What is it: The new Audi A3 Cabriolet is the latest version of Audi’s compact soft-top
Key features: More luggage space, cylinder-on-demand engine option
Our view: Assured for a drop top, though it doesn’t feel quite as stiff as its saloon sister.
The latest new model line to join the ever-expanding Audi A3 range extends the line-up to four distinct body shapes, the new Cabriolet sitting alongside the three-door hatch, five-door Sportback and the saloon.
And it is America and China that UK buyers haveto thank for changes to the soft-top A3 – unlike its predecessor the new Cabriolet is based on the saloon, itself an all-new member of the third-generation A3 line-up and hugely popular with the Stateside and Chinese buyers at which it is basically aimed.
By adopting the saloon body with its longer length – the four-door outstretches even the five-door Sportback – Audi frees up some luggage space, which is always at a premium when one has a dropped hood to accommodate. In this case there are 275 litres available with hood down, 320 with it up, or 678 with the back seats dropped.
It is a measure of the sheer adaptability of the VW Group MQB platform – yes, this is yet another car to adopt it – that while using a saloon shell, the Cabriolet has the shortest wheelbase in the A3 range, its 2595mm some 6mm less than the A3 hatch. Mind you this figure is also 17mm longer than the old A3’s wheelbase, so while space in the Cabriolet’s rear seats is cosy, it’s a little less so than previously.
Despite the extra dimensions the new Cabriolet weighs 50 kilos less than its predecessor, which is good news for efficiency and handling. A raft of weight-saving measures are topped by a bonnet crafted from aluminium.
Audi has never followed rivals in adopting metal roofs, and the new Cabriolet is truly a soft top, with a fabric hood. This gives it a more delicate look compared to those challengers – top up or down it is pleasing visually, with a sleekness combined with understated elegance.
Said hood – which includes a heated rear screen – can be operated at speeds up to 31mph and electrically folds down in 18 seconds, to conceal itself under a panel across the top of the boot.
The stock hood satisfactorily keeps extraneous sound out when up, but for the most effective sound-deadening one can choose an uprated version, with a three-layer inner padding and an inner liner that can be specified in one of two colours, the outer layer in three. This hood comes as standard on Sport and S Line models, while buyers of entry-level SE cars can specify it as an option. Do this and you might also want to choose the optional hot air blowers mounted on the top of each seat back – great for cold days…
With both hood and side windows tucked away, there is a lot of buffeting around the head, unless you clip in the wind deflector that Audi supplies. This is very effective, but it does render the rear seats effectively redundant – an unfortunate general side effect of such cars.
Losing all but the windscreen surround from above does not compromise safety, by the way. Hidden from view and hopefully to stay that way, the Cabriolet includes an active rollover protection system. Two spring-loaded plates are recessed into the body and should the car flip over they will pop up and keep occupants from an unfortunate encounter with the road surface.
The A3 Cabriolet launches with a three-way engine choice, and they are familiar as they are exactly the same as in the existing hatch and saloon models.
Petrol choices comprise the 1.4 140hp and 1.8 180hp TFSI units, the former boasting Audi’s impressive cylinder-on-demand technology that shuts down two of the cylinders when they are not required – the driver won’t notice, but the mpg and emissions will benefit accordingly.
The diesel is the well-known and very effective 2-litre TDI unit of 150hp, combined as is the smaller petrol engine with a six-speed manual transmission – the 1.8 petrol gets the slick seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch ‘box.
As in the saloon, more engines are planned, with fleet customers in particular likely to be attracted to a 1.6 TDI with combined cycle fuel economy figures of up to 74.3mpg and tax-busting emissions of 99g/km.
There will also be a more powerful 2.0 TDI of 185hp, with either front or quattro all-wheel-drive, while we know too that the Cabriolet is to get the potency of an S badge – it will be a sister to the S3 saloon that is launching alongside the A3 Cabriolet.
For now, however, whichever of the three existing engines you choose you are unlikely to be disappointed – they are very familiar powerplants and all work well in these latest surroundings.
On the road the A3 Cabriolet is assured for a drop top, though it doesn’t feel quite as stiff as its saloon sister. Uneven road surfaces do transmit themselves up through the wheel, while the steering is a little light. It’s a minor issue though and in daily use the car will generally be a satisfactory companion.
Audi dealers already have their order books open for the Cabriolet, and the first examples will hit UK roads in April, hopefully just as the weather starts to become drop-top friendly. Prices start from £25,790 for the SE with the 1.4-litre engine, and currently top out with the 1.8 TFSI in S line trim at £32,420.
Audi A3 Cabriolet – key specifications
Model tested: Audi A3 Cabriolet
On sale: March 2014
Price range: £25,790-£32,420
Engines: 1.4, 1.8 petrol. 2.0 diesel
Power (bhp): 138, 177, 148
Torque (lb/ft): 184, 184, 111
0-62mph (sec): 9.1, 7.8, 8.9
Top speed (mph): 135, 150, 139.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 56.5, 48.7, 67.3.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 114, 133, 110
Key rivals: BMW 1 Series Cabriolet, VW Golf Cabriolet
Test date: March 2014