If Audi doesn’t already rule the motoring world, then surely it’s only a matter of time.
This manufacturer more than any other seems to have sorted its model range. It conquers one market sector, then sets about tackling another like a military operation.
It is rarely the first on the scene with a new type of car, but it’s very often the best, or very, very close to being the best.
Take the A3 Saloon, the latest in the Audi masterplan. It’s a conventional four-door booted car, rather like a slightly shrunken A4. But Audi designers have decided that that was the biggest remaining gap and where there resources were best employed. It brings to 23 of cars in the Audi family, covering hatches, saloons, coupes, sports cars, 4x4s and convertibles.
Now the A3 saloon is hardly revolutionary. But it does plug a gap, one of the very few remaining in the Audi line-up.
Essentially, it’s a shrunken A4. It’s slightly shorter (4.46 metres compared to 4.7 metres) but looks similar but perhaps, if anything, a little sleeker and sportier.
The car drives fine and feels great. Navigating the front doors is just a little tricky because it’s a little tighter than the A4 and the boot aperture is smaller too.
Otherwise, it’s a car with little to fault. It follows the trend for upmarket cars to have neither an ignition key (it starts on a button) or a handbrake (again, a button).
And while the £23,630 starting price sounds low, the test model had such a raft of extras that the total bill came to £35,000. Not cheap, but I guess it’s better to be able to make your car bespoke. I love the adaptive cruise control (£575) and the Bang & Olufsen sound system (£750) but I could live without the panoramic sunroof (£950) and leather upholstery (£795).
The vivid red paintwork was good (Misano Red, named after an Italian racing circuit) but would I pay £525 for it? Not sure.
Overall, though, the A3 is a superb car. I’m not sure there would have been a huge demand for Audi to create a booted A3, but now it’s here it’s bound to find lots of homes.
The car has a balance of talents that marries everything a junior premium car buyer wants, but it’s still compact and feels like a much more accomplished car on the road. The A4, which is 25cm longer than the A3 saloon, might seem surplus to requirements next to its younger brother.
Extending the bodywork at the back has given this A3 an extra 45 litres of boot space over the hatchbacks, totalling 425 litres, although it loses the obvious boot height advantage of the three-door and Sportback. It is a fabulous bootspace for such a compact car and makes it a very useful little load carrier.
The exterior changes are a lot more far-reaching than just a new boot, though.
The A3 saloon is being built in a new Hungarian factory, finished only a week before the car’s international media launch and built to produce most of the car’s exterior parts in-house.
As such it doesn’t necessarily need to share body panels with the hatchback A3s, so the saloon has been pumped up a little with bigger shoulder lines and body creases.
On the inside there is a range of finishes from the functional to the stylish. Full leather, cloth and leather/Alcantara options are available depending on the model, but the quality and production standards are generally top-drawer.
A big chunk of A3 saloons are expected to sell as company cars, to drivers who might well want to sacrifice size and equipment levels of something like a top-spec Mondeo or Insignia for the badge appeal of the smallest Audi saloon.
There simply aren’t any logical reasons not to at least consider the A3 saloon if its size, body style and pricing structure fit your needs. It’s nice to drive, affordable to run and looks great.
Audi A3 Saloon 2.0 TDI (150ps) PRICE: £23,630 for standard car. Test version added pearl effect paint (£525), leather (£795), alloy wheels (£1,495), adaptive cruise control (£575), technology package (£1,495), LED lights (£2,000), panoramic sunroof (£950), heated seats (£260), parking system (£595) and Bang & Olufsen sound system (£750). Total cost: £35,600 ENGINE: A 2.0 turbodiesel engine generating 150ps via front wheel drive PERFORMANCE: Top speed 136mph, 0 to 60mph in 8.7 seconds COSTS: town 54.3mpg; country 80.7mpg; combined 68.9mpg EMISSIONS: 107g/km WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles