Audi A3 Cabriolet review
The Audi A3 Cabriolet is bigger than ever and better to drive, but it’s expensive
The previous Audi A3 Cabriolet was launched a whole five years after the hatchback, but this time Audi isn’t hanging about. The new model arrived in dealers only 18 months after the regular model.
For its latest Audi A3 Cabriolet, the firm has switched from using a hatchback bodystyle to the sleek A3 saloon, instead. That means the cabriolet is bigger than before, so there’s more space inside and in the boot.
It’s always been expensive, but, this time around, Audi has added engines and tech from its larger cars to justify the prices charged. The Cabrio is 50kg lighter than the car it replaces, too, boosting efficiency.
Key to the A3 Cabriolet’s appeal is its folding roof. A new design, the roof opens at the touch of a button in around 18 seconds. Usefully, this can be done at speeds of up to 31mph – perfect when the British weather takes a turn for the worse. The top is also very good at keeping road and wind noise out.
There are 1.4 and 1.8-litre turbo petrol and 2.0 diesel engines on offer, in SE, Sport and S line trims.
Our choice: Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.4 TFSI SE
The previous-generation A3 Cabriolet retained the proportions of the three-door hatchback, and looked a bit dumpy and awkward. Yet the latest drop-top uses the underpinnings from the sleeker A3 Saloon, and the changes are a huge improvement. This car is much more elegant, and thanks to its long doors and flat rear deck, the proportions give it a more attractive look.
Audi’s crisp approach to styling is carried over from the regular A3. At the front, narrow headlamps sit either side of the Cabriolet’s striking single-piece grille. With sharp LED running lights and sculpted areas around the foglamps, the A3 looks suitably aggressive. It’s the same story at the back; the car has a strong shoulder line running around the sides and bootlid, plus the A3’s angular tail-lights and flicked-up boot spoiler give it a focused stance.
The A3’s profile is rakish with the soft-top raised, too, helped by smart detailing from the matt silver screen surround. With the roof up, rear three-quarter visibility is still a big issue when pulling out of angled junctions, though.
Inside, the sports seats don’t quite fix you in place like those in the BMW 2 Series, although the minimalist facia and cool details such as the turbine-style air vents give the interior a more modern feel. For £350 you can also spec extra neck-warming vents on the Audi to take the chill off that bit more.
At the top of the range, the new S3 Cabriolet includes larger wheels, a subtle bodykit and quad exhausts, and looks the sharpest of the range, although it could be a bit more exciting to look at from the driver's seat.
On the road the Audi immediately feels more rigid than the BMW 2 Series Convertible, and so more comfortable and composed. Yet again the VW Group’s clever MQB platform on which the A3 Cabriolet is based shows its versatility. The stiffer body means the suspension has a more solid platform to work from, so the A3 deals with badly surfaced roads better.
Sport models get the Drive Select system as standard, but not the magnetic ride adjustable suspension dampers. There’s no great need for these as the ride is well controlled, but putting the Audi into Dynamic mode sharpened up the steering and throttle response, making it feel that bit more alert.
The Audi is refined with the roof up, too, thanks to its standard three-layer acoustic hood. However, drop the top – which you can do at up to 31mph – and it isn’t quite as impressive. There’s a bit of buffeting, although if you add the £290 optional wind deflector this is all but eliminated. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option in four-seat mode, as it covers the rear seats.
Driving a convertible isn’t all about straight-line performance, though, and when it comes to handling the A3 has the BMW beaten. The dynamic disadvantages a cabriolet can bring mean sometimes soft-tops aren’t that composed to drive, but not only does the Audi feel sharper, grippier and more poised than the BMW, it’s almost a match for the regular A3 hatchback.
The S3 version is the performance champ, but it's no driver's car. Although it features the same 296bhp 2.0-litre engine and four-wheel drive as other S3s, the Cabriolet is dual-clutch only. The six-speed S tronic isn't the smoothest, and it seems to take a long time to translate a press of the accelerator into forward motion. The cabrio feels heavy, too, compared to the S3 hatchback, and has softer suspension tuning which gives a bouncy ride over bumps.
Audi finished one place behind BMW in our Driver Power 2015 rankings, while its dealer network came a lowly 26th in our most recent poll – surprising for a premium brand.
As with the 2 Series Convertible, the A3 Cabriolet uses proven parts from elsewhere in the Audi range, and the hatch on which it’s based was voted the 27th best car to own of 200 in our reader survey. Owners praised its in-car tech, build quality and handling, and the Cabriolet version should be just as good.
Also like the BMW the Audi hasn’t gone through Euro NCAP’s crash assessment, but the regular A3 was awarded five stars. The Cabriolet has a similar pop-up roll protection feature, and in keeping with the BMW there are a number of driver aids such as lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control.
The rest of the A3’s electronic aids are carried over, including ESP, adaptive brake lights and an active bonnet for pedestrian collisions. Also, the Cabriolet adds pop-up roll hoops behind the back seats that deploy if the car senses it’s about to roll.
Buying a convertible often involves a compromise in terms of practicality. The A3 Cabriolet is 28mmm wider and 183mm longer than its predecessor, and that means boot space has increased. It’s now 275 litres with the roof down, and 320 litres with the roof closed – and increase of 60 litres.
However, the opening is wider, so it’s easier to load. You need to lower a movable partition to open the roof, and although this cuts into the boot area, it’s not as bad as the Vauxhall Cascada’s similar set-up. There’s more shoulder room in the back of the Audi, but the front seats’ hard backs restrict kneeroom.
Up front, headroom isn’t compromised by the new canvas top, although you do notice that the screen’s pillars seem more prominent than usual, as they’re beefed up to withstand a roll-over impact. Rear seat space is pretty tight for both head and legroom, although the two rear seats are sculpted into a comfy shape.
The A3 Cabriolet arrives in the UK in April, but the launch is staggered, so only the 1.4-litre and 1.8-litre TFSI petrols and 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel will be offered from that date. The diesel has the best economy, at 67.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 110g/km, but it’s a bit noisy.
The 1.8 petrol is a strong performer, but we’d recommend the 1.4 petrol. It has cylinder on demand tech, which helps return fuel economy of 56.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 114g/km, yet performance is still good – 0-62mph takes 9.1 seconds.
The S3's 2.0-litre petrol engine develops 296bhp and helps the car sprint from 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds. Fuel economy is a claimed 39.8mpg, while CO2 emissions are 165g/km.
A 1.6-litre TDI and 2.0-litre TDI with 181bhp join the range later.
A three-year fixed price service plan is available for £399, and you can extend the three-year warranty by one or two more years.
A lower Benefit in Kind rating means the A3 is a better company car choice, while 50.9 per cent residuals and fixed-price servicing make it a more attractive private buy, too.