IN TIME for summer, Audi has launched its latest A3 Cabriolet. It’s bigger than before, yet lighter; more powerful, and still capable of going further on a gallon of fuel. Let’s peel back the roof and take a closer look.
If you’re familiar with the look of the old A3 Cabriolet – and you should be well acquainted, since Audi sold almost 61,000 of them between 2008 and 2013 – the first thing that you’ll notice about the new one is how much more of it there is.
It’s 18cm longer than the old A3 Cabrio. Most of that extra length is behind the rear wheels, which is good for boot space (a useful 320 litres with the roof up, 275 with it down), although rear-seat occupants don’t fare much better than before for legroom.
The fabric roof takes 18 seconds to unfurl, and can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 31mph. With it tucked away and the windows up, driver and front-seat passenger are well protected from draughts. A mesh wind deflector that snaps into place across the back seats has to come out if you plan to travel with friends in the rear, though, and then it gets a bit blustery.
Roof up, the A3’s cabin feels quite secure and surprisingly well protected from outside noise, thanks to the slightly posher fabric hood with three layers of soundproofing that’s fitted as standard to higher-spec cars such as our Sport model, and available as an option further down the range. From the side, the car is closer to the A3 Saloon in profile, although it can’t quite match that model for rear-passenger headroom.
The Cabriolet launches with a choice of three engines. We tested the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel, and there’s also a couple of turbocharged petrol options. The perky 138bhp 1.4-litre can shut down two of its four cylinders to save fuel under light load and was our pick of the bunch when we drove the five-door A3 Sportback last year. For an extra shot of performance, you’ll want the 178bhp 1.8-litre engine, which is paired to a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
But for lolling about in the sunshine with the roof down, the diesel with its six-speed manual makes good sense. There’s little engine clatter at low speeds, and it doesn’t need to be worked hard to eke the best performance from it. It’s also, for now, the economy champion of the range, promising 67mpg, although mid-50s seems more realistic. A 178bhp version of the diesel engine is due soon, as is a 1.6-litre diesel which will inherit the thriftiness crown.
Cheapest of the A3 Cabriolets are SE-spec cars, which are equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, aircon, Audi’s MMI digital radio with foldaway screen, Bluetooth and iPod connection. Sport models get the fancier hood, 17-inch wheels, more supportive sports seats, dual-zone aircon and, as standard, a 15mm drop in ride height and firmer suspension.
It felt comfortable enough to my old bones, although it can be deselected at no cost if you prefer the more supple ride of the SE. The range-topping S-Line lords it with part-leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, xenon headlights and, if you think your spine will stand it, a 25mm drop in ride height and even stiffer springs. Again, you can revert to SE or Sport suspension if you wish.
Regardless of trim level, all A3 Cabriolets feel like they’re crafted to last from top-notch materials. The A3’s dash is pleasingly clutter free and, even if you’re not looking for a new Audi, it’s worth going to your nearest dealership just to have a play with the air vents. The only sticking point is the price.
My co-driver reckoned our Audi would set her back £28,000 and unleashed a volley of very inventive expletives when I told her she’d need to spend another £10,000 to buy the car that she was driving. Mind you, strip the car of its optional extras and its basic price of £27,800 would be within budget.
Our car was equipped with £1,500-worth of 19-inch alloy wheels, a £1,300 package of driver aids such as radar-controlled cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and automatic headlights, a £750 Bang & Olufsen stereo and a multimedia and satnav system that Audi will ask another £1,500 for.
There’s a lot of stuff in that list you can probably live without, but charging £290 for the wind deflector and £260 for heated seats in an open-top car seems a bit mean. If I was buying, I’d be prepared to stand my ground until the dealer buckled and threw them in for free.
Car Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TDI Sport
Price £27,820 (£37,335 as tested)
Engine 2.0-litre turbodiesel, 4 cyl, 148bhp, 251 lb ft
Performance Max speed 139mph; 0-62mph 8.9sec
CO2 emissions 110g/km