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First Oz drive: Audi Cabriolet a gift

Drop-top gorgeous: Audi Cabriolet is more than a pretty face.

The gorgeous new Audi Cabriolet has arrived Down Under just in time for Christmas

16 Dec 2002

WELL-HEALED open-top motoring enthusiasts rejoice: the first new Audi Cabriolet in almost 10 years has landed just in time for Christmas.

Seventy lucky Australian customers are due to take delivery of the first sold-out shipment this week - just months after the car's European release.

Based on the handsome A4 sedan that was launched here in mid-2001, Audi's stunning new drop-top replaces the original Audi Cabriolet, which can trace its roots right back to the distinguished Audi 80 sedan and first appeared here in 1993, before being discontinued in November 1999.

The Cabriolet will be the third version of Audi's new generation A4 to go on sale Down Under, with the Avant launched in September. And it will compete with another convertible from Audi, the two-seater soft-top TT Roadster.

Priced at $105,370 for the initial 3.0-litre variant, the Audi Cabriolet will line up in the luxury convertible market alongside BMW's $108,100 330Ci convertible and the soon-to-be-replaced CLK cabriolet range from Mercedes-Benz, which prices its topless CLK320 from $128,974.

Meantime, Saab's long-serving 151kW 9-3 Aero convertible begins at $84,900, while Porsche's two-seat Boxster is priced from $108,500.

Increasing sales volumes to a projected 150 units in 2003 will be a turbocharged 1.8-litre version - due in February - which will be priced between $85,000 and $90,000.

However, while a quattro all-wheel drive variant may be offered in conjunction with a manual transmission as early as next year, it is unlikely the latter will be offered locally.

While the four-seater Cabriolet has a folding fabric roof - which opens or closes at the push of a button in 24 seconds - and is unique in its class by coming exclusively with Audi's clever Multitronic continuously variable transmission, it also brings considerable improvements over its predecessor in terms of interior space, performance and body structure.

Boasting more than double the outgoing Cabriolet's static torsional rigidity and a 100mm-longer wheelbase, the new car delivers enormous improvements in handling and stretching room.

Despite 66mm more rear knee room and 52mm more rear shoulder room (plus 33mm more front shoulder room), the Audi Cabriolet can still claim an aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.30 - 15 per cent better than the original.

Its 30kg steel and aluminium framed roof notwithstanding, the Audi Cabriolet also promises exceptional storage space, its two-stage boot accommodating 315 litres of luggage (or about two golf bags) with the roof closed and 246 litres with it open - an increase of almost 100 litres.

The cargo compartment also features a 12-volt power outlet and a full-size spare wheel, while twin pop-out rollover hoops reside behind the rear head restraints.

The safety theme continues throughout, with integrated high-strength steel running the length of the A-pillar and more strengthening lurking in the sill panels, between the seats, in the floorpan and in the front plenum area. As a result, the heavier, 1620kg 3.0 Audi Cabriolet's 0-100km/h claimed acceleration is slightly slower too, at 7.8 seconds.

Elsewhere the 3.0 Audi Cabriolet is pure A4, including the five-valve 3.0-litre V6 that produces 160kW at 6300rpm and 290Nm of torque at 3200rpm, along with A4's four-link front and trapezoidal rear aluminium suspension. Lowered by 20mm to around the same ride height as the A4 sedan's optional sport suspension set-up, Audi Cabriolet's tough, low stance is aided by standard 17-inch alloy wheels.

As expected at this price, the standard equipment list is impressive and includes ABS with Brake Assist, twin front and side airbags, Electronic Stabilisation Program including Electronic Differential Lock and Anti Slip Regulation, remote central locking, a height and reach adjustable steering wheel, acoustic rear parking system, aluminium window frames and front and rear fog lights.

There's also heated power mirrors with memory, heated rear glass, Xenon headlights with washers, dual-zone climate control, walnut woodgrain trim, heated front seats, cruise control, trip computer, multi-function steering wheel, nine-speaker sound system, CD changer and power leather sports seats.

Optional equipment includes an alarm, metallic paint, satellite navigation, 225-watt Bose sound, wind breaker and steering wheel-mounted gearshift buttons.

Said to be aimed primarily at males aged 30 to 55 and females aged 30 to 39, Audi Cabriolet will be available in 13 exterior colour schemes, from Cosmic Yellow to Carribean Blue, along with four corresponding roof colours - red, black, beige and blue.


IS the Audi Cabriolet more than an A4 3.0 with a folding roof? No, which is fine by us, thanks very much.

In fact, in a marketplace now jam-packed with luxurious new open-air offerings - some flimsier than others - it is proof of just how good Audi's new "emotional ring leader" is that it behaves just like its four-door sibling on Australian backroads.

But it needs to be, with BMW's accomplished 3 Series convertible and Porsche's benchmark two-seater Boxster fighting for its buyers' attention and at least a couple of new cabriolets on the medium-term horizon, including topless versions of the new CLK and 9-3.

True to form, the A4-based drop-top is pure Audi. Think A4 quality of finish, think A4 attention to detail, think A4 solidity: it's all there in the Audi abriolet, which provides - at substantial extra cost - the added option of removing the roof at the touch of a button in 24 seconds.

Despite the enthusiastic V6's broad torque range, thanks to the well sorted chassis it rarely interferes with the steering, which feels a little better weighted and more responsive than in the sedan, but still lacks feedback. However, that's about where the Audi Cabrio's faults end.

The 20mm lower ride height not only looks great with the standard 17-inch alloys, but lowers the cabrio's centre of gravity noticeably from that of the sedan. There's less bodyroll, sharper steering response and a general feeling of better roadholding that compliments the unquestionable level of chassis integrity without noticeable detriment to ride quality.

Look hard enough and the slightest degree of scuttle shake - the bane of many roofless vehicles and common in most lower priced open-tops - is evident as the rear-view mirrors trembles ever so slightly over deep potholes. But it seems to have little effect on handling, which remains true to A4 form: impeccably solid, agile and predictable.

Combine this with a high level of standard equipment, sound ergonomics, a big dose of restrained style and plenty of luggage space, and the long-awaited Audi Cabriolet should be a sought-after entrant at the top-end of the four-seater convertible segment.

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