Vehicle Style: Small luxury convertible
Price: $54,900 (plus on-roads) $62,350 (as tested)
Engine/trans: 132kW/280Nm 1.8 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.6 l/100km | tested: 10.4 l/100km
On the one hand there’s style, and convertibles are known for it. Then there’s handling prowess, traditionally this is not the domain of open-topped roadsters.
The two are often mutually exclusive. Normally, pick the convertible if you want to take friends along for the drive but shoot for the tin-top if you simply want to let your hair down behind the wheel.
Until now, that is. In the latest generation of the A3 Cabriolet, Audi has managed to do the two-card trick.
This car is talented enough to carry four people, but with the addition of Quattro all-wheel-drive and a beautifully-balanced chassis, it also puts some ‘proper’ sports cars to shame.
So, love the sunshine, love a winding road and want to share the experience with your friends? The Audi A3 Cabriolet Quattro 1.8 TFSI is the answer.
- Power folding cloth roof, stows in 18 seconds.
- Dusk-sensing headlights and auto wipers.
- Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, trip computer.
- Eight-speaker audio, Bluetooth phone and audio integration.
- 5.8-inch power retractable LCD infotainment display, satellite navigation, reversing camera.
- Optional S-line package including sports seats and flat-bottomed sports steering wheel.
In its standard form the A3 Cabriolet is no bad place to stay. As with most of Audi’s interiors, the finish is exemplary with high-quality finishes and a wealth of soft plastics on the dash, doors and touch-points.
The infotainment system is easy to use, with an intuitive layout to the controls.
We discovered that roof-up cruising is calm and quiet, thanks in part to the optional acoustic headliner fitted to this test car. Other options included sport front seats along with seat heating and neck warning vents.
When the top is in place, you'll aprreciate the very effective push/pull ventilation outlets that allow you to direct air straight at your face, or divert it for ambient heating and cooling.
Dropping the roof takes a mere 18 seconds and can be completed while moving at speeds of up to 50 km/h in case it doesn’t completely disappear while stopped at the lights.
With the top down the cabin remains a peaceful place to be. Around town four occupants can easily hold a conversation, but at higher speeds a little buffeting can annoy rear seat passengers, even with the windows up.
Front seat-space is as per fixed roof models, but the rear seat is a little more compact. Head to the boot and there’s up to 320 litres of luggage space with the top up, dropping to 295 litres with the top down.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.8 litre turbo petrol engine.
- 6-speed twin-clutch auto, all wheel drive.
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension.
- Four-wheel disc brakes.
- S-line package including sports suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels and re-profiled bumpers front and rear.
While there’s a more powerful S3 cabriolet to wear the performance crown, the gutsy 1.8 litre TFSI engine in our test car, coupled to the Quattro all-wheel-drive, makes an exciting on-road package.
The turbocharged four-cylinder mill churns out 132kW of power between 4500 and 6200 rpm.
Peak torque measures 280Nm from 1350 all the way to 4500 rpm, that’s a 30Nm step-up over the front wheel drive model with the same engine.
Kerb weight is a reasonably tubby 1615kg, but, between the super-flat torque curve and the willing and decisive six-speed dual-clutch auto, the A3 cabriolet feels rather sprightly.
Around town the 1.8 litre engine steps off smartly, with light and easy steering. Although not overwhelmed with front-end communication there’s also a 'sport mode' to firm the steering if you so desire.
Our test car came with the optional S-line equipment package you see here, which adds sports suspension (among other visual and dynamic tweaks).
Stiffer than the standard tune, but far from uncomfortable, it ensures level cornering and high levels of front-end purchase for tearing through bends.
Don’t discount the benefits of Quattro all-wheel-drive either.
Admittedly it probably isn’t going to get much of a workout on the drive between home and office, but head for a more demanding strip of tarmac and the extra rear-end traction gives the A3 some genuinely quick cornering ability.
Powerful braking is just a tap of the pedal away.
The brakes can feel a little grabby at first, they grab hard and fast and modulating gentle stops in city driving takes some practice. However, as speeds increase we found there was little we could do to get them to wilt, with outstanding hard-stop performance.
Tyre roar is minimal and refinement levels are incredible, with little in the way of wind or engine noise getting through to the cabin with the roof in situ.
As always, there’s the risk of a limp body and mushy steering due to taking the roof off. In this case though, the A3 cabriolet is so well engineered that the issues are barely there.
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
Audi very nearly has this corner of the market to itself for the time being, there’s not a lot of small cabrio offerings about, and the A3 is the only one to benefit from AWD grip.
But, any minute now, BMW will arrive with a range of 2 Series convertibles featuring sharp rear-wheel-drive handling. You could also give some thought to the Mini John Cooper Works Cabrio - a dedicated hoot to drive, if a little ungainly to look at.
Value hunters might like the idea of a Volkswagen Golf Cabrio, or may want to wait for the Holden Cascada, while purist drivers might be more inclined to see what the next generation Mazda MX-5 offers.
Although it is strictly a two-seater which means your friends will have to take a bus to the beach instead.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
What a difference an extra driven axle can make. While the standard front-wheel-drive A3 cabriolet is no bad thing (far from it) the Quattro version lifts it to a higher plane.
Devotees of the art of driving, will be able to fully endorse Audi’s efforts here. If there is a single on-road fault it would be the lack of steering feel, but, with everything else the A3 cabriolet offers, that’s an easily forgiven foible.
The way this car combines grown-up refinement with top-down thrills, and allows you to do so in the company of three friends, is rather remarkable.
It may not demand your attention from the footpath, but if you’re lucky enough to get behind the wheel, the A3 1.8 TFSI Quattro Cabriolet will convince you.
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
Audi S3 Cabriolet - 2.0 TFSI - 6spd auto - $69,300