Audi A3 Cabriolet review
The Audi A3 Cabriolet is a polished and premium car, and one of our favourite small convertibles
The previous Audi A3 Cabriolet was launched a whole five years after the hatchback, but this time Audi didn't hang about. The new model arrived in dealers only 18 months after the regular hatchback.
For this generation of Audi A3 Cabriolet, the firm has switched from basing it on a hatchback bodystyle to using 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 an expensive option, 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, improving its 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 1.5 and 2.0-litre turbo petrol and 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel engines on offer in the mainstream models, with a choice of just two trims: Sport and S line. The high-performance S3 has its own bespoke specification.
Engines, performance and drive
Yet again, the VW Group’s clever MQB platform, on which the A3 Cabriolet is based, shows its versatility. On the road, the Audi immediately feels more rigid than the BMW 2 Series Convertible, and that means it's more comfortable and composed. Thanks to the stiffer body, the suspension has a more solid platform to work from, so the A3 deals with badly surfaced roads better - although the lower and stiffer sports suspension on S line models does make the ride a touch firm.
Every model gets the Drive Select system (which allows the driver to tailor the car's responses to one of four pre-set modes) as standard, and putting the A3 into Dynamic mode sharpens up the steering and throttle response, making it feel that bit more alert.
Beyond that, the S3 also gets the 'Magnetic Ride' adjustable dampers that work with Drive Select to let the driver further tailor the car's responses. Theye're only an option on the more basic models (with Sport suspension, and not on the 1.6 TDI engine), but there’s no great need for them, as the ride is well controlled, even with the standard set-up.
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 £300 optional wind deflector, this is all but eliminated. Unfortunately, this covers the rear seats, so you can't use it if you want to have any passengers in the rear seats.
Across the range, performance is pretty good, and every engine but one will get the car to 62mph in less than nine seconds. The exception is the 1.6 TDI, but it feels quicker than the figures suggest, thanks to having 250Nm torque available from just 1,500rpm.
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 is the quickest version, 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 comes only with the dual-clutch S tronic trasnmission. Sadly, this six-speed 'box isn't the smoothest, and it seems to take a long time to translate a press of the accelerator into forward motion. Compared to the S3 hatchback, the cabrio feels heavy, too, and has softer suspension tuning, which gives a bouncy ride over bumps.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
As you would only expect, the most economical engines are the diesels; and, the most economical of the lot is the 1.6, which returns up to 65.7 in the official combined cycle. However, the 2.0-litre engines give stronger performance without costing much more – and that's whether you go for the manual or S tronic tranmissions.
Only if you pair the 2.0 TDI with four-wheel drive does the economy drop sharply, but even then, the claimed economy is almost 55mpg.
There's no questioning the peformance of the 2.0-litre petrol engine, but the 1.5 TFSI is certainly worth considering. Not only does it perform strongly - 0-62mph takes 8.9 seconds - thanks to the cylinder-on-demand technology (which shuts down two of the four cylinders when relatively little power is needed), its claimed economy is well over 50mpg, and CO2 emissions can be as low as 117g/km, depending on the gearbox and trim level.
Even when you combine the 2.0-litre petrol engine and S tronic transmission, the claimed economy is around 45mpg. And, at the top of the range, the S3 averages just over 40mpg - which isn't too bad, consdering how fast it'll go.
As you would expect, this is the most expensive version to insure - sitting in group 46 - but, with the other models sitting in groups between 25 and 37, the A3 is very much on a par with its main rival, the BMW 2 Series.
Interior, design and technology
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.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Buying a convertible often involves a compromise in terms of practicality, but that's quite the case here. 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 – an increase of 60 litres.
What's more, 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.
Reliability and Safety
Audi finished well behind BMW in our Driver Power 2017 rankings, but the A3 itself was only just outside the Top 30.
Like the 2 Series Convertible, the A3 Cabriolet uses proven parts from elsewhere in its maker's range, and while the Audi hasn’t gone through Euro NCAP’s crash assessment, the regular A3 was awarded five stars. The Cabriolet has a similar pop-up roll protection feature, and as in 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.