July 4, 2014
What’s Hot: Sexy style, crisp handling and typical Audi quality feel.
What’s Not: No standard sat-nav or seat heaters.
X-FACTOR: It's in a small niche, but Audi’s newest A3 variant will appeal for its breezy style and good, clean topless fun.
Vehicle Style: Small luxury convertible
Price: $47,300 (1.4 TFSI) to $54,900 (1.8 TFSI quattro)
1.4 litre TFSI: 103kW/250Nm
1.8 litre TFSI: 132kW/250Nm (+30Nm for quattro)
2.0 litre TDI: 110kW/320Nm
Transmissions: 7-spd auto (1.4 and 1.8), 6-spd auto (2.0 TDI and 1.8 quattro)
Fuel consumption (listed): 4.9 l/100km (1.4), 5.8 l/100km (1.8), 6.6 l/100km (1.8 quattro), 4.7 l/100km (2.0 TDI)
The new A3 Cabriolet is here, and it's better than ever.
Thanks to a new design that erases the old Cabriolet's hatch-like profile, it now comes with a silhouette that mimics its bigger brother, the A5 Cabrio.
And with roof raised or lowered (which takes just 18-seconds, by the way), the A3 Cabrio looks stunning.
If you ever wondered what an A3 coupe might look like, just visualise the Cabrio's fabric roof in body colour.
The revisions, however, are more than just cosmetic in this new model.
Built around a convertible-specific version of the Volkswagen Group's versatile MQB platform (which also underpins every other A3 variant), the A3 Cabrio is commendably rigid - an important attribute for a convertible.
The result is better handling, less weight and improved sound and vibration suppression.
To find out how Audi's newest ragtop drives, we travelled to South Australia to test the A3 Cabrio on the coastal roads south of Adelaide, and then on to picturesque Kangaroo Island.
- Standard: rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, trip computer, power folding roof, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, 5.8-inch LCD infotainment display, iPod connectivity, USB audio input, rear air vents.
- Optional: satellite navigation, heated front seats, neck-level warmers, bi-xenon headlamps, LED headlamps, adaptive cruise control, Audi premium audio system, Bang & Olufsen high-end audio system.
- Roof opens and closes in 18 seconds, at speeds up to 50km/h
- Boot capacity: 320 litres with roof raised, 295 with roof lowered. Rear seats fold down.
For a convertible based on a small car, the A3 Cabriolet is surprisingly spacious. Headroom is great when the roof is up, and fitting in four adults is actually feasible - though not entirely recommended for long trips.
The cars we tested were also equipped with the optional heated front seats and neck-level warming vents - both of which got a workout on chilly Kangaroo Island
And as with every new A3, the quality is terrific. The design is clean and uncluttered, and there’s not a single surface that doesn’t impart a premium quality feel.
Further evidence of the A3 Cabrio’s build-quality is in its roof lining.
When the roof is raised, no part of its magnesium and aluminium structure is visible from inside, and the roof-lining butts up tightly against the windscreen frame and the rear deck-lid.
The electric roof also moves pretty quickly. Just 18-seconds is all it takes to raise or lower it, and it can be done at speeds of up to 50km/h.
The roof-mechanism itself has been changed from the old Z-frame layout to a new K-frame configuration, which besides allowing a cleaner roofline, also liberates a bit more boot space.
As a result, the new A3 Cabriolet’s 320-litre boot looses just 25 litres when the roof is retracted.
Keep the roof up, and the split rear seatbacks can fold down to accommodate longer cargo.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.4 TFSI: 103kW/250Nm
- 1.8 TFSI: 132kW/250Nm, 132kW/280Nm for quattro model
- 2.0 TDI: 110kW/320Nm
- 7-spd twin-clutch auto for 1.4 TFSI and 1.8 TFSI. 6-spd twin-clutch auto for 1.8 TFSI quattro and 2.0 TDI
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension. Two suspension tunes: 'dynamic' and 'sports'.
