26 March 2014

Road test: Audi A3 saloon

The next model range up from the small car Audi A1, the A3 is the first compact saloon to sport the four rings, writes Trish Whelan.

Here in Ireland the compact saloon class accounts for well over a quarter of total annual sales so it's crucial for automakers to have a 'runner' in this sector. Audi have made sure the A3 is well equipped to compete in this tough marketplace.

The review car is the saloon powered by the 1.6, 105bhp diesel engine added recently to the more powerful 2.0 available from launch. Petrols are a 1.4, and 1.8. The 1.6 TDI is expected to be the volume seller.

This 1.6 diesel is the most eco-friendly of the range and in Band A2 of €180 for annual road tax. It is used throughout the Volkswagen stable of brands so we're very familiar with it. Refined, reliable and adequately powerful, it is ideal for those who put up high mileage. No huge power on tap but it is a steady performer. A really quiet diesel engine well matched to the 6-speed manual transmission.

Drivewise, gear changes are fluid and the car's suspension proved good on all types of road surfaces. The Audi Drive Select allows you select five different driving modes, comfort, auto, dynamic (sporty), efficient, or individual, depending on your mood and the driving conditions.

With a top speed of 198km/h, the 1.6 can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 10.9 seconds. It's frugal too, with a claimed fuel consumption of 3.9 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres (or 72mpg) making it more fuel efficient than the 1.4 petrol at 4.7 L/100kms (in Tax Band A3). Both have the same 250 Nm of torque.

Here in Ireland we like our saloons for their boots so we can keep our belongings away from prying eyes! The A3 saloon has a good one offering 435 litres of space, some 45 litres more than its hatchback brother, with rear seats in use. It comes with a temporary spare wheel. However, the boot floor is quite low so those with iffy backs might get help when lifting heavy items in or out.

I found the car's sporty interior to be very roomy but would be quite dark without the nice silverware. Fit and finish is of a very high standard as you'd expect from Audi. Three adults will fit in the back at a push as the middle rear seat is slightly smaller than the outer two. While they won't complain about legroom due to the long wheelbase, there could be a problem with head room for guys of 6ft or a bit under as their heads will touch the roof.

While it looks well, the white stitching on the dark seat backs may not look quite so good if a snag appears. That said, the sporty seats hold you in well and offer good comfort.

Storage areas are fine and door bins can take a large size bottle. You'll find a high vis jacket in a small drawer under the middle rear seat and a first-aid kit and warning triangle in a compartment under the front passenger seat.

Dials are nice and clear but have 140km/h on the top as can be reached on German autobahns without any fear of penalty points and there's an electric brake in place of a pull-up one which frees up more space.

A menu button controls functions - car, phone, media, radio and tone. As in all A3s, the radio screen pops up on the top of the dash and disappears back down again when not in use. This is a really neat feature and one which Audi people got very excited about at the car's launch, and it's directly in your line of vision.

Sometimes, though, designers are allowed too much leeway and I would have preferred even slightly larger side mirrors.

The whole point of the Audi A3 priced from €29,950 is to offer a less costly alternative to the more expensive A4 which starts at €34,520. It's not cheap by any means, but hey, it's the premium Audi brand we're talking about here. A3 is offered in Sportback, Cabrio and saloon guises.

The price for the A3 1.4 petrol saloon starts at €30,480; the 1.6 is from €30,860. You can get into an A3 Sportback for slightly less at €28,060 for the 1.2 petrol, while the Cabriolet is priced from €36,710 for the 1.4 petrol unit.

Trims are: Entry, SE and S-Line.

Standard items on the A3 saloon include a full complement of air bags, with a knee one for the driver; Electronic stabilisation control, 16-inch alloys, air con, 4-spoke leather multifunction steering wheel, a 5.8-inch retractable screen, MMI radio with connection to all CD and MP3 players including iPod and iPhone, Bluetooth, electromechanical power steering, Isofix anchors, remote central locking, a space saver spare wheel, cloth upholstery, halogen headlights, and a start-stop system.

The mid SE trim, for an extra €1,350, adds leather-like look with cloth upholstery, Audi music interface, front fog lights, rear park assist, cruise control, chrome window surrounds, electric heated mirrors and an aluminium look interior.

The S-Line, for €3,150 extra over the SE models, adds on Xenon lights with LED Daytime Running Lights, 18-inch alloys, LED rear lights and S Line suspension. S-Line logos are evident, inside and out. My test car had the S-Line exterior package together with sports seats. A number of high technology features are offered as extras.

In Ireland, Audi expect every second A3 customer to opt for the saloon version.