The A3 has been with us since 1996, while the second-generation model arrived back in 2003. Yet this is the first time a cabriolet has been offered, and it’s incredibly late in the model cycle. The official line is that Ingolstadt has been struggling to meet demand – it produced 231,000 A3s in 2007 alone – but that the bottleneck has now been eliminated, paving the way for the cabriolet.
But Audi won’t have the niche to itself. Almost simultaneously, BMW is launching the A3 soft-top’s only direct rival: the 1-series convertible.
What’s the Audi A3 cabriolet range?
There are two petrols and two diesels to choose from, all turbocharged and featuring direct injection: in the petrol corner there’s a 158bhp 1.8-litre petrol complemented by the 197bhp 2.0-litre engine already found in the Golf GTI; oil burners come in 103bhp 1.9-litre or 138bhp 2.0-litre trim. The S-tronic paddleshift gearbox is offered throughout the range. Sixteen-inch wheels come as standard fit, while Sport spec introduces 17s plus sports seats and a 15mm reduction in ride height. There’s also the option of 18in alloys and the S-Line trim pack with its bolder grille and bumper treatment.
CAR drove every model bar the 1.9-litre diesel which was wasn’t available at the launch.
How does A3 cabriolet drive?
The A3 cab steers with some real verve, gripping hard and darting through bends with grin-inducing eagerness. But you notice the soft-top’s 120kg weight penalty through the front suspension – it just doesn’t feel as well resolved as the hatch, and there’s a light but noticeable shimmy over secondary imperfections. This is tolerable in the petrol models, but it’s more pronounced in the diesel – even with standard wheels and suspension – which exacerbates the jiggles and transmits them through the steering column. It was enough to put us off recommending this option.
So the petrol is the one to go for?
Yes. Suspension aside, diesels make most sense when you’re covering big distances and need to maximise your mpg. Cabriolets generally cover lower average mileages, negating this advantage.
So, yes, the petrol gets our vote, but not the one you might expect: the 2.0-litre. This engine’s great in the Golf GTI, but here its lusty edge is blunted and it struggled to put its power down cleanly out of tight hairpins when pushed – presumably because of the less rigid chassis. Sure, a cabriolet is more for cruising than hooning around hairpins, but then what’s the point of having that extra power? For us, the 1.8T gets the nod. With 158bhp it’s got plenty of poke for sun seekers, costs less and is cheaper to run.
We tried the sports suspension and larger wheel options and, while these combinations didn’t destroy the ride, it did deteriorate. The choice is yours. We’d save on the cost of the semi-auto gearbox: it’s a bit shunty at low speeds and there’s pleasure to be had from shifting gears manually.
Is the Audi A3 cabriolet practical?
Yes. Audi has shunned the folding hard-top route to keep weight down, retain the original car’s handsomely chiselled looks (think of the elongated windscreens and fat rumps sported by the folding topped 207, Focus and Megane) and preserve legroom for rear occupants.
It’s a well thought-out system that opens and closes in just nine seconds. Well, it does if you plump for the fully auto roof that comes with the Sport package, base models making do with semi-auto operation. The higher spec also allows you to open or close the roof at up to 19mph with the press of a button or close it from outside the car with a blip of the keyfob.
Roof down, the rear glass screen lies flat and the fabric hood folds on top of it. The fabric roof increases stowage space, which remains at 264 litres whether the roof is up or down. Drop the rear seats and that balloons to 674 litres.
Is there a lot of wind noise?
There’s obviously more noise roof-up than you’ll experience in a tin top, but it’s certainly not overbearing. Drop the roof and put both the windows and the wind deflector up and it’s all incredibly civilised, giving you that wind-in-the-hair feelgood factor minus the bungee-jumper hairstyle.
The wind deflector is another example of how well thought out this car is. When it’s not doing its thing deflecting wind, you can fix it across the top of the rear seats (passengers removed, of course) to entirely disguise any valuables. And if you need it out of the way altogether, you can fold it in half and stow it – almost flat – in the boot.
What’s the interior like?
Superb and typically Audi. Everything feels solid, is well laid out and looks incredibly premium – we particularly like how the dials echo the sporty S3’s and the TT-esque heater vents. If we were to splash the options anywhere, it’s here. We’d tick the sports seats box, the leather box, the three-spoke steering wheel box, the heated seats box. In fact, we’d get quite carried away which would send the total price skyrocketing by several thousand pounds. But if you can, spoil yourself.
This is an incredibly desirable car and one that very nearly scored five stars, only the suspect ride – especially on the diesels – marking it down from a perfect score. If you want a premium cabriolet to do what most people do with premium cabriolets (ie swan about, do below average mileage, feel very good), there’s little to fault here.