24 Oct 2013

Audi A3 makes the smooth shift to a saloon

When it comes to Ireland’s love of the boot we’re up there with the Iranians, the Turks and the middle-class suburbanites of Tashkent. This has nothing to do with romanticising the years of Jack Charlton’s lads hoofing the ball up the pitch, nor a fondness for a bit of no-nonsense ass-kicking when it comes to policing. What we’re talking about is a car’s rear end.

 Hatchback me hat: if it’s not a saloon, then, according to the typical motoring bore in the bar, it’s only “a woman’s car”. According to these petrolhead pint-sippers, whether you can peek in at their luggage or not is a useful indicator as to the gender of a driver.

Most bars have an expert like this, holding court over his Heineken, and the more Pringle jumpers in the audience the more likely that the boot rule is taken as an unspoken social norm. After all, this guy’s best friend’s wife’s brother used to live next door to a mechanic, so it stands to reason he knows more than most about cars. And if he says that the ultimate expression of motoring manhood is a boot, then you need a boot.

We laugh off the ways of our crazy continental cousins, for whom a hatchback or even an estate (yes, they’re that open-minded when it comes to motoring needs) is the natural choice. And we ignore the fact that these days mainstream car firms start with the touring or estate version when designing cars and work back to the saloon when time permits. So when Audi announced it was doing a saloon version of the A3 I admit to feeling underwhelmed.

Once more a car firm was pandering to a ridiculously old-fashioned stereotype of what represents a family car. You could hear the sniggers of the engineers in Ingoldstadt: “Herman, stick a boot on that A3 for the crazy Chinese drivers and the bankrupt Irish. Let’s call it the A3 limousine while we’re at it.” Big surprise Yet this was one of the big surprises of the year to date; I really enjoyed driving this car. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that as the regular saloons have grown larger over the years they have lost some of their agility and fun. .

Despite claims at weight loss and chassis rigidity they can’t help but feel a little bloated when compared with their predecessors from a decade ago. What we have here with the latest saloon iterations of premium hatchbacks is a revival of the small, fun saloon.

The A3 saloon is not alone: the likes of the BMW 1 Series coupé and to a certain extent the Mercedes CLA have similar traits. These are cars that carry the modern tech of today’s cars but in the format and scale of the small saloons that made these brands so well regarded so many years ago. Driving the A3 saloon provokes a Proustian moment, whisking me back to the early iterations of Audi saloons.

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