Audi makes no claims that the A3 Cabriolet is inspired by a hot hatch. However, combining smart styling with a range of sporty engines and plenty of badge appeal has proven a winning formula for the car, helping it attract a broad spread of buyers. So can it really cut it with such racy rivals?
It certainly has the right ingredients for the job. The updated 1.8-litre TFSI engine strikes a good compromise between power and efficiency, and a desirable image and surprisingly low price tag compared with the hotter VW all count in its favour.
The exterior styling is smart and typically Audi, and the soft-top A3 is just as striking as the Golf and the MINI with its roof down. Our S line test car rode on 18-inch alloy wheels and the suspension is 15mm lower than the standard model’s to give a more aggressive stance.
Other sporty details include the flared front bumper and a slender grey ‘diffuser’ at the back, outlining the twin chrome exhaust pipes. The only drawbacks are the silver roll hoops – these jut out from behind the seats and give the soft-top Audi a hunched look compared with the cleaner profile of the Golf.
Inside, the A3 is beginning to look a little dated, and some of the key contact points – like the climate control switches and air vents – seem old-fashioned. However, the excellent build quality means the Audi’s cabin still feels a cut above the mainstream. Equipment is a little bit disappointing, though: Bluetooth, cruise control and heated seats will all cost you extra.
With an identical wheelbase to the VW, interior space is decent, and there is enough headroom in the back for taller passengers. However, they may find their knees brushing the seatbacks more often than they would in the Golf.
The boot is the biggest here – it’s got a maximum capacity of 674 litres with the split-fold rear bench folded flat. It’s nip-and-tuck with the GTI, though, and the small rear window and lack of parking sensors mean that manoeuvring into tight spaces with the roof up can be an act of faith.
On the move, the smooth 158bhp 1.8-litre engine doesn’t feel as powerful as its rivals’, as it responds more lazily to the throttle. Yet despite its on-paper power deficit, the A3 put in a strong show at the track, needing only 1.2 seconds more than the GTI to sprint from 0-60mph – it took 7.6 seconds.
The S line suspension is relatively firm, but the A3 lacks the agility of the MINI or the high-speed composure of the Golf, plus the body rolls more through corners and you can feel the chassis flexing over uneven surfaces. And even though the steering is direct and well weighted, it suffers from occasional kickback over bumpy surfaces.
Surprisingly, the Audi fails to impress financially, too: it has by far the worst residuals on test and less kit than its rivals. So while it’s a talented all-rounder, the A3 lacks the fun factor of the MINI or the sophistication of the Golf. As a result, it may struggle to make an impact.