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The Audi A3 Saloon has always been in the shadows of its Hatchback cousins, yet for some it has been the choice for a number of dedicated followers. Launched some seven years ago at the New York Auto Show, it has enjoyed steady, if not dramatic sales; now comes news of the latest version.

Later this year; alas with no exact date (and that is very easy to understand with the current global crisis,) the newcomer should take to our roads. Indications are that a number of trim levels will be offered, e.g., Sport, S Line, Edition 1 and Vorsprung. Of course trim choice will depend on individual markets. One of the qualities of the A3 Saloon has been balanced proportions and manageable dimensions combined with a quality of finish and a level of technological sophistication befitting cars from the classes above, and these qualities are further amplified with the newcomer. The compact four-door has undergone a wholesale redesign alongside its five-door Sportback counterpart, drawing on the very latest Audi developments in digitalisation, connectivity, driver assistance technology and power train optimisation.

I was once informed by an A3 owner who had the previous Saloon version; they picked the four door over the hatchback as they felt it offered more security. Amongst the many highlights of the latest version, the adoption of fully digital cockpit architecture with the touch-screen MMI Touch concept at its heart, the integration of mild hybrid MHEV drivetrains for selected models and the introduction of advanced new lighting configurations that give each variant a specific light ‘signature’. Compared with its predecessor, the new model is now four centimetres longer at 4.50 metres, while its wheelbase remains unchanged and its width has increased by two centimetres to 1.82 metres and it is now one centimetre taller at 1.43 metres. This results in more elbow room and has yielded an increase in headroom of two centimetres in the front, helped also by a repositioned driver’s seat. At 425 litres, the luggage capacity is exactly the same as in the first-generation model. With a large single frame and honeycomb grille, you will not fail to recognise this new Audi model.

In contrast with the Sportback, in which the body line running above the sill rises slightly towards the rear lights before the rear wheel arch to accentuate the short rear end, the Saloon’s body line continues in a straight line up to the rear bumper. Moving to the well appointed interior and the high definition lines of the dashboard with its striking air vents, the attractively sculpted door handles and the new compact gear shifter with its much- reduced dimensions draw the eye initially until ignition brings to life the central 10.1 inch MMI Touch screen and the 10.25 inch fully digital cockpit display in the binnacle, both of which are subtly integrated using a black panel design. As you progress up the trim ladder, you get the 10.25 inch fully digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, upgraded to the Audi virtual cockpit plus with a wider 12.3 inch screen offering three different views, one of which presents RPM and speed as bar diagrams with angular red graphical elements. Also available is a head-up display which perfectly complements the new digital concept, projecting important information onto the windscreen in the driver’s direct field of vision.

From launch, there will be  a choice of three engines, two 1.5 litre TFSI units and one two litre TDI, all of which major on efficiency. The 35 TFSI, a 1.5 litre direct injection engine, incorporates cylinder-on-demand technology and delivers 150PS and in conjunction with a newly developed six-speed manual transmission. A second version of this unit is used in combination with the quick-shifting seven-speed S tronic, which now performs its changes via a new switch using shift-by-wire technology. The two litre TDI with 150PS in the 35 TDI also works in conjunction with a seven-speed S tronic with CO2 emissions of 119g/km. Later an 116PS version of the four-cylinder TDI linked to the highly efficient new six-speed manual transmission will power a 30 TDI version. (The engine options I quote are for the Northern Ireland market.)

Audi engineers have tuned the suspension to strike an even more finely judged balanced between precision, response, adjustability and absorbency. A more positive feel and faster reaction speeds are due in no small part to the central dynamic handling system that ensures optimal interaction between all the components contributing to transverse dynamics. This applies as much to the standard set-up offered by Sport models as to the newly configured sport suspension that is a feature of S line models and above. The standard Audi drive select dynamic handling system also influences the driving characteristics of the new model by enabling the driver to modulate elements such as throttle response, steering weighting and S tronic shift points. Now all that is left is the opportunity to take the driving wheel.

Ian Lynas

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