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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Cabriolet range

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, smart roof mechanism, practicality, comfort, refinement, compactness, performance, steering, accessibility
Room for improvement
Rear vision when roof is up, expensive price of options

25 Jul 2008

FABRIC fights back!

An Audi insider at the A3 Cabriolet launch was resolute about the company’s revulsion to retractable hardtop convertibles, to the point where he claimed there will never be one from the Ingolstadt firm.

And, after sampling the latest Audi ragtop, we can see his point of view.

This is a (tight, if you’re tall in the back) four-seater convertible with a roof that folds down with Teutonic efficiency in nine seconds (and back up again in 11), a boot that always offers a minimum of 260 litres of space and – and up to 674 litres with the split-fold rear backrest down thanks to the 1.8 metres of length available – and an impressive inventory of safety and performance technology.

All from $49,900 if you choose the most basic model with a semi-automatic electric roof that needs to be latched and unlatched once everything is in place.

Of course, most people will feverishly start ticking option boxes like the (essential) fully automatic roof with extra sound deadening and some quite lovely inner-roof lining ($1300), heated front seats ($750), Xenon headlights ($1900) and satellite-avigation ($4400) – bringing the ragtop to a rich $57,350, not including on-roads.

Still, with its plethora of airbags, stability and traction controls, 16-inch alloys, climate-control air-conditioning and cruise control, it’s hardly Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard in this convertible.

And nor is it found wanting behind the wheel, for the A3 Cabrio drives with a surprising amount of eagerness and agility.

Under the bonnet is a lively 1.8-litre turbo FSI four-cylinder petrol engine that has ample oomph down low, plenty of punch in the midrange, and an elastic nature that makes it a pleasure to punt around.

Mated solely to Audi’s acclaimed S Tronic (formerly DSG) twin-clutch gearbox, the 1.8 TFSI also injects the A3 Cabrio a veneer of refinement and class, in a way that the cheaper petrol-powered CC coupe convertible competition (barring VW’s excellent Eos) can’t hope to match.

There is some hesitation and the occasional jerkiness if a quick getaway is required, but the S Tronic box is a belter once you’re on the move, with instant gearchanges from either the floor shifter or a pair of paddles sprouting from beyond the steering wheel.

Whether you actually use the latter is up to you, but the Audi’s quick steering reactions means this car likes to play. This A3 can be tipped easily into a corner, with a flat, fluid attitude unless you’re pressing on, in which case it starts to progressively scrub wider into gradual understeer.

More money buys the $54,900 2.0-litre TFSI turbo-petrol four-cylinder petrol unit (the second of the powerplants on offer – strangely, a diesel is not in Audi’s Oz plans for now), the award-winning 147kW engine that does such a fine job of lighting a fire underneath the VW Golf GTI.

We only tried the S Tronic-equipped 2.0 in a benign highway environment, but while it did offer a modest performance increase thanks to its 30Nm of extra torque, it does not disgrace its smaller (and closely) related 1.8 sibling either. We imagine that the differences might be more marked at higher speeds and/or with heavier loads on board to lug.

Posteriors are also better pampered than we had expected, the upshot of a supple ride. Again, perhaps Audi is finally rediscovering what people really want from their luxury cars. A brittle ride certainly isn’t one of them.

Most of the country roads around Cairns where we drove the A3 Cabrio agreed with it, but some surfaces did cause a fair degree of rumble to enter the interior, and this was particularly noticeable when the roof was up in place.

On the other hand, at speeds of around 120km/h, we found that the optional fully automatic and sound-dampening-enhanced roof did an upstanding job keeping wind and noise from entering inside. And when folded with all the side windows down, the optional ($650 on the 1.8) wind deflector also worked hard to keep wind buffeting down to a bare minimum.

Despite the donor A3’s advancing years (the hatch arrived in 2004), the cabin architecture has aged well, while the trim and materials used are up to Audi’s usual very high standard.

Notable details include beautifully presented instrumentation, the one-touch side window lifters (and droppers), the hard front part of the roof that doubles up as a ‘tonneau’ cover when it’s folded down, and the simple button action to operate the thing.

Tellingly, no semi-auto manual-latch roof examples were present on the launch. We doubt many people will even come across one at their local Audi dealership.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive, as well as generous enough to accommodate even the longest legs amongst us, but they will have to be moved forward if a six-footer is also trying to get inside. Having a big boot is a bonus, although the relatively small aperture requires some careful manoeuvring for anything larger than cabin-luggage sized items.

In many ways, the sweetly styled A3 Cabrio has the same pert and purposeful practicality as the original Karmann-built VW Golf Cabriolet.

One Audi insider admitted that all those old-time Golf ragtop owners are one of the main target groups, as well as the many folk out there who are put off by the weight, complexity, style and boot space compromises brought on by a hard folding roof.

In fact, the A3 Cabrio is really the VW’s spiritual successor. After all, it does share much of the current Golf V’s complex underpinnings. But it also has a bit of that ‘X’ factor missing from so many new cars lately – an almost humble charm that seems to endear itself to its unsuspecting driver.

Yes, it is another niche German car. No, it is not especially cheap when nicely equipped. And, yes, though competent and fun, it does not set any new performance or dynamic standards. But the A3 Cabrio does nothing badly and almost everything extremely well.

So if you are looking for a friendly and accommodating drop-top, then the very fabric of this tightly executed little Audi might be all the convertible you’ll ever need.

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