Audi A3 Cabriolet

Classy soft-top scores points for quality, image and eco credentials

The Audi A3 has established itself as one of the finest choices in thecompact cabriolet class. And itwill be no pushover against its all-new Renault rival in this test.

Launched in 2008, the model stuck to Audi’s tried and trusted fabric hood philosophy. The firm believes the latest soft-tops are every bit as good as metal roofs at insulating a car’s cabin, and demand no compromise in terms of styling. And from the kerbside you’d have to agree.

While the Audi won’t turn as many heads as more glamorous models, its tidy proportions and pert rear are in direct contrast to the fussy and oversized Renault. The front is pure A3, so it has a premium appeal which the Mégane can’t match.

Inside, the cabin is simple and very effective, combining high-class materials, neat details and plenty of space. In particular, rear legroom is more generous than in the Renault, even though the A3 is 247mm shorter.

Luggage space is similarly impressive. While the Mégane’s boot capacity plummets from 417 litres to 211 litres when you drop its top, the Audi’s 260-litre compartment is unaffected.

In addition, the A3 has the advantage of folding rear seats, giving extra flexibility.

The hood itself is very effective, as it uses the same acoustic sound deadening construction as that on the larger A5 Cabriolet. As a result, the A3 registered a 70dB reading on our noise meter at 70mph – exactly the same as the Renault’s.

Its mechanism also works faster – the roof stows in less than half the time of the C-C’s, at nine seconds. This is long enough to take advantage of a red traffic light, although it can also operate at low speeds.

Hit the road and the Audi underlines its credentials with solid pace. It’s not as fast as the Renault, as its 104bhp 1.6-litre diesel has a 24bhp deficit, but in real world driving, it never feels underpowered.

Although it was 1.2 seconds down on the C-C from 0-60mph, with a time of 12.1 seconds, the smoother power delivery helps to make the A3’s TDI unit a more engaging choice – even if you do have to work it harder than its rival to maintain brisk progress.

In corners, the Audi cements its position. Whether the roof is up or down, it feels nimble and responsive, with body shake only on poor surfaces. Completing the dynamic package are accurate steering, a light gearshift, decent ride comfort and reassuring brakes.

The Audi’s smaller engine and stop/start pay dividends in terms of costs – we returned 42.1mpg, and the 1.6 TDI will appeal to company users with its 114g/km emissions. However, you pay extra for sat-nav (£650), Bluetooth (£395) and cruise control (£215). So the issue is whether buyers will be willing to make the sacrifices on kit and performance.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: A3 Cabriolet scores on prestige appeal, while Audi’s ‘Acoustic’ fabric roof delivers hard-top refinement. Can these considerable strengths offset the car’s higher price tag?

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