Audi A3 Cabriolet review
Launched on a new platform in 2013, the Audi A3 has now made its way to the Cabriolet model, giving you the chance to drop the top and enjoy the thrill of al fresco driving.
The A3 Cabriolet makes a departure from previous models, switching from the hatchback-style body to that of the A3 Saloon. The result is a car that's longer, even better looking, and distinctly different from its cousin, the VW Golf Cabriolet, which sticks to the shorter body.
Does the topless A3 succeed in delivering the best of both worlds?
With a longer body, the Audi A3 Cabriolet has looks closer to the Audi A4 than it does to the familiar hatchback model it owes its name to.
That's no bad thing, however, because when topped with the canvas folding roof, the A3 Cabriolet looks rather more balanced than shorter soft tops. The roof neatly folds into the top of the boot space, but leaves plenty of body behind the rear seats.
It's a stronger look; a styling that suggests a more serious car, rather than something that looks like a giant Silver Cross pram. That's a little unfair to all the pretty cabriolets out there, and of course the downside is that the A3 takes up a little more space in sought-after pavement parking.
But to us it's a winning formula. We were very keen on the small saloon styling of the Audi A3 Saloon and the Cabriolet repeats the performance. It brings to mind the old BMW 1-Series Convertible, although the Audi appears wider and lower, with our review model in Sport trim riding 15mm lower than the standard SE model.
From the front, the design is all Audi A3. Neat creases down the sides accentuate the length, while from the rear the short saloon-style boot is rather pretty.
Audi likes its Cabriolet models to be easily identified as such, with the windscreen framed with silver and the canvas top available in several colours: ours paired grey with brilliant white bodywork to great effect.
Wearing 19-inch wheels - a £1,495 option - there's certainly plenty of kerb-side sex appeal and no sooner had the A3 Cabriolet been delivered, we had the first honk of a horn paired with a thumbs-up.
That's part of a Cabriolet appeal. It's a car you want to be seen in, a lifestyle choice, an outward projection of how you want to be perceived.
But part of the deal is a squeezing of the space you have around the back, both in the boot and back seats.
The roof will drop in about 20 seconds and, much like most other cabriolets and convertibles, this happens at the press of the button on the centre console. A reassuring beep will tell you when the process is finished as taking your finger off the button will stop the process at any point.
The canvas roof folds neatly into an internal tray in the upper section of the boot. You can push that tray out of the way to give you more boot space back, but the roof won't open if the tray isn't in the right position.
The boot capacity is officially given as 320 litres (rear seats folded), compared to the 425 litres of the standard A3 Saloon. When the roof goes down you lose about half the boot space again, but we found it to be large enough to pack for a long weekend away for a family of four.
If luggage is a concern, then you might have to accept that for parts of your journey you have to keep the roof up, which is an acceptable compromise of convertible ownership.
The back seats are also smaller too. There are no back doors, for starters, and the rear passenger compartment is narrower to accept some of the roof mechanism. That means that the A3 Cabriolet is a 2 + 2: there's no centre seat. Instead of a central cushion, you have two cup holders. In terms of leg room there isn't much, but most adults will be comfortable enough.
If you're thinking of carrying children in the back - who do fit in rather nicely - then you might also want to look at the Audi Isofix child seats (£185/£240), as the sculpted rear seats might not fit a universal child seat quite so well.
In the driving seat
Sat behind the wheel, the Cabriolet is the same as the Audi A3 internally. You have the same interior design and layout, which is one we like very much. The only addition is that button for the roof.
The view, however, isn't great out the rear. The rear view mirror is a little small - presumably to avoid obscuring too much due to the steep rake of the windscreen - but the rear glass window in the canvas top is even smaller than in the A3 Saloon.
It's fine when driving to see what's going on behind you, but when it comes to reversing you can't see much. We found ourselves more dependant on the Audi parking system than we'd perhaps like. And although sensors are great, we still believe that your eyes are the best sensors of all.
There is an advantage that the Cabriolet brings, however, and that's the increased visibility to the sides thanks to lack of B pillar. That's great for the essential blind spot checks when changing lanes.
In terms of noise, the canvas top of the A3 Cabriolet is nicely insulated. With the British weather providing its customary downpours we were surprised to find it wasn't too noisy inside in heavy rain. There's that comforting patter like a canvas tent, but not a deafening roar.
However, there's more road noise, specifically with passing vehicles, that you can hear as they approach to pass. Most of the road noise, however, comes back to the sports suspension, 19-inch wheels and low profile types. If you really don't want that, of course, then you can opt-out of sports suspension at no cost, as well as stick to the standard smaller wheels.
On the road
The good news is that the A3 Cabriolet drives very much like the A3 Saloon. Equipped with the 1.8TFSI engine with 7-speed S Tronic automatic gearbox, there's plenty of fun to be had behind the wheel.
It's here you'll prefer that sports suspension as you put the top down and speed through country lanes. In that situation the Audi Drive options come in handy. Although the Comfort setting is usually the best for typical driving, the Dynamic mode offers an altogether more sporty result.
We much prefer the weightier steering in Dynamic mode, but whichever you choose, the A3 is an easy car to get about in. The inclusion of the gear changing paddles means you can easily switch through the gears if you don't agree with the automatic choice.
There's plenty of power too - this petrol engine is rated at 180PS, pushing you to 62mph in 7.8 seconds - much like the same configuration in the A3 Saloon. That's the message really: the A3 Cabriolet handles very much like the version with a roof and that's a very good thing.
You can of course opt for the manual gearbox if you're after a slightly smoother experience and there's a choice of engines to pick from. The smaller 1.4TFSI promises better economy as well as cylinder-on-demand technology.
We found that we hit an average of about 40mpg in mixed driving.
Plenty of technology
Adding to the safety and convenience is Audi's adaptive cruise control that will sense the car in front and control the speed you're travelling at appropriately. We used this extensively in the A3 Cabriolet and we're impressed with its poor weather performance.
Keyless entry and push-to-start add to that tech sophistication and we're fans of the MMI entertainment system. For now, at least, as we will start seeing more integrated systems on Google or Apple's platforms in the not-too-distant future.
There are lots of options for connections, including Bluetooth, the iPhone connector in the central console, and the convenient layout of steering wheel controls and the touch-enabled dial controller make things like satnav control easy. The satnav is a reasonable performer, but still isn't as smart as the HD Traffic enabled systems from TomTom, which we'd choose over most integrated systems.
Audi has heaps of other options available and although we love the sound from the £750 Bang & Olufsen upgraded speakers, we'd happily stick with the standard ones. It's easy to inflate the base price with such extras too. The A3 Cabriolet starts at £26k, but as tested here we've hit the £38k on-the-road price due to trim, extras and additions. We'd recommend unchecking a few of those boxes if money isn't like water to you.
The shift to the saloon-style body sees the Audi A3 Cabriolet step into new territory. It might make it more like the A4 than you'd expect due to the length, but it at least makes it different on the road compared to the VW Gold Cabriolet, which the previous Audi model didn't.
It's a bit of a squeeze in the back seats, but we suspect many prospective owners will be reaching for the draft excluder and leaving those seats empty. The boot is smaller than the A3 Saloon, but that's to be expected for the sake of a soft top.
What the Audi A3 Cabriolet brings, however, is plenty of refinement to a smaller(ish) convertible. It's more practical than some of the soft tops out there due to its length and you still get the great handling, quality and sophisticated looks of the A3.
If you're in the market for a topless car then the Audi A3 Cabriolet should be firmly placed on your list. It's a great soft top.