Audi A3 Saloon - like the Sportback, but longer

  • A3 loses a door and gains shirt-and-tie styling
  • Smarter looking Saloon benefits from advanced cabin
  • Business-class model gains tax-friendly engines

They might be bigger, heavier and more expensive than in years past, but small, premium saloon cars are undeniably cool. That’s what Audi hopes to bank on as it unveils its second-generation A3 saloon.

Everyone is in on the act too – from BMW’s visually divisive 2 Series Gran Coupe to the what’s-the-difference pairing of Mercedes-Benz’s CLA and A-Class Saloon, these cars are attracting buyers who might previously been drawn to the 3 Series, A4 and C-Class.

The arrival of the new A3 follows a raft of updates for VW Golf-based compact cars (including the SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia) – and so much of what has changed in the A3 fits the same formula as those. That means a fancy new interior, electrified engines and sharper handling.

What’s it like inside?

As with the A3 Sportback the biggest changes for the 2020 Saloon come within the cabin – the 10.1-inch infotainment screen and standard 10.25-inch display behind the wheel give the new car a clean and largely button-free appearance. The latter can be upgraded to Audi’s familiar 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit for maximum digital real estate, too.

2020 Audi A3 Saloon interior

Like the VW Golf (upon which this car is based) the A3 Saloon features sat-nav with online traffic information, restaurant opening times, and user reviews, plus clever Car-to-X communication that allows vehicles to communicate hazards or free parking spaces via a cloud system.

Powering all of this is Audi’s latest operating system but there’s also the option of using Apple Car Play or Android Auto. You can even lock and unlock the car using your phone, and from 2021 the Amazon Alexa voice assistant will also be available. Such tech!

What engines can I have?

We don’t know the full UK specification yet but all models benefit from better aerodynamics than the old car, thanks to a higher rear end and larger diffuser, so it’ll be more efficient and quieter running.

Audi is launching the A3 Saloon with two TFSI petrol engines and one TDI diesel engine. The former take the form of a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit with 110hp or a 1.5-litre, four cylinder engine with 150hp.

2020 Audi A3 Saloon driving rear

Both can be had with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system to help reduce fuel consumption and emissions, although you can only get this in conjunction with an automatic gearbox.

There’s only one diesel option at the moment, a 2.0-litre TDI with 150hp, which will be followed by a 1.6-litre version with 116hp if you’re a company car driver or just not in a hurry.

What’s it like to drive?

Like other VW Group cars based on this platform, the A3 Saloon gets some clever new handling software that promises better comfort and agility.

Undoubtedly this effect will be most apparent in cars with the optional adaptive suspension but even from the off Audi is promising more precision in the way this model handles than before.

2020 Audi A3 Saloon driving front

What does that mean? Well unfortunately precision is a hard concept to grasp, let alone quantify, but as with the old Saloon we’d expect this car to be firmer and more agile than the accompanying Sportback. Marginally less comfortable in exchange for better handling, in short.

You can also expect things like autonomous emergency braking (called Audi Pre-Sense Front) and adaptive cruise control with lane keep assistant, plus an efficiency coach that tells you when to take your foot off the accelerator before a roundabout or junction.

Is it less practical than the A3 Sportback?

Yes and no – the A3 Saloon has the same 425 litres of bootspace as the old car, which is actually larger than the Sportback, but because it has a smaller opening that volume isn’t as easy to access. It’s a bigger jar with a smaller lid.

The car is 4cm longer this time around so bear that in mind if you have a very precise amount of space on your drive. None of that extra length comes in the form of a longer wheelbase, so we’re not expecting any vast improvements in rear legroom.

2020 Audi A3 Saloon side

Audi does suggest that the extra height and width means better headspace though, particularly for those in front, who also benefit from a lower seating position. Plus more elbow room all round.

What this means for you

If you want an Audi A3 with a more business-like appearance then this new A3 Saloon comes with all the added benefits as the updated Sportback but with a much slinkier suit.

It’s always been our favourite small premium saloon (niche alert!) because it just gets the job done without any additional complication, like trying to also be a coupe or promising loads more driving thrills than the hatchback it’s based on.

All-in-all it’s a classic case of Audi less-is-more restraint. Except when it comes to the interior, which looks like someone’s desk at NASA. Or the price, which is likely to be quite a bit higher than the five-door.

Further reading:

>> 2020 SEAT Leon review
>> 2020 Skoda Octavia review
>> Audi A3 Sportback review