There is a new trend emerging on the automotive scene in the shape of compact saloons. The classic three-box silhouette may appear a little sensible, almost prudish, compared to some of the more lively ideas floating around car design departments, yet Europe's loss of love for the safe saloon isn't a sentiment shared globally. Young, bright, professional American and Chinese drivers, for instance, are extremely hungry for these so-called junior executive cars.
This is the slot for the new Audi A3 saloon, which joins other newcomers like Mercedes-Benz CLA in bridging the gap between 'premium' family hatchbacks and traditional executive saloons. Audi expects the A3 saloon to be a big seller, predicting one out of every two A3 customers will opt for the saloon rather than the hatch or sportback models.
We drove the A3 saloon in Hungary, where the cars will be assembled at the newly expanded Gyor factory. The chosen route focused on Budapest, with its picturesque heavy rush hour traffic, and the surrounding countryside, giving a good sample of A3's assumed role as a commuter car.
In this modest context the saloon is a very decent proposition. It may not excite the senses like a coupé or small hatch, but it looks and feels safe, with plenty of cabin space especially in the rear where two fully-grown adults can sit reasonably comfortably, along with a decent 425-litre boot.
The cabin is uncluttered, restrained yet elegant in that familiar Audi way, while there's also an impressive equipment list on both Sport and S line trim levels, including Audi's Drive Select system that allows you to adjust the throttle and steering weights, 17-inch alloys, a simple MMI infotainment screen, dual-zone climate control and DAB radio. All this comes at a price, naturally, ensuring the A3 is premium in both feel and cost. As well as a couple of diesels and low emission petrol engines, a sportier Quattro S3 is expected in 2014.
Like it or not, the reality is that this small saloon is a crucial car for Audi in the ongoing fight for global recognition. Markets like the US aren't as familiar with the marque as they are with rivals BMW and Mercedes, both of whom offer compact saloons. The A3 saloon will bolster the brand in emerging markets and maybe even provide the perfect platform for any forthcoming convertible, working hard to earn our respect.