Overall rating: 3.5/5
Audi chops the roof off the A3 saloon to give us the best looking model of the family. It will arrive in Ireland just in time for summer with precious few rivals. Just a shame the weight of the folding rag top has dulled the performance.
In the Metal:
When Audi decided to make a drop top version of the last generation A3 it was forced to graft a boot onto the back of the hatchback body style - the only one that was offered at the time - giving the car a slightly frumpy look. No such issues for this new model however. With Audi having spun a saloon model into the A3 line-up the drop top now has an ideal platform to use. The result is that the A3 Cabriolet has gone from the ugly duckling (if still popular - it's amazing what people will forgive for those four rings up front) into the elegant swan. It's open to debate, but we reckon the A3 Cabriolet is the best looking of the current A3 family. Longer, wider and lower than before the Cabriolet looks squat and purposeful at all times. Despite the saloon-like body shape the wheelbase has actually been borrowed from the three-door hatch, meaning that, while there is not as much space inside, the exterior benefits.
And it is this lack of space that is one of the main drawbacks. Audi says the A3 Cabriolet is a genuine four-seater, but only if the rear passengers are short legged children. And if you think of the car as a two-seater with some occasional seats out back you are left with an unsightly wind deflector that is clipped in over the rear seats. At least the fixed roll-over hoop from the first generation car is gone, replaced by metal beams hidden behind the rear headrests that deploy once an impending accident is detected.
Up to this point the 150hp 2.0-litre TDI engine has impressed us in each A3 iteration we have driven, but no more. The added weight of quattro four-wheel drive and the strengthening associated with lobbing the roof off has dulled the performance that, previously, has us questioning why you would choose any other engine. A chance to drive a two-wheel drive model may change our perception but for the moment this big bruiser is not the engine to go for - instead that honour goes to the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol in either 125- or cylinder-on-demand 140hp trim. Both of these options offer less power than the diesel but it is obvious that the A3 Cabriolet is not the sportiest of drives so best to go with the most relaxing - plus diesel clatter with the roof down still irks somewhat.
Where the diesel clatters, the 1.4-litre unit soothes with its remarkably quiet operation and smooth power delivery. It is not the quickest engine in the world but much fun can be had keeping the free revving engine within its power band.
On the road, the drop top A3 is a competent if not particularly engaging drive, the electro-mechanical steering being artificially heavy and not offering much in the way of feel. The removal of the roof also brings inevitable compromises in terms of rigidity and ride comfort, which, while well hidden are still present.
What you get for your Money:
Prices are still under negotiation but expect to pay around €33,000 to €35,000 for an entry-level A3 Cabriolet with a 125hp version of the 1.4-litre TFSI engine. Add €800 to move up to the 140hp Cylinder on Demand unit. The move to SE trim is likely to be a further €1,350 with S line another €3,150 beyond that. Bluetooth, alloy wheels and air conditioning are all included as standard, but it will be very easy (and expensive) to spec your car up. But in truth the only options you truly need are the neck warmers for the front seats (perfect for cool summer evenings) and the acoustic roof - specifically if you opt for a diesel powerplant.
At launch, buyers will be able to choose between the 125- and 140hp versions of the 1.4-litre TFSI engine and a front-wheel drive 2.0-litre TDI 150 model. An 110hp 1.6-litre TDI diesel will arrive later in 2014 and Audi Ireland expects this to be the top seller due to its low emissions.
According to Audi, buyers of its cabriolet models like to look as if they are driving a drop top even when the roof is up, hence the rag top rather than a move towards a metal roof affair. This does mean that, as it stands, the A3 Cabriolet has precious few rivals. Both the BMW 1 Series Convertible and Mk6 Golf Cabriolet are out of production while we await the 2 Series Convertible and Mk7 Golf Cabriolet. Audi is hoping to make plenty of hay before its two closest rivals arrive.
Despite the sporty looks (of our admittedly S line test car) the Audi A3 Cabriolet does not offer a sporty drive. Instead it serves up the ideal way to transport four (ish) in style and comfort. It's easy to drive and easy to live with, even if the added weight does dull the potency of its engines. Rivals are going to have a tough time gaining ground when they arrive.