First drive: Audi A3 Saloon

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First drive: Audi A3 Saloon

Seeking to increase its market share in the hatchback-hating Chinese and American markets, Audi is offering its popular A3 hatchback in saloon form for the first time. For a £550 premium over the five-door Sportback, you get a larger boot and more visually appealing styling. AOL Cars popped over to Budapest to see if it is worth it.

What is it?

A booted version of the Audi A3. It's not simply a graft job either, with revisions to both the wheelbase and track ensuring that passenger space hasn't been hampered. It keeps the usual A3 strengths, namely its high-quality cabin, refined engines and avant-garde design, but the new boot lifts the car visually from a mere posh hatchback to a baby executive saloon.

What's under the bonnet?

When the A3 Saloon arrives in UK showrooms this September, it will be offered with a 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine, as well as 1.4 and 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol motors. Initially the petrol models will be available only with Audi's S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, with the diesel fitted with a six-speed manual. By next summer, buyers will be able to choose from a higher output 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel, an entry-level 1.6-litre diesel, and also the range topping 298bhp S3. Quattro four-wheel drive will also be available on the most powerful engine variants.

What's the spec like?

Two trim levels will be offered: Sport and S Line. All models are equipped with Audi drive select, which alters steering weight and throttle sensitivity to suit your mood, as well as the MMI interface, which is driven by a flat-screen that rises out of the dashboard. Further key standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control and sports seats. Additional interior and exterior body detailing, a sports steering wheel, Xenon headlights and half-leather seats supplement S Line models. Buyers can also optionally specify a panoramic sunroof, Google Earth based sat-nav, Internet connectivity and full LED headlamps. For the first time on the A3, three distinct suspension setups are offered, regardless of trim, meaning you won't have to sacrifice ride comfort should you want the sportier styling of S Line models.

Any rivals?

Audi is proud to boast that the A3 Saloon sits alone in the compact premium saloon market, however this only due to the fact that Mercedes calls its forthcoming CLA model a four-door coupe. In reality, both are booted versions of the respective brand's hatchback, though the CLA is arguably more style-led, aping the sweeping lines of the much bigger (and expensive) CLS. If you can live without the saloon shape, the BMW 1-series runs the A3 very close, with a similar range of powerful yet economical engines, though its interior doesn't feel quite as expensive.

What's it like to drive?

Unsurprisingly, almost identical to the A3 hatchback, which is no bad thing. Safety and stability are the order of the day with this model, so those looking for lairy antics may be better off with the BMW competition. That said, drive the A3 saloon with gusto and it feels sharp and responsive, though with very little feel coming back through the electro-mechanical power steering. Those eyeing-up a diesel model will not be disappointed with the 148bhp 2.0-litre, as it is refined, smooth and offers a broad spread of power across the rev-range. Of the petrol offerings we would recommend the 1.4-litre, as in real world conditions, it offers similar performance to the larger 1.8, thanks to identical torque outputs. It's also fitted with Cylinder on Demand technology, which shuts down two of the four cylinders when cruising for diesel rivalling fuel economy and CO2 emissions.

The AOL Cars verdict

Audi predicts the A3 Saloon will sell in very small numbers in the UK, thanks to our love of hatchbacks. However, it very much deserves a place on the A3 price list, as for a small premium, it offers a more attractive car with a greater premium image. That it is fuel-efficient and will cost little to tax will merely be the icing on the cake for most buyers, who we predict will want the A3 Saloon for its looks alone.

The knowledge

Model: Audi A3 saloon 1.4 TFSI CoD S tronic Sport
Price: £24,305
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 138bhp 250NM
Max speed: 135mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
MPG: 60.1mpg (combined)
Emissions: 109g/km CO2

Audi A3 Saloon

Audi A3 Saloon