension settings, is that the ride comfort can be a tad jittery, verging on rock-hard, which may work perfectly well on a fast autobahn but is not exactly ideal for ‘broken’ British roads. It is worth highlighting that Audi expects to reveal both S, S-Line (trim) and RS treatments for the A3 saloon in future, so there is loads more to come.

Conclusion:     Overall, Audi has carried out a most comprehensive revision of its A3 saloon, to make it better looking, to enhance its performance and to maintain a greater level of wieldiness, while retaining a classy, compact and elegant on-road stance.