The A3 has flowing lines whether the top is on or off
We think Audi has pulled a masterstroke by basing the A3 Cabriolet on the saloon rather than the hatchback. Some rival drop-tops have slightly awkward, bulbous lines when the roof is closed (which, in the UK, it is most of the time) for just that reason. The A3 Cabriolet, meanwhile, has attractive flowing lines whether top is on or off. As ever with an Audi, there’s bold detailing at either end of the car, but the Cabriolet also sports some fairly dramatic creases down the flanks, while the shoulder line and windscreen surround are rimmed with chrome. The result? This thing really does look the business. And, if you go for the range-topping high-performance S3, it has own unique look, with aluminium-finish door mirror housings, bespoke bumpers, a platinum grey radiator grille and twin tailpipes.
This may be a small Audi, but it has all the lustre and sophistication of the bigger ones
Just like in other A3s, the materials used inside the cabin are dripping with quality, while the assembly is bulletproof and all the various switches work with neat precision. This may be a small Audi, but it has all the lustre and sophistication of the bigger ones. The standard infotainment system also adds a rather high-tech feel. The screen features sharp, attractive graphics, and with clear, intuitive menus and a simple collection of knobs and buttons to navigate them, using the system is a piece of cake. Finding a comfortable driving position is also made easy by the huge range of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. However, rear visibility is rather limited when the roof is in place.
There’s plenty of space up front and the rear seats aren’t too bad for room, either – the knees and the hairdo of six-foot adults will press against the front seats and the roofline, respectively, but it’s still reasonably impressive that six-footers will fit at all. The boot is reasonable, too. With the roof up, you’ll get an impressive 320 litres of usefully square-sided space. When you want to drop the roof, you have to pull down a load cover from the top of the boot – that shrinks the size down to 275 litres, and makes the load area rather shallow. You can drop the rear seat to boost the total luggage area, but the aperture between the boot and the main cabin is very narrow. The fabric roof (Audi has resisted the temptation to follow other manufacturers down the folding hard-top route) raises or lowers electrically in 18 seconds, and can be operated at speeds of up to 31mph – handy if you’re caught in a sudden downpour.
Ride and handling
The Cabrio’s suspension comes in three flavours
Like its hatchback siblings, the Cabrio’s suspension comes in three flavours. The SE model’s is the softest, while the Sport and S line get a lowered suspension, which can be made even lower as an option on S line. You can also specify the SE’s suspension on the other versions as a no-cost option, and we recommend that you do. The firmer set-up feels pretty punishing over bumps and potholes. The SE set-up still has a hint of firmness in it, but it’s much more comfortable and still allows the A3 to handle well, with tight body control, bags of grip and responsive, well-weighted steering. Granted, the loss of the roof means you feel more flex through the bodywork than you do in the hatchback, but it doesn’t wobble as much as many other convertibles, and it’s still agile and involving through a set of bends. That said, the S3 at the top of the range doesn’t give quite the level of sharpness you’d expect of an S-badged car, although its standard four-wheel drive makes it very sure-footed and means it never has a problem putting down all its prodigious power.
The 1.6-litre diesel version isn’t exactly fast, but its effortless flexibility means you can make easy progress. The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel, meanwhile, combines good low-end pull with a strong mid-range, making for strong, flexible performance. However, our favourite engine so far is the turbocharged 1.4 petrol with 148bhp. Like in other A3 models, it delivers impressive pace and flexibility. And, because it shuts down two of its four cylinders under low load, it still returns impressive economy. We’ve also tried the more expensive 178bhp 1.8 turbo petrol, which pulls strongly and cleanly from low revs, and keeps pulling right to the top of the dial. At the sportiest end of the scale, the S3 gives the sort of strong performance you’d expect. Its quick responses making for easy overtaking, while the strong low-rev pull means it’s relatively undemanding when you’re not going for it.
The A3 Cabriolet isn’t a cheap car to buy – indeed the S3 is almost prohibitively expensive – but it’s competitive when compared with its most direct rivals, and you can be sure of rock-solid resale values that’ll keep your whole-life costs down. Unsurprisingly, the 1.6 diesel is the star of the show for efficiency, with fuel economy of more than 70mpg and tax-friendly CO2 emissions of 104g/km. To be fair, though, the 2.0-litre diesel isn’t far behind, with an average fuel return of 67.3mpg. The 1.4 petrol’s Cylinder-On-Demand technology allow it to combine strong performance with an average figure of 56.5mpg, and bearing in mind its power, the 1.8’s figure of 48.7mpg isn’t at all bad, either.
The A3’s build quality gives you the impression that the car will last a lifetime, but Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index tells a rather different story. The A3 (as a range) has a very poor score, and Audi sits in a disappointingly lowly position in the manufacturer standings.
All the usual safety stuff is included, including stability control and airbags – front and side airbags, plus one for the driver’s knees. The A3 Cabriolet also has a few things you might not expect in this class, like a pop-up bonnet that protects pedestrians, and rollover protection that deploys guards from behind your head should the car turn over. The Cabrio hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP, but the hatchback on which it’s based earned the full five stars.
Sport trim includes climate control, as well as sports seats Entry-level SE trim is our favourite because it provides all the kit you need without breaking the bank
It’s not just the suspension setup that makes entry-level SE trim our favourite – it’s also the fact that it provides all the kit you need without breaking the bank. It comes with alloys, air-con, DAB radio, Bluetooth and automatic lights and wipers. Sport trim gives you climate control, sports seats and an acoustic roof for better refinement, while the range-topping S line car has a sporty body kit and part-leather upholstery.
Many will buy it because of its looks, and many will buy it just because it’s an Audi. However, the reason you should buy it is because it’s the best car of its type. Stylish, luxurious and great to drive, the A3 Cabriolet delivers everything a good compact drop-top should.