You gain something and loose something in the transition from Audi A3 hatchback to cabriolet.
Base price: $74,900.
Powertrain and performance: 1.8-litre turbo petrol four, 132kW/250Nm, 7-speed automated dual-clutch gearbox, front-drive, Combined economy 5.8 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 7.8 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4421mm long, 1409mm high, luggage capacity 320 litres, fuel tank 50 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/45 tyres.
We like: Sensational style, great build quality, can operate roof at up to 50km/h.
We don’t like: Scuttle shake evident at all speeds, much less rear room than A3 hatchback.
How it rates: 7/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Spring is here and so is the Audi A3 cabriolet.
This is a model that has come a long way style-wise. The previous version was beautifully made (Audi models usually are) but looked a little unfortunate, with high sides and an abrupt tail: bit like a bathtub with an umbrella on top in roof-up mode.
Not so with this new model: it’s still based on the A3 hatchback, but the sleek profile and long tail give it the look of the larger A4 cabriolet. In fact, from a distance it’s hard to tell the two apart. The A3 cabriolet even gets Audi’s signature alloy windscreen trim, which links in with the chrome border around the waistline. It’s pretty sexy for a small car.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The powertrain is typically Audi, mainly because the same engine and transmission are used in so many different Volkswagen Group cars.
It’s certainly a guarantee of quality: the 1.8-litre turbo engine is smooth and punchy, the S tronic gearbox stutters a bit on hills or when parking, but is magnificently smooth and quick once you’re under way.
Nice Sport mode for the transmission too – simply click the lever down once more from Drive and you get better throttle response, snappy downchanges when braking and high revs before it changes up. Paddle shifters are standard: one of the left for downchanges, one on the right to go up.
That, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel fitted to the S-line mode on test, might give you the impression that this is a sporty car. Really, it’s not, because the cabriolet suffers from noticeable scuttle shake even at urban speeds. You feel it most through the steering wheel, which vibrates in your hands even over smooth roads.
It’s not a major distraction, but it does mean that the A3 cabriolet simply doesn’t have the crisp handling responses of an A3 hatchback: it’s less settled on the open road, more reluctant to change direction at speed and generally gives the impression that it would rather be cruising down a strip of cafes than cornering with abandon.
The A3 cabriolet is front-drive, of course. You can also buy an S3 cabriolet, with 221kW/380Nm and quattro four-wheel drive. The mind boggles, but not in a good way.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? Relative to its role as a cabriolet, the A3 is well-built and pretty practical. The interior is a high-quality affair, with the dashboard and switchgear borrowed from the A3 hatchback/sedan.
The roof can be raised or lowered in 18 seconds, which doesn’t set any records. But the beauty of the drop-top is that it can be operated at up to 50km/h, so there’s absolutely no reason to fear raising or lowered the roof at the traffic lights. If you get caught out by a green, you can continue the operation as you move away with the traffic.
Wind buffeting is kept to a minimum: with the side windows up you can easily have a phone conversation (on Bluetooth of course) at 100km/h on the motorway. The windows can be lowered individually, or there’s a global switch that does all four together.
As is so often the case with cabriolets, engineering the folding top into a hatchback platform has robbed the rear seats of space. The back chairs (there’s only two) are narrow and legroom limited, so we’re talking children or occasional use only.
But you do get folding rear seats that give you load-through from the boot, so it’s still a pretty practical two-seater if you need to carry longer items.
The S-Line package fitted to our test car brings an exterior body kit, special interior trim including aluminium inserts, cloth-leather upholstery, a luggage compartment package, gas-discharge headlights and 18-inch alloys.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? Cabriolets – as opposed to bespoke roadsters or even performance convertibles – two important tasks. They have to look good and give you wind in the hair motoring in an instant. The A3 cabriolet scores highly on both counts.
Where it falls down is in the driving experience. The powertrain is impressive, as it is in other Audi models. But the chassis suffers from the flex that often occurs when the roof comes off a car that was really designed to have one in the first place.
The A3 cabriolet is a really nice car, as long as you are content to take it easy. Which is what cabriolets are for anyway.
- Air conditioning: Dual climate
- Audio: CD, iPod compatible (with proprietary cable)
- Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
- Blind spot warning: No
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Cruise control: Yes
- Driver footrest: Yes
- Gas discharge headlights: Yes
- Head-up display: No
- Heated/ventilated seats: $800/No
- Keyless entry/start: No
- Lane guidance: No
- Leather upholstery: Part-leather ($2700 for full leather)
- Parking radar: Yes with camera
- Power boot or tailgate: No
- Power seat adjustment/memory: YesNo
- Rear ventilation outlets: No
- Remote audio controls: Yes
- Satellite navigation: Yes
- Seat height adjustment: Yes
- Self-parking technology: No
- Split/folding rear seats: 50/50
- Steering reach adjustment: Yes
- Stop-start: Yes
- Trip computer: Yes
Audi A3 convertibles for sale.