Recently I noticed a nice looking Audi saloon outside a super-market near where I live. That A4 looks pleasing, I thought. Except it was no A4 at all but the A3 saloon, on sale since early last year. In what way does the A3 differ from its bigger sibling? The A3 saloon’s price list begins at £23,295 and for that you get a neatly styled boot holding 425 litres of air along with a rather handsome exterior.
For an extra £1390 you can get the “entry-level” A4 and 480 litres of space in the equally nicely shaped trunk. That’s £25.77 per extra litre of luggage carrying capacity which is a lot less per litre than Mercedes asks for when you choose a C-class saloon over a CLA, by the way.
Another difference is the greater range of interior colours the A4 can claim over its younger stablemate. The A3 has seven shades of grey and black and, if you opt for the S-line version, you can get brown and grey leather, as shown. The A4 has some far more interesting possibilities including Calendula Yellow plus a range of wood inserts that are downright attractive.
The A3 is 4445 mm long, 1516 mm high and 1706 mm wide (not including the mirrors). The A4 has 4701 mm between its ends, reaches 1427 mm to the sky, and you´ll need a 1826 mm long tape to get from side to side (not including those mirrors). Rear passengers of the A3 get 924 mm of headroom while those who get carted about in the back of an A4 will enjoy another 30 mm of air space so they can wear a flat cap and just about avoid touching the masterpiece of a headliner this car probably has. Width matters, as they say. The interior span of the A3 is 1453 mm while the A4 has 1463 mm. That’s not so much of a difference, is it?
Both cars have a TFSI engine to propel them but the A3’s is a 1.4 and the A4 is a 1.8 litre device. Since it’s a bit smaller, the A3 gets to 139 mph while the ageing (as motoring writers simply have to say) A4 manages a top speed of 129 mph. Both cars will get you to Stuttgart from Madrid in about the same time, I would guess. However, how much fuel do they hold? Often it’s not speed that counts on long distances but fuelling intervals. The smaller car can claim a 50 litre tank and the A4’s is a 63 litre tank.
Ceteris paribus, the A3 might get to Swabia a bit sooner if the driver can moderate the fuel consumption, but the A4 tank volume might just obviate the need for a stop at an Aral Station at the Bad Bellingen Rasthof. Audi claims the combined cycle of the A3 means 60 mpg, which gives a 660 mile range. The A4 has a fuel consumption of 43 mpg thus implying a 602 mile range. So, no, the A3 will not need so many stops and will probably get to the hotel in time.
It would seem that you get quite a lot of what the A4 does for a respectable sum less if you opt for an A3 saloon. Why would one go for an A4? The decider would not interior room and not especially in luggage volume either. No, the real reason to stump up the extra cash is if you want a much nicer set of colours and materials. On that score the A4 is a more desirable machine. Since most people don’t care very much about that, it would seem the A3 is probably nibbling away sales from the A4 as we speak.
The other point is related to the oft-cited hatred the UK buyer has for “small saloons.” There is so little between the two cars in their visual bulk (I’d say you’d need to see them side by side) that there is no rational reason to accept the A4 but to consider the A3 a frumpy small saloon. It seems even small saloons are now large enough to avoid having odd proportions.
Car magazine made the point that the A3 is good enough to overcome those anti-saloon prejudices. Auto Express considered it an excellent looking and handling alternative to the CLA for which you need to pay £24,775. That’s another £1480 of your Earth money. You do get 470 litres of room in the boot though. Is that worth it?
The A4 is on its way out; it dates from 2008. Obviously the next generation car is going to be bigger. If it’s a 10% increase the A4 will be nearly five metres long. A 5% increase will add about 250 mm to the car, roughly. The risk is that the next car will not be quite big enough to put a clear difference between the A3 or perhaps it could get too big for some customers. What will Audi do? Can cars keep getting bigger?
Or will they keep the dimensions similar and add another five colours to the A4’s palette and hope this will woo customers considering the cheaper and, in many ways, nicer A3 saloon?