The Audi A3 Cabriolet is a guaranteed head-turner looks-wise, but how does it shape up on the road?
Pros: Smartened looks, appealing luxury aura, quick roof.
Cons: Ultimately puts looks ahead of dynamic ability.
Our road test rating: 3.3/5
Audi’s A3 is a favourite with the well-heeled and, conceivably, the addition of a convertible version can only be seen as good thing by the ‘look at me’ crowd.
Previously this edition was based on the A3 hatch, which resulted in it being a short, squat proposition. The latest offer, however, draws from the sedan, which allows a longer, leaner look.
The enhanced dimension allows Audi to kill two birds; the car now not only replaces the previous A3 soft-top but also is large enough for the brand to determine it no longer requires an A4 cabrio.
This car is the latest Audi to shift across to Audi-Volkswagen Group's impressive MQB modular platform, so even though it is much stiffer than the previous model, it has lost 30 kilograms in weight, which provides a positive for economy and performance.
The other specific aspect of specialist engineering intent focuses on the roof. You might wonder why the car hasn’t gone to a folding metal lid – basically VW’s been-there, done-that experience with the larger Eos has proven that the extra weight and complexity outweighs comfort and security positives.
Anyway, cloth tops are so much better now than they once were; the maker offers this top in two levels of design and it seems NZ has opted for the top-tier, multi-layered acoustic version that has the best insulation from being meted extra thick layers of foam insulation. It certainly seems up to snuff: There’s no obvious slipstream flutter and nor does it appear to let in any wind noise or let out any cabin warmth. It’s also relatively resilient in regard to taking the knocks (though obviously not as resistant as a metal top).
The other benefit of a cloth top is that it operates with greater speed and dexterity. This one can be opened at speeds of up to 50kmh, drops in just 18 seconds and re-sites to provide full cover in about double that.
Powertrain and performance:
That Audi New Zealand currently delivers this model in just in one form, as a 132kW/250Nm 1.8-litre with S-tronic direct shift gearbox and front-drive, might suggest it is a bauble aimed foremost at boulevard cruising.
Or is there more? The on-paper performance raised an eybrow: Zero to 100kmh in 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 242kmh suggests this model has mettle and, out on the road, it feels relatively well-muscled, with good mid-range pull. All in all, though, this comes through in a relaxed manner yet it is typical of the breed in feeling faster than it really is when you drive top down.
Practicality and packaging:
This roof takes up considerably less space for stowage than any metal type, which is beneficial for space utilisation, if only to a point. Audi spruiks that the longer and wider dimensions of the new model means it has a larger boot than the model it replaces – but, of course, it still has less luggage space than the alternate Sportback hatchback or the sedan. With the roof up, the model has 320 litres of load lugging capacity (60 litres more than the old model but 60 litres less than a Sportback’s minimum seats-up space) which drops to 275 litres with the roof folded down.
Cabin space is also relatively restricted. It’s not adverse to taking a full complement of reasonably-sized adults, but when driving the car in closed form you’ll find taller types will want to have first dibs on the front chairs as the roof means space in the back – where the seat is shaped for two, not three, passengers - is cramped for both head and legroom.
Audi makes no bones about being a premium brand but in this instance you can at least see what your dollars are buying. It’s not only a very neatly-trimmed car – ours coming with the potentially mandatory S-Line (body kit, wheels and xenon lights) - but also well equipped: Leather trim, climate control air conditioning, a decent stereo and sat nav are requisites that all appear here.
The model has a very efficient heater yet while the heat wave creates a comfortable zone of warmth, it really only satisfies front-seat occupants and, even then, effects more obviously from the chest down. So one cabrio-specific option I suspect many will buy into is the Air Sca device that blows warm air around your neck. You can also tick the box for heated front seats and a proper wind deflector that renders the back arf, seats a no-go zone for occupants.
Safety-wise, the Cabriolet gets all the same features that go into the hatch and sedan, which are five star cars in the European NCAP crash test.
Don’t underestimate the structural integrity of soft-top cars; this one is designed to quite literally land on its head and still give occupants a good chance of surviving that experience.
That twin-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission and the drive select vehicle dynamics system – which allows the driver to change various performance protocols - do their best to enliven things and though you wouldn’t call the car wholly athletic in its sportiest settings, the level of willingness does nonetheless increase. The transmission, for instance, will hold the lower gear for much longer, releasing only when the engine is almost at redline.
Even in the default format, there’s smart off-the-line pull and it generates decent mid-range torque. The 0-100kmh time of 7.8 seconds suggests it won’t trouble many truly hot hatches, but it’s agreeable enough
Basically, though, it’s a car that doesn’t asked to be to driven, or treated, too seriously. The faster you go, ultimately the greater the wind buffet – raising the side glass only has a significant quelling effect to a point – and, thus, the harder it is to tune into the sound system. Some might say it’s better to slow down and sing along.
Ride, refinement and quality:
You needn’t feel compelled to take it take far; simply driving this model down a poorly-surfaced road will relate a positive story about the body’s high level of structural integrity. Windshield surround shimmy, body shake, the dreaded scuttle shake … those banes of old-style open-top cars are pretty much eradicated here. Neither will that old test of body flex – parking up on a slope side-on then seeing if the door will again close cleanly after opening – elicit any poor response. It’s a well-built, tight-as-a-nut construct.
At the same token, driving-wise it’s more about being spunky than outright sporty, so if you’re seeking ultimate racy reactivity over fun roads, assuredly the Sporthatch is still the better choice. The cabrio is nippy enough and turns into and through corners with confidence, but the ride is unduly stiff even by Audi standards. The effect of this is especially felt on coarse chip, when surface texture is clearly transmitted through the seats and steering wheel.
Perception of high quality and a distinctly premium feel lends easily to most modern Audis; they’re classy lookers, not least in the cabin: This member of the Volkswagen family has become a real dab hand with making its interiors look and feel extra-special. Those materials present even better when exposed to the open air, in look if not always feel – you’d want to watch laying a finger on those burnished alloys after prolonged exposure to height-of-summer sunlight.
How it compares:
The strong new car market has been a golden time for Audi; yet while the A3 has been the marque’s bedrock model all year, but the cabriolet is set to be very much a minor contributor. The brand has forecast 50 units per annum, one-seventh the Sportback tally.
As an engineering and image-promoting exercise, it’s a good thing. As an actual drive; well not bad on that score, either. As the A3 you might ache to own? Sorry.