- Disc brakes front and rear
The last time we drove a drop-top Audi, it was the unbelievably floppy RS 5 Cabriolet. Fast in a straight line, but with the torsional rigidity of half-cooked pasta.
Happily, the A3 Cabriolet is completely different. The MQB platform it sits upon boasts impressive stiffness, and we were impressed by just how solid it feels with the roof down.
Scuttle shake is minimal, and it takes a substantial pothole to make the A3's sturdy chassis wobble. Even then, it's remarkably flex-free.
The base Dynamic suspension is the one you want. It's more compliant, more comfortable but still just as well-controlled as the Sports suspension tune. The Sports suspension, by contrast, can be very brittle over roads that aren’t billiard-table smooth.
The Sports suspension hardware is the default package when you specify 18-inch or larger wheels, but if you want comfort AND bigger wheels, Audi is happy to oblige.
Any A3 Cabriolet can be ordered with both the softer Dynamic suspension and 18 or 19-inch wheels.
But regardless of which suspension option you take, the A3 Cabriolet grips well and turns sharply. Body control is excellent, and the Sports suspension is particularly resistant to body roll.
The engine range comprises two petrol and one diesel, with the harder-hitting S3 Cabriolet due later in the year to add one more petrol motor.
We started our drive in the 132kW/250Nm 1.8 TFSI front-wheel drive, and were impressed by its tractability and eagerness to rev.
We also drove the 1.8 TFSI quattro which boasts an extra 30Nm of torque, but with the added weight of the all-wheel drive system it doesn’t feel much faster than its front-drive stablemate.
The seven-speed twin-clutch automatic both engines are bolted to (the 1.8 quattro and 2.0 TDI get a six-speeder) shifts seamlessly and quickly, though it can be a little jerky when crawling at low-speed (such as when in traffic).
But as nice as the 1.8 litre is, you're not robbing yourself if you go for the 1.4 litre base engine.
It might have just 103kW of power, but its 250Nm torque output equals the 1.8 TFSI front-wheel drive (although across a narrower rev range) and it certainly doesn't feel slow.
With a 0-100km/h time of 9.1 seconds, the 1.4 TFSI is ample quick for a stylish lifestyle convertible, and has a nice sporty feel as it goes about the business.
The 1.8 hits triple digits in a slightly brisker 7.8 seconds, but if you want high performance in a roofless A3, you'll need to wait until later this year for the rorty S3 Cabriolet.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the A3 hatch scored 36.41 out of 37 possible points, however the A3 Cabriolet has yet to be tested.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD brake assist. Seven airbags are standard - dual front, front side, curtain and driver’s knee.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Audi considers BMW’s ancient 1 Series Convertible as the "one true rival" to its new A3 Cabriolet, but they may have been averting their eyes from the $40,390 Golf Cabriolet.
The 1 Series drop-top is due to be replaced by the new 2 Series Convertible in the not-too-distant future, but for now the A3 Cab is easily the more enticing four-seat small luxury convertible.
Another choice, is the Mazda MX-5. It delivers topless thrills with proper sports car handling, and has a starting price that’s almost identical to the A3 Cabriolet 1.4 TFSI.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We think the A3 Cabriolet will also find lots of friends in Audi showrooms thanks to its impressive chassis rigidity, willing performance and appealing styling.
In fact, Audi Australia reports that over 500 people have already slapped down a deposit for the new A3 Cabriolet; it expects the model to account for around 15 percent of all A3 sales.
Of those, the 1.4 TFSI is expected to be the most popular; after having driven it, we can understand why.
It’s our pick of the range.
We do have some small complaints: sat-nav isn’t standard even on the more expensive A3 Cabriolet variants, and neither are heated front seats. (You'd be ticking that option box if you live in chilly southern states.)
Those niggles aside, there’s plenty to love about Audi’s latest topless model.
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