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Now in SA: Audi A3 cabrio

2008-09-19 07:34

Hailey Philander

Ah Spring! The perfect time to dust off your cabriolet before the heat of an African summer forces you to retreat under the shade of that folding top. It would, as Audi SA must have thought when plotting the arrival of its new A3 Cabriolet, also be the perfect time to launch a new drop top - just in time for summer. Unfortunately, a nasty Cape cold front was having none of that…

With blustering winds and torrential rain buffeting the cars, even with beanies on hand, there was never going to be any chance to try the A3 Cabriolet with its top down. However, Audi does claim it able to - in semi- and fully-automatic mode - drop its top in nine seconds and cover up in 11. Impressive stuff, especially when considering this could be done at speeds up to 30 km/h.

The latest addition to the Audi range is being labeled the "freedom of Vorsprung" and with its compact dimensions and willing nature proclaiming "youthful fun", feeling caged is not an option.

And you're not likely to, either. It has a very pleasing front end incorporating the signature Audi grille and clever daytime running lights.

When viewed in profile with the top down, the shape is vaguely wedge-like with a gentle upward flick towards the rear. With the roof up, the rear three-quarter takes on a more coupe-like appearance.

The view from behind is perhaps the most pleasing, where the light arrangement is in keeping with the those seen on the A5 and S5, and the new A4 range.

As is the case across the Audi range of cabriolets, a soft top is employed since it is considered to give the cars a more classic appearance. Also, and perhaps more importantly, this configuration offers the benefits of a low roof weight and therefore a lower centre of gravity.

A3 and TT genes

In its basic form, the suspension is identical to that employed on the standard A3 hatchback using McPherson struts with lower wishbones at the front and a four-link rear suspension. The cabriolet does borrow some bits from the TT to improve its athletic prowess, though. Springs, dampers and stabilisers have been retuned to make the A3 Cabriolet less poser - and more sporty - convertible.

To this end, steering feel via the speed-dependant electro-mechanical power steering was well weighted, allowing crisp, decisive action wherever the wet roads allowed.

Contending the rough weather mentioned before in the A3 Cabriolet was a lot less pleasurable than it would be on a windless and sunshiny early spring day, but even with its top up along the entire route, the car managed to keep itself in check.

In fact, with the optional, fully-automatic three-layered acoustic roof up, noise levels within the car are reportedly a mere 1db louder than that in a standard A3 hatchback. There was some wind noise within the cabin on high-speed sections, but with the top down the (standard) wind deflector can be placed over the rear seats to reduce wind buffeting.

The A3 Cabriolet's body is sufficiently rigid and some scuttle shake was evident, but mainly over the rougher road sections.

Reassuringly, along with it being stocked with a range of safety equipment one hopes not to use too often, the car's body is constructed mainly of high- and ultra-high strength steel and roll bars are standard across the range.

In the event of a collision, head and thorax side airbags that are integrated into the backs of the front seats are activated by sensors that respond to changes in air pressure. Don't panic though; A3 Cabriolet has "regular" front airbags too.


The cabin is typically Audi with quality finishes and simple instrumentation arrangements ensuring near-perfect ergonomics.

The standard equipment list is comprehensive although the options list has several appealing items, including xenon plus headlights that come with the eye-catching LED daytime running lights, heated seats and an eight-speaker Bose audio system.

Audi assures comfortable seating for four occupants in its little drop-top. However, if you're travelling two up and would like some added room, the rear bench has a 50/50 split expanding the load space from 260 litres to a more useful 674 litres.

When folded flat, the roof also does not encroach into the luggage space too much and does without a tonneau cover or any other fussy device.

To accommodate the recess for the Z-folding top, the boot aperture does take on interesting proportions though and growing accustomed to literally diving into the boot could take some time.

Two engines

At launch, A3 Cabriolet is available with the familiar four-cylinder 1.8 TFSI and the 2.0 TFSI engines.

The 1.8 TFSI produces 118 kW and torque of 250 Nm while consuming 7.3 l/100 km, while the 2.0 TFSI produces 147 kW and has a peak torque figure of 280 Nm and a fuel index of 7.6 l/100 km on a combined cycle. Top speeds are claimed to be 218 km/h and 231 km/h for the turbocharged 1.8- and 2.0-litre powerplants, respectively.

However, the standard six-speed manual 'boxes are perfectly suited with a shift indicator in the driver display indicating gearchanges for maximum efficiency. A big thing for Audi, though, is that the six-speed S Tronic (or dual clutch transmission) is optional on both models.

Further extras include an S-Line exterior package and an aluminium package that are mainly cosmetic, while an S-Line sports package adds a firmer sports suspension.

Unfortunately, evaluating a cabriolet in the Cape given the weather doled out by Mother Nature on Thursday is not really fair since it leaves the most glaring question unanswered: “But what’s it like driving with the top down?”

I can say that with the top up in less-than-ideal launch conditions, Audi’s new A3 Cabriolet astounded with its calm manner and body control. Driving it with the top down will, unfortunately, have to wait until Wheels24 is provided with a test unit…

* On the drive back, a sliver of good weather (read "drizzle, scattered clouds, a light breeze and a temperature of eight degrees Celcius ") tempted most brave souls to suit up and drop the roof.

With its heater blaring, the topless car was not dramatically less agile through the twisty sections than it had been with the canvas roof up. The extra body flex was noted, but even that did not make the A3 cabrio uncomfortable.

Optional heated seats would have been very, very welcome on the launch unit, though.


1.8 TFSI manual: R303 500
1.8 TFSI S Tronic: R319 500
2.0 TFSI manual: R342 500
2.0 TFSI S Tronic: R358 500

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