Vehicle Style: Small luxury convertible
Price: $47,300 (plus on-roads) | $51,400 (as tested)
Engine/trans: 103kW/250Nm 1.4 4cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.9 l/100km | tested: 7.2 l/100km
Sun-seekers across the nation can take 'solace' in the fact that Audi’s newest drop top - the second generation A3 Cabriolet - is a very solid offering.
Where the first generation was - in looks particularly - uncomfortably close to the Volkswagen Golf on which it shared its underpinnings, this new one makes a much clearer statement in terms of style and technology.
But, while the siren call of a convertible is almost irresistible on a quick test drive, life with a cloth-top can often wear thin over the longer term.
In this case though, the A3 Cabriolet puts its best foot forward.
After a week that comprised everything from driving rain to searing sunburn, the A3 - seen here with a 1.4 litre ‘cylinder on demand’ engine - made more than a few friends in the TMR garage.
- Automatic headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, trip computer.
- Power folding cloth roof, deployable in 18 seconds.
- Bluetooth phone and audio integration, 5.8-inch retractable LCD infotainment display, iPod connectivity.
- Dual zone climate control with rear air vents.
- ‘Milano’ leather seat trim, leather trimmed multi-function steering wheel with gearshift paddles.
The Cabriolet, like the rest of the A3 range, offers clean and simple interior styling. Logic dictates the layout of the major controls, while a stylish and impossibly thin retractable screen and scroll wheel takes care of infotainment.
Up front the leather-trimmed seats offer as much width as the hatch and sedan models.
At the wheel, the front of the seat base feels a little high and lacks adjustment, and it could do with more lumbar support, but proved comfortable enough despite that.
Move to the rear, and the narrower rear seat (which has also been moved forward to allow for the roof mechanism) feels quite a bit smaller than in four-door versions.
Legroom is particularly tight, but four people will still be able to squeeze in on short jaunts.
Headroom takes a hit too. With the roof up the front feels fine, but in the rear adult passengers are forced to duck just a little.
With the roof in place, you will immediately notice that the finish of the fully-lined roof is almost coupe-like.
The car tested here was fitted with the optional noise-reducing acoustic hood ($450), which is a must-have for anyone considering covering long highway miles.
In just 18 seconds the top can be folded away (or reinstated) and for this generation features a more traditional ‘K-fold’ action that frees up boot space, as well as gifting the A3 Cabriolet with a more athletic silhouette.
With the roof up, there’s a possible 320 litres of boot space, dropping to a still respectable 295 litres with the roof down.
For long loading the rear seats can be folded with a 50:50 split.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.4 litre turbo petrol engine with cylinder deactivation.
- 7-speed twin-clutch auto, front wheel drive.
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension.
- Four-wheel disc brakes.
- 17-inch alloy wheels.
Many a great car has being ruined by the simple act of lopping the roof off. Taking a key structural element away, the roof, and trying to replicate the integrity of a 'closed box' with some under-car bracing is no easy feat.
The good news then, is that the A3 survives this procedure intact.
In fact, it puts some more expensive convertibles to shame, with a strong flex-resistant chassis that gives it a secure feel on-road and provides quite decent handling.
As expected there’s been some weight gain (around 150kg, give or take a bag of spuds), but the distinct lack of scuttle shake and flex would suggest the compromise has been worth it.
Pulling the Cabriolet around is Audi’s clever 1.4 litre turbocharged Cylinder On Demand (COD) engine, with outputs measuring 103kW at 5000rpm and 250Nm over a broad 1500 to 3500rpm rev band.
The COD system allows two cylinders to shut down during low-load cruising, springing back into action instantly if extra urge is required. It moves the little Audi around quite nicely, there is no shortage of urge for overtaking.
When cruising, the addition and subtraction of the extra cylinders is seamless.
It is only at lower speeds, and 'on occasion' at that, that we noticed a hint of off-beat ‘chugging’ from the deactivated cylinders.
The positive effect on fuel consumption though more than compensates.
With standard ‘dynamic’ suspension (the softer of the A3’s two options) the ride is perfectly malleable. Be it city streets or coastal highways, the A3 Cabriolet can easily cope with whatever surface changes pass beneath it.
Better still, should a winding stretch of tarmac just happen to lay itself out in front of you, the dynamic suspension tune will happily play along. This little Cabrio doesn't half mind a bit of a belt through a set of bends.
It's not as sharp as some of its sporting brothers, it doesn't have the front end purchase of the S3, but overall the tidy handling is more than just "good enough".
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - A3 hatch and sedan models scored 36.41 out of 37 possible points, however the A3 Cabriolet has yet to be tested.
Safety features: Stability and traction control, ABS brakes, Brake assist and brakeforce distribution, driver and passenger airbag, front seat side airbags and driver’s knee bag. The convertible also features active rollover protection with pop-up hoops located behind the rear seat.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
For a country synonymous with summer and beaches, convertibles are a little thin on the ground - particularly in the small car class that the A3 occupies. Mercedes-Benz and Lexus don’t have anything in that slot yet.
BMW puts forward the 2 series range, with rear-wheel-drive dynamics that make it the purist's choice.
You might also want to take a look at a Mini Cooper Cabrio, or possibly wait for the coming Holden Cascada. And, if passengers aren’t a big deal, the new MX-5 won’t be far away either.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With impressive quality and chassis rigidity, just enough room for four, proper luxury kit, and a starting price below $50,000, the A3 Cabriolet hits the mark in a segment that manufacturers seem to be losing interest in.
The real shame is that more buyers don’t indulge in the joys of open-top motoring.
If you were looking to do so, Audi offers the least compromises - the comfort and practicality of this little Cabriolet is a match for most of the small coupes.
With so few competitors, and such an agreeable ownership experience, the A3 Cabriolet deserves to find a home in sun-drenched Aussie driveways.
That said, it will likely play second-fiddle to the hardtop models in the range.
However, if the idea of al fresco motoring has been taunting you, perhaps you should take a look at this appealing little Audi.
MORE: Audi A3 News and Reviews
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
Attraction specification level
A3 Cabriolet 1.4 TFSI COD - S tronic 103kW/250Nm - $47,300
Ambition specification level
A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI - S tronic 132kW/250Nm - $51,900
A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TDI - S tronic 110kW/320Nm - $51,900
A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI - quattro S tronic 132kW/280Nm - $54,900