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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Cabriolet range

Our Opinion

We like
Classy styling, top-notch cabin quality and presentation, hardtop refinement, engaging dynamics, sweet engines, diesel option, AWD availability, extra safety, very little scuttle shake
Room for improvement
Expensive options, blind-spot inducing B-pillar, Acoustic roof ought to be standard, some road noise intrusion, poor rear visibility and reversing camera is only an option


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14 Nov 2014

AUDI’S popular A3 Cabriolet has finally come of age.

Gone is the cheap and cheerful Golfs-R-Us pram-style hatch-based roof design, replaced with a sedan-based turret with a more conventional three-box silhouette.

Besides looking more grown up, it is more mature in the way it operates (quickly – and on the move up to 50km/h), stows away (compactly within a larger boot than before), and isolates from the outside elements.

Indeed, if you ever fancied one of those older-style BMW 3 Series Convertibles with the fabric roof but cannot stretch to the larger, heavier and more expensive 4 Series folding hardtop, then the handsome-from-any-angle Audi could be the premium open car for you.

Perhaps at this juncture the Germans should have dropped the Cabrio name for Convertible, because that’s what this A3 is.

The switch from a Z-style roof folding mechanism to the more complicated and efficient K-fold system – a move that mirrors that of the BMW 1 Series Convertible – must take a large chunk of credit for the Audi’s progress.

Streamlined and elegant, you can be forgiven for mistaking it for the stylish A5 Convertible at first glance.

Stepping inside, you’re immediately aware that the latest A3 Cabrio’s windscreen header is forward enough for you to really enjoy the full open-air experience. In some hatch-based coupe-convertibles, even with the roof down, they feel more like a closed car with an oversized sunroof.

About the only downside to this is that the optional neck-level heater needs to be on the noisy full blast setting to feebly warm your shoulder area on colder days. But that’s a price most people ought to be willing to pay for a true roofless experience like this one.

That the Cabrio is based on the latest A3 brings welcome dividends in the form of the beautifully designed and laid-out dashboard, with its superb quality and fastidious attention to detail.

The optional seat heating is toasty warm, the driving position impeccable thanks to a full range of seat and wheel adjustment, and the overall ambience is right up there with every other Audi – i.e., classy.

Better still, taller people will easily fit up front and even manage fine in the tighter (but not overbearingly so) rear quarters – though really they’re better suited to smaller folk.

Additionally, with the boot now bigger than before, the A3 Cabrio can easily carry off the everyday car thing – especially when you realise that, with the optional Acoustic Roof, it is as quiet and refined in closed-car form as you would hope from a premium-badged ragtop.

On the move, the A3 Cabrio continues to smash the old small-car based convertible stereotypes.

For starters, the roof will still drop and erect again easily and quickly at speeds up to 50km/h.

Secondly, there is very little body movement or scuttle shake, even on the ragged gravel roads we sampled during the South Australian rural drive launch program that also saw us exploring Kangaroo Island. This ragtop feels solid and strong.

That’s despite the absence of the old Cabrio’s built-in exposed rollover hoops.

This time around they give way to a pair of hidden stumps that fire up in milliseconds, should the car sense an inversion, to provide full occupant protection.

Thirdly, even at higher speeds, and with all windows down, the roofless A3 remained a composed and bluster-free mode of transportation.

That’s partly due to the Hungarian-built Cabrio’s beefed up chassis and body elements. And in turn, these aid the car’s driveability and dynamics.

The expected bestseller, the 103kW/250Nm 1.4 TFSI, is more than sufficiently endowed for most peoples’ needs.

A determined right foot and a bit of patience are necessary if you need to overtake or join some fast-moving traffic, but otherwise the base engine’s performance is lively enough, with a decent amount of acceleration once that rev counter’s needle starts to swing upwards.

Smart gearing from the super-slick shifting seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch gearbox must take some of the credit.

Additionally, on the standard 17-inch wheel and tyre set-up, the steering reacts with nicely measured accuracy for ably composed handling and roadholding (though it could be a bit sharper for keener drivers), while the suspension mirrors the MQB platform’s celebrated suppleness in a way that is foreign to, say, the bigger A5.

The next car we drove was the 110kW/340Nm 2.0 TDI, another front-driver, but with a slightly heavier feel from the front end compared to the 1.4 TFSI.

Yet, for the vast majority of buyers we think, this might be the engine to have, since it’s torquey and punchy from the get-go for effortless overtaking duties, does not sound like a diesel even when extended, and returns low fuel consumption figures.

It’s also just as involving to drive fast through sweeping corners as the others.

Besides costing more, the trade-off is some tight-corner alacrity for better open-road long-legged cruising ability – though driving out from Adelaide airport, some of the rougher suburban roads taxed the 2.0 TDI’s 18-inch wheel and sports suspension’s ability to deal with bumps and other irregularities.

Nevertheless, if you’re torn deciding between these two A3 Cabrio extremes, perhaps the 132kW/250Nm 1.8 TFSI is your solution.

Stronger than the smaller petrol unit across the board in terms of power accessibility as well as delivery, the big four-pot petrol feels properly Audi-engineered in that it behaves in a premium manner.

Late last year in Europe we drove the lighter front-drive A3 Cabrio with the standard seven-speed dual clutch transmission and found it terrifically responsive, yet light on its feet for when the rural roads started to ribbon up a delightful mountain pass.

On the South Australian launch we only sampled the 1.8 TFSI quattro version though it suffers from a 110kg weight deficit as a result of the extra driveshaft and associated gubbins, the torque output jumps to 280Nm.

The result? Even with the extra mass, the AWD A3 sun-seeker proved to be an eager and reactive performer, coated in a creamy smoothness that will immediately be familiar to owners of more upmarket marques.

Ultimately this is the variant we’d choose, because it even rides well enough on the spunky 18-inch wheel and sport suspension pack – though of course we’d prefer to make that final analysis on more familiar urban roads.

However, the bottom line is that any one of the four-drivetrain options in the A3 Cabriolet is worthy of your hard earned.

The base car is affordable, sweet and nimble the diesel strong yet refined, the front-drive 1.8 swift and agile and the 1.8 quattro speedy, secure and composed.

Be diligent with the options though – Audi charges enough for them and some things like the Acoustic Roof and reverse camera ought to be standard – the latter particularly so since without it rear vision is quite appalling.

After our two-day driving event we’ve come away thinking that the A3 Cabriolet is one of the most complete open-topped four-seater tourers money can buy regardless of price. Frankly it puts into question the wisdom of spending more for an A5 Convertible.

Which pretty much proves our point – the smallest Audi ragtop has certainly grown up.

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