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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - S3 Cabriolet

Our Opinion

We like
Polished yet aggressive styling, interior presentation, on-road manners
Room for improvement
Extra weight blunts performance, some scuttle shake, expensive


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12 Nov 2014

AUDI’S new S3 Cabriolet is a bit of a stand-out, and not just for its sharp lines and good looks. When you’re looking for other players to compare it against, it’s almost in a league of its own.

You might check out BMW’s 4-Series Cabriolet, but it’s more than $18,000 up the road even in basic spec. So, if you happen to be looking for a C-segment drop-top all-wheel-drive performance machine, the S3 Cabriolet awaits.

It does its job very well, too. Turbulence in the cabin with the roof down is well contained, even with two tall occupants at 110km/h it’s entirely possible to have a conversation with your passenger without having to shout at them (unless you want to, of course!). Having the side glass up helps, of course, but it’s pleasant nonetheless.

It’s also nice to hear the raspy growl from the high-strung turbo four come back through the cabin.

We’re fans of the performance of both the Sportback and the Sedan, but the Cabriolet translates a little differently out on the open road. There’s no hiding the fact that it has to carry more weight around – it’s 125kg heavier than the quattro Sportback – and it can be felt when you roll onto the throttle to blast up an incline or make a pass on a freeway.

The response is still there, but its delivery is softer and less edgy than that of the Sportback. The meaty mid-band of torque allows you to hold a gear in the six-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission for a bit longer, though, which means that the S3 Cab does still feel quick in tighter terrain.

Audi’s Select Drive system allows you to set the parameters of the car’s suspension tune (when the optional Magnetic Ride dampers are fitted), steering weight, transmission shifts and throttle response, and the Cabriolet responds best in the Dynamic setting.

Its ride, even on the optional 19-inch wheels, is exceptionally good on average surfaces, and its electric steering feel is excellent as well, with a firm, weighty heft that suited the chassis just so.

Bi-modal flaps in the exhaust’s rear muffler also open up in Dynamic mode, giving the EA888 a real hard-edge snarl as well as a sharp crackle during gear changes.

Audi’s Haldex all-wheel-drive system has been heavily revised over the years, but the fact remains that it still biases its drive towards the front.

And while the S3’s stability control program is obviously pretty good, it also lacks modern trickery like torque vectoring to keep overpowered wheels in check. As a result, the S3 can be provoked into understeer pretty readily.

However, it’s a simple matter of breathing the ultra-responsive throttle a little to coax the nose of the car back in, which it does with alacrity.

There’s plenty of feedback going on beneath your fingers and your butt to allow you to position the car at will, and the quattro system feeds power and grip seamlessly to the wheels that require it most.

The Cab has a softer, more sinuous feel to it in the twisty stuff – thank the lack of a roof for that. There’s some discernable shake from the tops of the windscreen pillars over choppy terrain, and our test car had a pretty distinctive squeak with the roof up over the same bit of road, but overall, the Cabriolet gives little away to its lidded brethren.

Speaking of the roof, the Cab’s k-fold canvas lid did indeed raise and retract in 18 seconds for each mode as advertised. A nice touch is the use of larger (though not full size) sun visors that can be swung out to shield the driver from morning or afternoon sun not something you usually find on a soft-top.

With the optional suite of active safety measures fitted, the S3’s around-town behaviour is subtle and refined, especially when the Drive Mode is knocked back to auto mode. The only constant negative was an annoying thrum from the stock tyres fitted to our tester.

The S3 Cabriolet joins a family with runs on the board in both the sales race and as excellent performers. While it’s a softer, more mellow proposition on the road, its drop-dead handsome looks and premium ambience will find favour with those who like a little sizzle with their suntan.

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