Car review: Audi opens fire with its new A3 convertible
After a hiatus, Audi is back in battle with this soft-top A3 that retains the tidy styling of the saloon but adds premium cachet
Model: A3 Cabriolet
Date Reviewed: May 19, 2014
It was rather appropriate that, apart from a few minutes close to midnight on the second night, our entire time with Audi’s latest soft-top was spent in a weekend-long squall. Audi used the Côte d’Azur for the press photos of this car. Our time was spent in scenes akin to the set of the movie Seven.
Audi boasts that it takes less than 18 seconds for the roof to pop up or down on the new A3. That’s time enough in Irish meteorology for sunshine to turn to showers, then hailstones and back to sun again.
This is the latest salvo in Audi’s product offensive against its rival fellow Germans. Admittedly, it has had a little hiatus in the last few months and its short-term plans largely comprise facelifts for the likes of the A1 and A6 in the coming months.
In contrast, arch-rival BMW seems to be introducing a new model a week, from its i8 electric supercar to an electric scooter, a new M3 and an upcoming X4. BMW forecourts are bursting at the seams. Mercedes is on a similar offensive. All three have promised to be the best-selling premium brand by 2020. Only one will win out.
In the grand scheme of things this convertible will make up very little ground in the great premium race to the top. But every little helps.
As with its hard-top sibling, this A3 remains the best downsizing option in the Audi range. When Audi launched the A1, it claimed the premium supermini would lure “downsizers”. In reality, the plunge from saloon to supermini was a step too far for most premium motorists. It might make sense for older singles or a retired couple, but the social standing of a supermini is far less than a saloon, regardless of Audi’s spin.
The A3 saloon, on the other hand, requires little status sacrifice from A4 owners, yet offers a significant saving. It’s also arguably a much tidier package than its larger sibling.
We have raved about the A3 saloon already, part of a wave of smaller premium models (including the brilliant new BMW 2-Series coupe and the admirable Mercedes CLA) that hark back to the nimbler versions of premium saloons and coupes of 20 years ago. In its convertible guise the new A3 retains that tidy styling but adds an air of premium cache to the mix. Even Audi fans we came across thought this was the A4 convertible.
It’s great to see a cloth roof on this car instead of the messy folding metal adopted by some. The idea of having a hard-top that folds neatly into the boot may make sense in the engineering workshop, but the added weight and bulk doesn’t make up for the fact that modern cloth roofs – as with this one – let in little wind noise. It’s worth noting that the A3 cabriolet comes with a less well-insulated hood as standard in entry versions and the SE we tested, so it’s best to opt for the “acoustic hood”, a €356 addition to our car.
For the few seconds we managed to pop the hood down there was a degree of wind buffeting on the road, but there was a wind deflector to cover the rear seat gap. As with all these, it’s a fiddly device to fit and by the time we had it in place the rain returned, forcing us to scamper back inside and put the roof up.
Inside, the A3 convertible boasts another boon: this is one of those rare convertibles with useable rear seats. True, if the roof is up it’s a dark and confined space for adults, but it’s still physically possible to sit back there for a short while. It’s never going to be an alternative to a proper family car – partly because getting in and out of the back seats requires an element of dexterity – but compared to its rivals this A3 rag-top is a one of the most practical convertibles on the market.
There’s similar good news round the back, where the boot is better than the likes of the VW Golf cabriolet, if not quite up to the levels of the A3 hatchback. Fold down the roof, however, and, as with all these cars, the boot effectively disappears.
Before you get lost in Audi’s marketing lingo, this A3 is not a sports car. The engine range – outside any S3 version – is better at motorway cruising than outright performance. From the cabin comfort to the throttle performance, this car is about cruising more than the chase.
Another reason is engine noise. Even with the option of the acoustic hood, above 2,000 rpm the diesel engine encroached on the cabin. It’s economical in terms of emissions and official fuel consumption, but the 1.4-litre petrol engine is a better fit for this car. It brings little extra cost in terms of fuel and tax (unless you are criss-crossing the island on a weekly basis) and comes with either 140bhp or 180bhp.
Quieter petrol engine
It’s a tale for another day but too many Irish motorists are wrongly opting for diesel, paying a premium over the equivalent petrol variant for a cost saving on fuel and road tax that they will never be able to recoup unless they drive more than 15,000km a year. When opting for a premium convertible, a quieter petrol engine makes even more sense.
Prices are still premium for a this car, and with a few fleeting ticks in the options list you will find yourself firmly in the mid-€40,000 price bracket. Our test car was the 2-litre SE with the seven-speed S-Tronic auto transmission, priced at €41,850. A serious raid on the options list, including 19in alloys (€3,380) and Milano leather interior (€2,129) pushed the price up by €11,921.
Needless to say there are several larger and more functional premium alternatives in that price bracket. But they’re not convertibles, nor do they offer the sort of premium allure of this Audi.
There’s a definitive cohort of convertible fans in Ireland and this car will appeal to them, both for its quality finish and its functionality compared to rivals. It’s not cheap, but it does see off its rivals – at least until the BMW 2-Series convertible comes along.
Audi A3 cabriolet 2.0 TDI S-Tronic SE: The lowdown
1968cc four-cylinder diesel putting out 150bhp and 340Nm of torque from 1,750rpm, with 7-speed S-Tronic automatic transmission
0-100km/h: 8.8 secs
120g/km (motor tax €200)
Standard features include 16in alloys; Bluetooth; air-con; MMI radio; stability control. SE (€1,350 more) adds items such as: 3-D inlays; front fog lights; cruise control; rear parking sensors. S Line (€3,150 on SE) adds: xenon lights with LED daytime running; luggage compartment pack; 18-inch alloys; leather/cloth sports seats
€41,850 (A3 cabriolets start at €35,910)
A smart, stylish soft-top with Audi’s
well-regarded build quality