This is the new Audi A3 Cabriolet, and it’s an altogether more resolved-looking machine that the old A3 drop-top. Based on the handsome A3 saloon’s profile, the new canvas-roofed A3 has a tidier folding roof arrangement, the same clean-cut cabin as the regular A3, and Audi claims it’s a lighter, stiffer car than its forerunner too.
Does the promising spec fall apart on the road? We’ve driven the hottest A3 Cabriolet on sale so far, the A3 1.8 TFSI, to find out.
Is this the fastest Audi A3 Cabriolet?
So far, yes: this direct-injection 1.8-litre turbo lumps develops 178bhp and (more importantly) a diesel-like 184lb ft from a barely audible 1200rpm right through to a rorty 5000rpm.
For more ardent power freaks, there’ll soon be a range-topping S3 Cabriolet, packing a 296bhp punch from its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine. The first S3 drop-top with all-wheel drive, it uses essentially a VW Golf R engine mated to Quattro all-wheel drive and will set you back well over £35,000 later in 2014. This 1.8-litre cabrio is a still-hefty £30,270, but justifies its premium over lesser A3 Cabriolets with more on-board kit as standard, along with a smart bodykit and stiffer, lower suspension.
What’s this A3 Cabriolet like on the road?
With a torque curve flatter than the England cricket team’s Christmas party, you’d struggle to be caught in the wrong gear in this A3. The Cabriolet makes it downright impossible – this version is only available with the seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic gearbox, which makes lightning-fast gearchanges either when left to its own devices, or commanded by the steering wheel’s undersized paddleshifters.
It’s pretty nippy too: the 1.8-litre A3 cab sprints to 62mph in a claimed 7.8sec – helped by the 50kg weight saving versus its predecessor. Despite growing in size overall (the car is longer and has a boot 60 litres more generous than before), Audi’s ‘ultra’ lightweight nous has allowed a secret diet. The car’s bonnet is aluminium, and the folding roof mechanism, which drops in 18sec at up to 31mph, blends magnesium with steel. The top speed, should you really want to torture your barnet, is 150mph.
To assist in achieving a typically optimistic lab test figure of 48.7mpg, the S-tronic gearbox ‘decouples’ the wheels from the engine when you’re coasting – quite a useful feature in a cruise-friendly posing pouch, we’d wager. Watch out on downhill gradients, though – the lack of reassuring engine braking might catch out those short of concentration.
Is this a lesser-spotted fun-to-drive Audi?
In any normal circumstances, you’d assume any non-R8 soft-top Audi to be so caught up between understeer and chassis shimmy, it’d forget how to handle altogether. But, the regular A3 is a grippy and assured (if somewhat mute) steer, and in this post ‘holy cow the RS Q3 is good to drive’ era, anything is possible…
Predictably, even this warm A3 Cabriolet is no firecracker, but it does handle twisty roads with more aplomb than you might imagine. Body control is excellent, overall balance is stable – in truth it feels little different from the A3 Saloon on which it’s based. The double-layer ‘acoustic’ soft-top, standard on this Sport model, helps maintain the façade.
All A3s specced in Sport or top-spec S-line trim get Audi’s Drive Select interface as standard. As before, there are Eco, Normal and Sport settings to choose from, or an ‘Individual’ mix-and-match option. This allows Normal rather than stodgy Sport steering weight to be paired with the alert Sport throttle response, and is our pick of the A3 Cabrio’s myriad modes.
What are the A3 Cabriolet’s main rivals?
Right now, it’s out there on its own. VW hasn’t replaced the Mk6 Golf cabrio yet, and BMW’s key rival, the new 2-series, doesn’t go on sale until later in 2014. Meanwhile, Mercedes is concentrating on new niches of its four-door CLA, rather than a drop-top A-class hatch. A Vauxhall Cascada could be worth a look as a left-field alternative, though.
>> Click here for CAR’s full story on the new BMW 2-series
Could I live with this A3 as my only car?
Yes – more so than the old version. Legroom for rear passengers (albeit only two) is improved thanks to the wheelbase stretch, while touches like a heated glass rear window integrated into he soft-top nod to inclement weather practicality.
With the roof folded, bootspace via the rather narrow aperture decreases from 320 litres to 287 litres – almost 100 litres less than our long-term A3 Sportback, which is the most commodious A3 yet.
We’ve been fans on the new A3 since its launch in three-door hatch, five-door Sportback, saloon and hot S3 guises. The Cabriolet, while no thriller, continues the trend – though hold fire until BMW unleashes its 2-series salvo before plumping for your new summer wheels.