Review: Audi A3 CabrioletBy Simon Donohue
December 06, 2010
This is not the time of year to be testing a convertible car, I can tell you.
Spare a thought then, dear reader, for the intrepid motoring team, prepared to go to the end of, erm, our street in order to run the rule over the latest automotive offerings.
I’m still wondering what the chap walking by with a dog must have thought to see me, in only my shirt sleeves, rolling down the soft top roof of the new Audi A3 on a very chilly and equally dark – but thankfully not snowy – Sunday evening.
Trouble was, there really hadn’t been much of an opportunity for me to put the A3 through its paces sans roof in the preceding few days.
But the great thing about roof-down road-going at any time of the year is its ability to plant a smile firmly across your face.
My exposed arms and shaven head might have started to turn an uncomfortable blue hue, but driving along through the last of the autumn leaves left me feeling that summer wasn’t really that far away. Which, of course, it very much is.
And, best of all, it took mere seconds for the roof to return to its most sensible near-winter setting once I’d decided that it really wasn’t sensible to be galavanting in such a way when there was a genuine risk of a stray firework skidding across my bonce.
The A3 cabriolet is the last in a model range which has been a real success for Audi, placing them in competition probably most closely with stable-mate VW’s Golf.
Many brands have foregone the soft-top option for a folding metal roof, but with that solution to the cabiolet conundrum comes the difficult business of folding and storing. Perhaps the least considered implication of a metal top is the aesthetic impact on the car itself and, in opting for fabric, Audi have managed to inject an air of elegance which is absent from many rivals’ offerings.
Strange that, from an innovating brand. But sometimes it pays to take a step backwards in moving a brand forwards.
The A3 cabriolet takes its lead from the three door version of the A3.
One drawback of its design is that, while it maintains the shapely good looks of the standard hatchback, it fails spectacularly to match its airiness when the roof is up.
Convertible versions of a hatchback are often reduced from a fully five-seating car to little more than a crowded 2+2 coupé and that is certainly the nature of this car.
It simply feels far smaller than the standard A3 hatch.
The boot opening is a little bit too “letter box” shaped for my liking too, a price perhaps worth paying for the way in which the folding roof stows neatly and unobstructively above the lid.
What’s very good about the A3 cabriolet is the very essence of Audi.
It’s not as dynamic a drive as a BMW, but it has that air of quality that you’d expect from the quality German marque.
Having enjoyed some of the faster offerings from the Audi stable in recent times, I was intrigued to get behind the wheel of this car, which boasted a potentially gutless 1.2-litre petrol engine.
It’s not so many years since a 1.2-litre engine would be found only in bargain basement superminis with funky decals designed to make them attractive to spotty-faced first-time drivers.
Boy, how times have changed.
Here the engine in question is one of the modern range of petrol TFSI units, built with the sole purpose of providing more power for your pound in terms of performance, efficiency and cleanliness.
Without wanting to sound like too much of a petrolhead – which I don’t profess to be – I loved the way that the TFSI provided a straight line of progressive power through the gears.
Work the six-speed manual gearbox in the right way and what initially sounds like it might be underpowered actually manages to earn its Sport designation.
Nor does it suffer from “scuttle shake” or a sense that it’s overweight, the former being the propensity for some soft-topsto “wobble” and the latter a side-effect of efforts to tackle the former.
Would I have one?
In many ways, the Audi A3 steals back the initiative from many of the lesser branded convertible cars which have come back on to the British market in an act of apparent defiance against the harsh and changeable realities of our climate.
Having just about thawed out after my late night soft-top sojourn, I really do know what I’m talking about.
The theme elsewhere seems to have been the provision of affordable-ish mass market saloons and hatches topped with clever folding metal roofs.
Here Audi strips the cabriolet back to its most basic form, albeit in a way which is stylish and elegant.
Get used to the idea of this car feeling smaller than the A3 you’ve come to know and love, and it could very much be the perfect soft-top for summer – and winter – dreams.
Model: Audi A3 Cabriolet
1.2 TFSI Sport
Price: £21,855-£25,255 with optional extras
Insurance Group: 8
0 to 60mph: 12.2 secs
Top speed: 118mph
Carbon dioxide emissions: 132g/km