With power increased to 310hp, the Audi S3 Cabriolet makes for an interesting package of performance and premium luxury. Its class-leading design is not in doubt, but the quattro all-wheel drive transmission holds it back from being a thoroughly enjoyable driver's car.
In the Metal:
The main changes to the Audi S3 Cabriolet for this midlife update focus around the front of the car, which, along with a wider front grille, gets a more technical looking lower bumper section. This gives the appearance of that Audi grille floating just above the splitter, while either side houses the necessary intakes for the two additional radiators that help keep that engine from getting too hot.
Restyled headlights add to the more chiselled face and even in Cabriolet form the S3 looks more butch than the rest of the range. Flared side skirts improve the car's stance, as does the suspension that sees it sitting 25mm lower than the regular A3 Cabriolet. This look is boosted by the fitment of 18-inch wheels as standard. At the rear, updated lamps display a new light signature, while the quad exhaust arrangement - that denotes this as an S3 - is kept as before.
With the roof down the S3 Cabriolet looks superb, helped by the fact that the fabric top folds flush with the body to give the car clean lines. Generally there is little reason to fault Audi interiors and the S3 is no different. Further differentiating the S3 from other A3 Cabriolets is the windscreen surround and trims along the door tops and around the rear deck that are finished in the same brushed aluminium as the door mirrors. It's worth pointing out that the compartment that houses the fabric roof does eat into boot space and makes trying to fit bulkier items a lot more difficult.
The more supportive seats hold you in place through the corners but look and feel more luxurious than bucket racing seats. Spend a little more money and you can also now specify the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display just like the one on the Audi TT and Q7.
There is an argument that the Audi A3 and S3 Cabriolet models are more about being seen that sheer driving. Nevertheless, when you do decide to push on a bit in the S3 Cabriolet it delivers an aural experience that should be enough to satisfy the majority of driving enthusiasts. Those four exhausts deliver a nice note that is only interrupted by the crack of the S tronic transmission's upshift. Whether you choose to pull the next gear yourself via the steering wheel-mounted paddles or simply leave it edge towards the 6,500rpm redline, the noise is grin-inducing.
For this latest update the engine has been given a mild tweak that sees power rise to 310hp while torque has increased by 20Nm to 400Nm in total. The increases are nominal and in reality few will spot the difference. The permanent all-wheel drive quattro transmission, standard on the S3, ensures that it is capable of hitting 100km/h from rest in 5.1 seconds while its top speed is electronically governed to 250km/h. With the roof down there is a degree of wind buffeting at higher speeds though a separate wind deflector that slots in over the rear seats does calm things down, especially if all four windows are up.
That quattro system keeps the car in check and even when pushed hard rarely comes close to getting out of shape. When you do get closer to the limits of tyre adhesion the S3 will begin to understeer. Though the S3 Cabriolet is rapid from point to point it stops short of delivering a really involving driving experience. Its steering, like in many Audis, remains sanitised and devoid of any noticeable levels of feedback for the driver. The suspension is damped enough to cope with poorer surfaces yet firm enough to limit excessive body roll in the corners.
What you get for your Money:
At the time of driving this car the pricing and specifications for the S3 range in Ireland are still in the final stages of confirmation. All of the regular A3 range has seen a price increase of €600 over the previous model, so this could be a minimum to gauge just where the new S3 will be priced from.
S3 Cabriolet models only come equipped with the seven-speed S tronic automatic transmission, which is linked to the quattro all-wheel drive system. The interior features specific sports seats and the fabric roof is electrically operated.
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: comes in at the other end of the ride/comfort spectrum, but open air driving with that noise is worth it.
BMW M235i Convertible: not as classically beautiful as the Audi, but it has more power and is a lot better to drive.
Mazda MX-5: pure driving essence distilled down into a simple open-top roadster. Lacks the luxury but is more fun.
Should you desire a fast car but one that isn't about extracting every last horsepower from its engine, the Audi S3 Cabriolet makes for a polished all-round package. From its sharp lines to the sumptuous interior, this drop-top Audi ticks a lot of boxes for those that love to be seen. When the sun shines, lowering that roof and hearing the turbocharged four-cylinder engine rev and pop will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face. More hardcore drivers will be drawn towards the three- or five-door hatch variants, but it is the S3 Saloon that is the real Q car in the line-up.