The Audi A3 may be familiar, but this is the new Saloon, together with ‘Cylinder on Demand’ technology giving an official economy figure of 60.1mpg; it’s good enough to turn diesel economy lovers back to petrol.
The Audi A3 hatchback has been around for a while, but the A3 Saloon is all-new in the UK. Audi has developed the A3 Saloon in response to demand from markets around the world (primarily China and North America), but motorists in the UK generally don’t buy small saloons. However having lived with the A3 Saloon for a week we can confirm that this is a body style option that people shouldn’t discount, and the ‘Cylinder on Demand’ technology enhances the package.
This 140PS version of the turbocharged 1.4 TFSI engine features CoD, or ‘Cylinder on Demand’, technology, which shuts down two of the four cylinders when they’re not needed, such as when lifting off the accelerator, in order to minimise mechanical effort and cut fuel consumption. You certainly can’t tell when the transition between two and four cylinders occurs – in fact it would be really useful to have some of display showing when the car is running on two cylinders, in the same way that a hybrid has a display to show you when it switches from petrol to electric power. Living with the car for more than 500 miles during a week has proven that the technology definitely works.
As well as the CoD technology, the 1.4-litre TFSI 140PS engine also features other energy saving tech such as direct fuel injection, turbocharging, thermal management and a start-stop system.
In terms of exterior styling, the A3 Saloon is basically an A3 hatchback with a boot, but the styling is very effective. To the average onlooker it has the appearance of an A4, A6 or even an A8 saloon. This is good news for the A3 Saloon buyer, less good news for the A8 buyer.
The interior environment has an extremely classy feel, with understated design and high quality materials. The A3 Saloon also has more boot space than the A3 Sportback.
The overall driving experience of the Audi A3 Saloon 1.4 TFSI CoD can be summarised in one word: refined. This description covers most elements of the car ranging from the feel of the steering wheel and all the interior controls to the powertrain and the chassis.
It also feels agile – more so than the diesel Audi A3 hatchback that we’ve recently tested. This is helped by the 1.4 TFSI petrol engine, at around 100kg, being lighter than the diesel, resulting in a kerb weight for the car of just 1325kg.
Our test car came with the 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch gearbox. You can choose between D and Sport settings, and you can even change gear manually using paddles on the steering wheel. There are also five drive settings: auto, comfort, dynamic, efficiency or individual. When in efficiency mode the transmission offers a free-wheeling function which further reduces fuel consumption.
The A3 Saloon happened to be on test with us when a 400-mile drive around the Lake District was scheduled in. This was also the weekend when the St Jude storm hit the UK. Although the Lake District escaped the high winds that hit southern England, there was constant torrential rain, and the routes across the Cumbrian mountains more closely resembled rivers than roads.
Prior to setting off it was considered that an automatic front-wheel drive small petrol saloon was not the car of choice for such an expedition, but the A3 actually proved to be surprisingly capable and enjoyable in such conditions. Being smaller, more agile and with little body roll compared to the large 4x4s that were out in force, the A3 was easy to thread through the narrow winding roads, and it quickly changed direction when needing to steer a course around the huge pools of standing water which suddenly appeared.
Although the transmission’s D mode was fine for most driving, the S tronic’s S mode held it in a more responsive gear for the many hilly sections of the route. The ability to change manually was also useful for keeping the car in a certain gear when negotiating more torturous combinations of corners and hills.
The only issue we had was when pulling away on wet, leaf-covered hills, when the front wheels struggled for grip.
One other drama was picking up a puncture on the motorway on the way to the Lakes, thanks to a piece of wire fence that someone had conveniently dropped on the M6. The good news was that the A3’s tyre pressure monitoring system immediately confirmed that a tyre was losing pressure, and allowed us to pull off the motorway and change the tyre before it fully deflated and any damage was done to the wheel. The bad news is that there’s no full size spare, just a space saver – not ideal for a 400-mile expedition around the Cumbrian mountains in some of the worst weather of the year. The decision was therefore taken to buy a new tyre for £160
Overall the A3 provided a fast, efficient, comfortable and enjoyable driving experience around the Lakes – much more so than expected.
The Audi A3 Saloon 1.4 TFSI CoD has an official combined economy figure of 60.1mpg, with emissions of 109g/km CO2. The vast majority of modern petrol engines that we test don’t come anywhere near their official figures, especially downsized engines. However the 1.4 TFSI CoD was actually capable of delivering over 60mpg at 60mph on A-roads, which is a great result. Overall, after a week of driving the car, much of that time around the somewhat hilly Lake District, we averaged 48.2mpg, which is excellent. The worst we achieved was 35mpg when driven progressively through the mountains.
The base price of the 1.4 TFSI CoD A3 Saloon is £24,305. Our car had a number of options including a xenon light package (£1250), metallic paint (£525), satnav (£495), and the extremely valuable tyre pressure monitoring (£75). With all options the price of our test car came to £28,330. Interestingly, our car had the no-cost option of the deselection of Sports suspension – along with the sensibly-sized 16-inch wheels, this ensured a comfortable ride.
Our car came in Sport trim, but you can also opt for S line trim. A manual six-speed gearbox is also available.
In terms of engines, you can also choose a 180PS 1.8-litre TFSI petrol engine or a 150PS 2.0-litre TDI – and soon a 1.8 TFSI and 1.6 TDI, and even a 300PS S3 Saloon quattro in early 2014. And of course you can also buy the A3 as a three-door hatchback, a five-door Sportback or even a cabriolet.
Once in a while a car comes along that makes you reconsider your views about various things, and the Audi A3 Saloon is one of those cars. Despite having personally owned Audis for 15 years, and being well aware of the many merits of the brand, you can’t get away from the fact that the majority of Audis for many years have been dynamically unengaging. Most models have been front-wheel drive, nose heavy, with little agility and a natural tendency for understeer. Add to this the fact that small saloons have not sold in any great numbers in the UK for a number of years and the outlook for the A3 Saloon could have looked very bleak indeed.
However, this A3 Saloon is extremely refined in all areas, and with the lightweight 1.4 TFSI CoD engine, it has performance, efficiency, and agile handling. The S tronic transmission gives you a normal D mode and also a Sport option, and you can change gear manually with steering wheel-mounted paddles.
What about the saloon body? Does it look like an unappealing small saloon from years gone by? Absolutely not. In typical Audi fashion, the average person is likely to take a quick glance at it and assume that it could be an A4, A6 or even A8 saloon. This is good news for the buyer of an A3 Saloon, perhaps less good news for the buyer of an A8.
Anyway, overall the A3 Saloon has been a pleasant surprise for us, and even better, the 1.4 TFSI CoD engine, with its genuine potential for good economy in real life, has provided much needed evidence to support the increasingly popular view that petrol engines are fighting back against diesels. Based on all this, the Audi A3 Saloon 1.4 TFSI CoD gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 9 out of 10.