First DriveMost frugal model in the Audi A3 range thrills with impressive economy, but it lacks dynamic sparkle
First DriveOur first drive of the new Audi A3 in the UK has revealed it to be a good, capable companion if slightly lacking in ambition
What is it?
Audi’s new entry level open top, the A3 cabriolet. Conceived as a direct competitor to BMW’s new 1-series cabriolet, the elegant new four-seater extends the A3 line-up to three distinct body styles, following on from the familiar three- and five-door hatchbacks offered throughout the first and second generations of Audi’s classy entry level model.
“It is targeted at those who might be in the market for traditional C-segment cabriolet, but are perhaps seeking sometime a little more upmarket than that offered by the volume car makers,” says Audi. In other words, watch out Ford (Focus coupe-cabriolet), Vauxhall (Astra TwinTop) and Volkswagen (Eos).
What's it like?
This is one good looking car, much better in the metal than any pictures seem to convey. Flaunting the refreshed front end look soon to be adopted by the upcoming facelifted version of the A3 hatchbacks due out this spring, the new Audi sun seeker also receives a pert notchback style rear end and, like the 1-series cabriolet, a large fabric roof that retracts back at the press of a button before stowing in a dedicated well behind the cabin.
By opting for a compact fabric roof instead of the more fashionable folding hardtop arrangement, Audi’s design team has managed to provide the A3 cabriolet with a clean and uncluttered look that’s sure to find favour not only among style conscious buyers but those seeking a car offering practicality, too.
There’s no long rear overhang or awkwardly high boot line to spoil its lines - something that can’t be said of other many recent open top offerings. With the roof down, the hard front part of the roof cleverly forms a tonneau cover behind two prominent fixed roll over hoops, giving the rear end a tidy appearance that’s further enhanced with tail lamps similar to those adorning the new A5 coupe.
Inside, you get the same high quality dashboard as other A3 models, with soft touch plastics, expensive looking instruments and nicely damped switchgear. There is, however, some evidence of cost cutting in the decision to provide the air vents with cheap, shiny plastic surrounds.
The front seats offer loads of adjustment, however, while providing a good deal of leg, shoulder and (with the roof up) head room, those in the back are compromised by an upright back rest. The pothole style boot hinges up to reveal 260-litres of luggage space, extendable to 674-litre when those upright rear seat backs are folded down.
Audi will initially offer the A3 cabriolet with the choice of three different engine options. On the petrol side are two turbocharged four-cylinder direct injection units, a new 1.8-litre packing 158bhp and 250Nm of torque and more familiar 2.0-litre with 197bhp and 280Nm. They are backed up by a single diesel in the form of Audi’s old 1.9-litre four-cylinder pumpe duse with 104bhp and 250Nm.
Choose the top of the line petrol engine and you won’t be disappointed, especially when it is mated to Audi’s optional six-speed S-tronic double clutch gearbox (a six-speed manual ‘box is standard).
With this combination delivering drive to the front wheels, the A3 cabriolet has the acceleration to challenge your average hot hatch. Audi claims 0-62mph in 7.3sec, while top speed is put at 144mph. And with a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 37mpg, its 55-litre fuel tank should be good for at least 400 miles between fill ups.
On the run, wind roar and buffeting are kept well in check by a deflector that erects over the rear seats, allowing conversation up to high speeds. The best bit about this car, however, is its high levels of rigidity.
I don’t know of any other C-segment cabriolet that manages to offer quite the same levels of stiffness or robustness. Together they help ensure the A3 cabriolet remains an entertaining drive, even on badly pitted roads.
Should I buy one?
If cabriolets are your thing, the A3 is certainly well worth consideration. Good to look at, a joy to sit in and pleasing to drive, it appears to have all the elements in place in its quest to challenge the new 1-series cabriolet for the new premium open top crown.
For someone who usually avoids four seat open top cars like the plague, the new Audi comes as a complete surprise. Well done, Ingolstadt.