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 recently launched A3 saloon. 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
While the A3 hatchback looks neat and tidy, we’ve been critical of the fact that it seems so similar to the car it replaced. That’s not as much of a problem with the A3 Cabriolet, though. The truncated rear end of the previous A3 Cabriolet has been replaced by longer bodywork that features a distinct rear deck behind the fabric roof.
The top itself has a similar profile to its predecessor’s, and combines with the raked-back windscreen to give the Audi a sporty look. Lower the top, and the frameless windows and aluminium screen surround add a classy touch, while the only things that break up the side profile are the front and rear headrests.
The back end is the same as the A3 Saloon’s, albeit with the high-level brake light moved from the rear window to the leading edge of the bootlid. Audi offers a range of colour and wheel options, although our car’s 18-inch Star polished alloys (a £595 option on the Sport) seem fussy and at odds with the simple lines.
Climb aboard with the roof up, and apart from a slightly closer windscreen header rail, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that you’re stepping into a standard A3 hatch. The only difference is the addition of an extra switch that lowers all four windows at once, plus the roof switch next to the parking brake.
That does mean you get Audi’s first-class build quality and a clean, simple dashboard layout. A lot of dark grey plastic has been used, but the silver trim dotted around the cabin, bezeled rotary controls and white digital read-outs add a classy touch.
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.
Driving the Audi A3 Cabriolet is a game of two halves. Top up, it’s extremely quiet and refined – especially if you opt for the mid-spec Sport or top of the range S line models. These get three extra layers of fleece insulation in the hood, which does a great job smothering engine and road noise.
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.
In corners, the A3 feels nearly as good as its hatch cousin. The steering is sharp, with decent turn-in and plenty of grip. You can feel a bit more flex in the chassis, although it’s nowhere near as bad as in the Vauxhall Cascada, while only the biggest road bumps cause the car to shudder.
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.
The standard A3 has been on sale for more than a year, and overall it seems to be doing well with no major issues reported so far. However, one area where there’s room for improvement is the Audi dealer experience. The company’s franchises came 23rd out of 31 in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, with owners criticising high costs and poor staff attitude.
While the A3 Cabriolet hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, the standard hatch has a five-star rating. The drop-top gets only five airbags to the hatch’s seven – convertibles have no room for curtain bags - but a driver’s knee airbag is included.
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.