Long-term tests

Audi A3 Cabriolet Sport

FIRST REPORT: We join the winning team at Le Mans in our new Audi. But is it a champ, too?

  • The great driving position makes the Audi comfortable over long trips, and it turns heads. White paint and a red interior doesn’t sound like a natural combination, but with the top down, it works superbly. The roof mechanism is simple and can be operated at speeds up to 19mph – so there’s no need to cause a hold-up if you get caught in the rain while driving in heavy traffic.
  • If I have to be picky, the boot opening is too small – a letdown when the load area is so big. Rearward visibility could also be better; parking can be a pain, and the blind spots make motorway overtaking a chore. It’s expensive, too. Our car has nearly every one of Audi’s costly options!

THERE’S no such thing as a breaking-in period on the Auto Express long-term fleet – our distinctive white-bodied, red-roofed Audi A3 Cabriolet has been with us only a matter of weeks, and has had an action-packed schedule.

Firstly, it appeared in our drop-top test in Issue 1,018. And as soon as it was finished there, it faced a 750-mile round trip to the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Even before it became a fixture in our car park, though, this A3 had gone head-to-head with a BMW 1-Series Convertible in our Issue 990 twin test.

It narrowly missed out, but we fell for its style and charm. How will it handle being a weekday commuter and a soft-top leisure car at the weekend? That’s what I intend to find out over the course of this summer.

Designers didn’t create the A3 Cabriolet for taking three adults to Le Mans, but it coped surprisingly well. I picked up my two passengers at the crack of dawn to catch a 7am Channel crossing. While we had all resigned ourselves to travelling light, the boot space was ample for our sleeping bags, pillows and other basic camping gear.

The A3 is roomy in the rear, too. The seats are comfortable and the optional red leather is definitely a talking point. Every time we stopped, the Audi drew plenty of attention.

Knowing the French police would be on the look-out for speeding Brits, we set the cruise control and headed south. With the sat-nav showing the way and my iPod keeping us entertained playing tunes through the standard auxiliary input, the miles passed by quickly.

The A3’s ride is superb, too. Sitting in the back is a novelty for me, and I had been worried about travel sickness. But this was never an issue, and we got to Le Mans on the Saturday lunchtime feeling relaxed.

After a fine victory by Audi in the 24-hour race, by Sunday afternoon it was time to depart – and as my two cohorts had stayed up all night watching the action, I took the driving seat.

The Cabriolet is far from free of scuttle shake, but it’s only obvious over the worst surfaces. Wind noise can be intrusive at speed, too, even though our Sport model has the double-layered acoustic hood.

Poor weather meant the top stayed up all weekend, but I’ve enjoyed the wind in my hair on many sunny days since.

I love the 2.0 T FSI engine. It’s mated to Audi’s S tronic gearbox, and that makes our A3 a breeze to drive. I select auto mode for my commute to Auto Express’s central London office, and switch to the steering wheel-mounted paddles for the open road.

My one complaint so far concerns rear visibility. The twin roll hoops hamper your view out. Even with the roof down, reversing is not easy.

And the Audi isn’t cheap, either. A standard car costs £26,910, but with the options on our model (we don’t have room to list them all opposite), that balloons to £32,000 – more than many versions of the roomier drop-top A4!

Extra Info

Second opinion AS a rule, convertibles aren’t my thing. I like driving with the top down, but only if the car was never designed to have a roof in the first place. But the Audi looks great. While the alloys resemble hubcaps from some angles, the white finish and stubby rear are superb. Drop the top and it’s better still. If only the hood’s ugly mechanicals were covered when it’s down.Chris Thorp Road test editor

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