Tuesday 12 December 2017

Audi A3: Turning on the style – and the snob value

First drive: Audi A3 saloon
First drive: Audi A3 saloon
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

IT was only when the Audi expert said that a mere handful of parts – the single-frame grille, door handles and mirrors, to name three – were the same as on the 5dr Sportback that it dawned on me.

Sure, this A3 saloon is a different car altogether. Not a hatch with a boot bolted on.

The Audi lady also told us that cars like this, technically called premium compact saloons, are fast becoming the biggest selling in the world, driven by demand from young professionals in the US and China.

Ireland?

Well, don't we do what the Germans tell us? So a lot of you are expected to move into one. You'll need €30,000 or so – that's about €850 more than an equivalent 5dr Sportback, as we exclusively revealed here last week. Spec levels (also revealed here last week) will correspond, so, despite what was mooted, the two versions are directly comparable on price.

And if you are currently driving an old Volvo S40 saloon, they seem hell bent on getting your custom too, as soon as it gets here in September.

Mercedes might have something to say about that with its new CLA (technically a 4dr coupe, but an A3 rival nonetheless in 1.6-litre petrol guise). Anyway, Audi expects not to lose too many A3 or A4 sales to this newcomer but to win over lots of drivers of other marques who previously stayed away because there was no saloon in the segment. We'll see. It's not that simple.

You'd have to say it looks well, typically Audi, sturdy, strong visually, without anything too flash. The rear screen slopes a fair bit so you don't get that abrupt end of roof and jutting beginning of boot.

That has its visual benefits but, as I was to discover, visibility drawbacks too.

Dimensions

We started our 'tour' at the back – it is all about being an A3 with a boot. There's a good wide opening to it, and decent space in it (425 litres, up 45 on Sportback). Three golf bags, I'd say.

The saloon is 15cm longer and 1cm lower and it's wider than the hatch.

Again, the cabin is A3 all over. We got our front seats suited to our dimensions and later sat in behind ourselves, as it were, to see how rear-seat passengers would fare. Not bad at all on knee and legroom – come on, this is a compact car, even if they had the nerve to call it a limousine at launch. Headroom wasn't good for me, but then I am over 6ft and you'd expect smaller and younger members of the family to inherit the back seats. They'll be fine.

Incidentally, it is far, far easier to get into the back than the Mercedes CLA, which is bordering on the tortuous – this has 2cm better head clearance but felt it had more.

Back in the driving seat, and it became increasingly obvious that the rear windscreen limits visibility a good deal more than I would have liked. The wing mirrors were a bit small for my tastes too, but in both cases I think design won out over purpose. Neither criticism should represent a turnoff but are black marks nonetheless.

In the cabin, we had good, sturdy seats, decent adjustments and plenty of elbow room for two big men up front – it is broader, and you notice it in the cabin.

The 1.6-litre (105bhp) diesel is the one most people will buy here, so we gave it a runout. Good, solid, quiet, reasonable but not great pulling power (torque) made for a smooth if unspectacular drive. That's what people want: something solid, stylish, and easy on the running costs, with the prospect of a decent trade-in.

Then I had a bit of fun in the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol (140bhp) S-tronic (auto) version. This evoked a fairer impression of the well-judged suspension, steering response and feel and overall balance of the car. In truth I would have liked another few hours behind the wheel.

There will also be 184bhp 2-litre TDi quattro early next year, an S3 soon and a cabriolet version of the saloon later.

Well-dressed

So they've made a well finished and turned-out saloon with a couple of smart lines along its flanks.

By the same token, 30 grand will get you a superbly well-dressed version of the Skoda Octavia, for example, or a Ford Mondeo, Toyota Avensis, huge Skoda Superb, Volkswagen Passat, etc. Agree?

The fact is, such comparisons are both valid and vacuous. Others look like winners on price and equipment. But there is one element that equalises size v price – for now.

Snob value.

And the A3 saloon has it in spades.

Audi A3 Line-up and prices

Model/power/transmission Motor Tax From

Petrol

1.4TFSI 125bhp 6spd €200 €29,950

125bhp 7spd S-Tronic €200 €32,550

140bhp 6spd COD €190 €30,880

125bhp 7spd S-Tronic COD €190 €33,330

1.8TFSI

180bhp 7spd S-Tronic SE €280 €36,810

Diesel

1.6TDI 105bhp 6spd €180 €30,530

105bhp 7spd S-Tronic €190 €32,930

2.0TDI 150bhp 6spd €190 €32,310

Indo Motoring

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