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This is the Audi A3 cabriolet, the latest arrival in the new-for-2013 third-generation A3 line-up, and it's an important model for the German manufacturer.

While not a mainstay of the firm's premium compact range, which now includes a saloon bodystyle as well as the existing Sportback and three-door hatch, it's a steady seller in the UK.

As with the latest A3 hatch, the new cabriolet is based on the Volkswagen Group's modular MQB platform architecture, and is powered by  range of updated but familiar and essentially off-the-shelf VW Group engines.

At 4421mm in length, this latest version of A3 soft-top is slightly longer (by 183mm) than the model it replaces, as well as being 28mm wider (at 1793mm). However, with a 15mm reduction in overall height, from 1424mm to 1409mm, the new A3 cabriolet is more squat and  purposeful-looking than before, and has what Audi describes as a 'coupé-like stance'.

Despite the increases in length and width, the A3 cabriolet is actually lighter than before, thanks in part to the new MQB architecture and aluminium-hybrid body construction (which includes an aluminium bonnet), and also to revisions to the range of engines. The body-in-white weighs 30kg less than before, and the entry-level model has a kerb weight of just 1440kg.

The engine range at launch consists of two petrol options and one diesel. The entry-level petrol is the 1.4 TFSI cylinder on demand (CoD) unit, which produces 138bhp and 184lb ft and promises a 0-62mph time of 9.1sec. It's an exceptionally refined powerplant which is incredibly quiet at idle and around town, and therefore ideally suited to drop-top use.

Its fuel-saving cylinder cut-off technology also means it's impressively frugal, offering 56.5mpg combined and emitting 114g/km of CO2.  Its relatively small capacity means it lacks outright top-end go, but it's a pleasant and rewarding engine to use.

The second petrol option is the 1.8 TFSI, which produces 178bhp and 184lb ft. While its gutsier delivery and claimed 0-62mph time of 7.8sec is perhaps better suited to the idyllic sporting ethos of top-down motoring, it's not expected to be a big seller in the UK, perhaps hindered in part by less appealing combined economy and CO2 figures of 48.7mpg and 133g/km respectively. Hardly appalling figures in themselves, but difficult to get close to in real-world motoring.

The only diesel option at launch is the latest incarnation of the otherwise well proven 2.0-litre TDI, producing 148bhp and 236lb ft while promising 67.3mpg combined and 110g/km of CO2. It delivers decent, flexible performance (the 0-62mph sprint is dealt with in 8.9sec), but the gruff diesel delivery is especially noticeable around town with the roof down. For higher-mileage top-down motoring it might make sense, but for many the 1.4 TFSI option will be the biggest draw.

On the road, the A3 cabriolet is a competent if not exactly engaging steer. The inevitable compromises of the cabriolet's roof removal are dealt with in reasonable fashion, although there's no hiding the fact that some rigidity and ride refinement have been sacrificed.

Scuttle shake is kept to a well concealed minimum but there's detectable movement through the body when dealing with larger intrusions and over more challenging road surfaces. It's never terrible, but there's no getting away from the fact that you're dealing with an essentially compromised chassis. If the option of lowering the roof is an acceptable trade-off, however, you should have no cause for serious complaint.

That roof, incidentally, which opens and closes in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph, comes in two versions. Entry-level SE models get a standard hard-wearing fabric roof, but a more sound-absorbent 'acoustic' soft-top is available as an option, or as standard on Sport and S-line models.

So the A3 cabriolet drives acceptably well, it's slightly bigger (but also slightly lower) and slightly lighter than before, and comes with the appealing option of a clever, cleaner version of petrol engine. It also gets a slightly bigger boot - 320 litres with the roof closed compared with 260 litres in the old A3 cabriolet - and, according to Audi, 'generous space' for four passengers.

That we'd take some issue with. While the front cabin is spacious enough (although the driver's elbow can fight for space with the passenger's arm during manual gearchanges), the two rear seats really aren't the most accommodating. Anything bigger than a medium to large-sized child will want for shoulder and legroom on anything but short journeys, even with the distraction of a top-down, wind-in-their-hair experience.

Overall, the A3 cabriolet fills its brief pretty well. It's a stylish product which is exceptionally well executed both inside and out. The inevitable dynamic compromises made in the name of roofless motoring, allied to artificial steering free of much in the way of meaningful feedback, blunt the model's appeal to the enthusiast driver, but otherwise this compact convertible is a measured success.

If you aspire to a premium open-top driving experience, then Audi's latest drop-top should be on your shortlist.

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