TOP-DOWN MANAGEMENTThe Audi A3 Cabriolet demonstrates that small convertibles needn't be twee. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second Review
Audi has revitalised the A3 Cabriolet, this time basing it on the longer wheelbase chassis of the saloon. It's still a soft-topped two door, but there's now sleeker styling and more space inside.
BackgroundIf you represent the core demographic for a small convertible, chances are you're female, in your late twenties to early forties and run the car as a second family vehicle. You won't accept that many see these cars as something rather lightweight and fluffy, instead preferring to think it reflects your sunny and fun personality. But what if you wouldn't be seen dead in Fiat 500C or a Citroen DS3 Cabrio? What if you wanted something a bit more purposeful but where you could still enjoy the feeling of driving with the roof down? You always used to look to Audi's A3 Cabriolet.
Things have changed now though. The A3 Cabriolet has grown into the space vacated by the old A4 drop top. It's stylish in a typically A3 way, namely low key yet high quality. Just don't accessorise it with headlight eyelashes.
Driving ExperienceEngine-wise, many will want to avoid the entry-level units (a 125PS 1.4-litre TFSI petrol and a 105PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel) in favour of the two powerplants that make up the heart of the range. The most obvious choice is the one most buyers will probably make, the 150PS 2.0-litre TDI diesel. And, sure enough, it's a very impressive engine, with eager pulling power delivering the rest to 62mph sprint in 8.9s en route to a 139mph maximum that ought to be enough for anyone. Personally though, if we were buying this car, we'd take the other mainstream option, a 140PS version of the 1.4TFSI petrol unit with clever CoD, or 'Cylinder on Demand' technology. It's almost as efficient as the diesel, significantly quieter (especially of course with the roof down) and just as quick (62mph from rest takes 9.1s en route to 135mph).
I'm not sure I'd really want to go much faster than that in this car, but Audi centres are ready and willing to oblige those with a further need for speed. Diesel folk get a pokier 184PS version of the 2.0 TDI unit. While those preferring petrol have the further option of a 180PS 1.8-litre TFSI powerplant, the engine you have to have if you're looking for a mainstream petrol-powered A3 Cabriolet with the option of quattro 4WD. This variant also gets a slicker 7-speed S tronic auto transmission set-up than diesel drivers can have and with this fitted, 62mph is just 7.8s away en route to 150mph. The same system is also an option on the ritziest version of this car you can buy, the potent S3 flagship model, which mates quattro 4WD to a 300PS 2.0-litre TFSI turbo engine able to power you to 62mph in just 5.4s on the way to 155mph. Toupees will very definitely need to be firmly tied down.
Design and BuildBuilt on a modified version of the A3 Saloon's chassis, the A3 Cabriolet has lost its somewhat dumpy, pram-like styling. It looks a more elegant thing now, thanks to that increased wheelbase. To achieve its sleeker profile and provide the capacity for complete soft-top concealment when in open mode, it's needed to let its belt out considerably. Compared to the previous model, its length has increased from 4.24 to 4.42 metres, the wheelbase from 2.58 to 2.60 metres and width from 1.77 to 1.79 metres. Only its height (1.41 metres) is down on its predecessor, by 15 millimetres. Luggage capacity has also grown by 60-litres (2.12 cubic ft), and access to that space has been improved.
The A3 Cabriolet has a soft fabric roof that is stretched over a magnesium-steel 'skeleton'. The opens or closes electro-hydraulically in less than 18 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph. When retracted, the top - folded into three layers - rests in a tray that barely affects luggage capacity, which is 287-litres (10.14 cubic ft). There's a proper glass rear window and the roof can be specified in black, grey and brown - while the inner liner is available in black or lunar silver.
Market and Model
Why no folding metal hard top, especially when you're paying upwards of £25,000? The reason is because this car is better without one. It's lighter, with the car tipping the scales at about 50kg lighter than its predecessor, the entry-level version weighing 1,365kg. The hood is beautifully engineered, so it's easy to appreciate what your money's been spent on. The fully automatic acoustic hood has a thicker inner foam layer which further reduces the already low interior noise level of the A3 Cabriolet. A wind deflector and head-level heating for the front seats are also available. An active rollover protection system consisting of two spring-loaded plates that are recessed into the body protects the occupants in case of a rollover accident.
The Audi connect system bundles all infotainment technologies that let the driver network with the Internet, infrastructure and other vehicles. The central component is the Mobile phone preparation. It produces the connection to the Internet and passengers can conveniently surf and email with up to eight mobile devices via an integrated WLAN hotspot. For the driver, the mobile phone preparation brings features such as navigation with images from Google Earth, a web radio function, Google Points of Interest search by voice control and Google Street View. There's also Audi online traffic information that takes the movement data from the thousands of smartphones and navigation units that are travelling on the road and can inform you of average speeds, predicted journey times and recommended reroutes.
Cost of OwnershipThe A3 Cabriolet's work on weight reduction is evident in the most unexpected places. The bonnet, for example, is all aluminium. The engines weigh less than before as do the seats and the dashboards. All of this has incremental effects on emissions and economy. All engines employ direct injection and turbocharging and are backed up by a start-stop-system. On average, the three launch powerplants bring a fuel economy improvement of around 12 per cent compared with their closest equivalents in the previous A3 Cabriolet range. The 1.4 TFSI CoD variant gets 56.5 mpg with CO2 emissions of 114g/km. Audi's cylinder on demand (CoD) technology helps here, which deactivates two of the engine's cylinders when cruising.
The 1.8-litre TFSI unit is initially linked exclusively to a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission and where the Audi drive select vehicle dynamics system is fitted, it offers a free-wheeling function that further improves fuel economy, averaging 48.7 mpg with CO2 emissions of 133g/km. The 150PS 2.0 TDI meanwhile, delivers 67.3mpg and 110g/km. Residual values may well even improve on the old A3 Cabriolet's due to the later car's improved practicality and broader appeal.
SummaryIt's hard to think of any other car in Audi's recent history that has been improved so dramatically from one generation to the next as this A3 Cabriolet. While the old model was no slouch, its one key fault was that it didn't look that pretty and if you're choosing a convertible car, let's face it, looks are often right up there on the priority list. This model is longer, lower and sleeker, with more space and a more talented chassis. What's not to like?
The only issue at stake here is that this car has changed so much it no longer feels like an A3 Cabriolet. It feels more like an A4. Does that matter? In the absence of an A1 drop top, it means that the asking price for an Audi soft top has drifted north a bit but otherwise it's hard to complain. Vorsprung durch Technik and all that.