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Audi has ventured out onto a limb by adding a boot to its best-selling lower medium A3.
Four-door saloons of this size and shape are traditionally poor sellers in the UK, but the German firm believes there's a place in the market for a premium version, albeit a relatively low-volume one.
As a result, it doesn't have many direct competitors, but in relation to likely rivals, the A3 saloon is 174mm shorter than the Mercedes CLA four-door coupe, 188mm less than a Volkswagen Jetta, but 96mm longer than the BMW 1-series Coupe - and wider and lower than all three. It really is a compact saloon in shape rather than a coupe, while the boot measures up at 425 litres (the CLA musters 475).
Audi only expects to sell about 2500-3000 a year in the UK - 10% of its total A3 mix - but it's another niche for the firm to explore here, backed up by bigger numbers abroad. It's a quietly smart and well-proportioned car, which Audi thinks will appeal to customers wanting more elegance than a hatch or downsizing from a bigger saloon - it's 245mm shorter than the A4 four-door - with a more retail bias (60%) compared with the more practical and business-focused (70%) five-door A3 Sportback hatch. Rear space is so-so for tall passengers - knee room is okay?but legroom isn't.
Eventually there will be a wider selection of engine options, including all-wheel drive quattro for the higher-output units, but from this September's launch there will be just two auto petrols and one manual diesel with front-wheel drive. The 140hp 1.4-litre TFSI petrol offers great figures (109g/km CO2 and 60.1mpg) and is reasonable to drive, while the 180hp 1.8 (129g/km and 50.4mpg) is understandably,
and agreeably, more peppy. We also tried the tax-busting 99g/km 105hp 1.6 TDI diesel manual (arriving in December 2013), which is expected to be the second best-seller, but it's the 150hp 2.0 TDI (107g/km and 68.9mpg) that's slated to grab the most sales at 35% of the saloon's mix. Only available to test in S-tronic auto form, the well-proven unit was responsive and punchy, and on rough roads afforded a decent ride. UK-spec cars will offer three suspension settings - Standard, Sports and S-line - and driving responses can be further adjusted via the standard 'Driver Select' dash switch to affect the steering and the throttle on manual cars and on S-tronic models' gearing too (through a menu ranging from 'Comfort' to 'Dynamic').
Finally, running costs should stack up well against premium rivals, partly because the A3 saloon is a smaller, laudably lighter and initially less powerful vehicle.
Audi A3 Saloon 2.0 TDI S line manual
Model price range
BIK 20/40% per month
Group 21E (est.)
Boot space (min/max)
Niche but quality, with business-friendly engines too.