Saturday 18 November 2017

Get a load of the Audi A3 Saloon

It may be small but we packed three six-footers into the back

The Audi A3 saloon
The Audi A3 saloon
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Initially it was to be myself, the brother and one six-foot-plus nephew. By the time we were on our way, two more six-foot-plus nephews joined us. In with the three of them to the back of this A3 saloon. The brother and I hooshed up our front seats (I moved further up than he) but I had no hopes for them back there, to be honest.

Somehow they got their long legs and big, fit frames into place and off we went in the wind and rain to the local championship derby in the midlands. I didn't go in. Too wet and miserable – and another task awaited me anyway. I'll be there for the semi-finals (yes we won).

It was a big, big ask of the A3 saloon. Dress it up any way you like, it is a small car. It may, at 4.4 metres, be around 150mm longer than the five-door Sportback hatch and have more boot room (45 litres) and be significantly different than it in many ways, but it is still a compact motor.

I don't think anyone will give it as tough a test as this. The brother reckoned the five of us weighed a combined 70 stone.

Anyway, I have to be clear here. I was driving a 1.4-litre turbo petrol version that was made early in the production cycle and didn't correspond to the normal equipment divisions.

That, I hope, explains why it was easily the dullest to look at inside and out (grey on both counts) that I've come across – I drove it abroad some months back. My preferred colour is red and please don't go for the grey upholstery. Depressing.

Yet it overcame all that dullness on my drives. The chassis was rock solid under trying conditions. It was surefooted at motorway speed where we encountered strong crosswinds and gusts. The boys in the back seat never complained once and when they got out in Tullamore were showing no signs of cramped legs.

So, leaving aside the dullness, the saloon does what the hatch has done for a long time – put in an unremittingly solid performance. That's why they do so well on the secondhand market.

The engine I had doubts about – could it take the strain of a super-full load – before the five of us took off? I needn't have worried. They – car makers generally – have made some impressive advances on petrol engines and with turbo technology. This was a mixture of pulling and pushing power that shows you don't need a diesel every time. We are besotted with the latter; no doubt about that. A few drives in this might change minds. My test car had COD or cylinder on demand. This shuts down cylinders when the engine is cruising to save fuel.

Maybe it was the seven-speed automatic transmission (S-tronic) that smoothed our passage but whatever you could not but be impressed with how it performed – not just on one big drive but on several shorter ones around town with just two or three on board.

So what does it all mean? Good question. Well, Audi says the compact saloon market is going to be big, that people have bought other brands because it didn't have one up to now.

It believes there are lots of you out there prepared to pay €30,000 or so (€850 more than the hatchback) for a small Audi saloon. I could interject some harsh realities here and say I could have placed my three nephews in much more comfort and room in the back of a Volkswagen Passat or Toyota Avensis or Skoda Superb for that sort of money.

There is no denying that. Yet we are not dealing with like and like on that line of argument. It is a bit like needing a winger and buying a centre-back – totally different job of work.

Ultimately this is a new small saloon with a prestige logo on the grille. That's why it costs €30,000. And there are people who want that sort of car. I don't expect they'll be trying to fit three big men across the back but if they want to try, it can be done.

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