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Audi A3 cabriolet tested

2009-02-06 08:12

Wilmer Muller

As motoring evolution goes, cars grow bigger and sometimes leave a vacuum in a manufacturer’s line-up.

This is probably one of the main reasons for the conception of Audi's A3 cabriolet as the A4 will be replaced by a bigger A5 drop-top – which will, of course, result in a price increase too.

So, the suits at Ingolstadt hope the topless A3 will attract buyers who don’t have the cash for an A5 cabriolet or a TT roadster. Of course, the open-top A3 is a direct rival to the BMW 1 Series convertible too.

The car is instantly recognisable as an A3 derivative, sharing its styling cues with the other A3 models, the three-door hatch and five-door Sportback. Furthermore, it features the latest styling changes from the rest of the A3 range, such as redesigned head- and taillights and an upgraded interior.

Daytime running lights are standard, but the optional LEDs (at R7 650) are a "must-have" since they give the car an aggressive appearance.

Better to go topless!

Since it is a cabriolet, this Audi looks best with the top down - as with the roof raised the car sort of looks, well, top heavy as the large roof dominates the rest of the car’s design. With the roof up the stubby tail just looks odd.

But if you drop the roof your ugly duckling will transform into a swan in a super-fast nine seconds. As with most modern cabriolets the A3’s roof, which takes 11 seconds to raise, can be operated at speeds up to 30km/h. (By comparison, the BMW 1 Series convertible takes a long 22 seconds to raise or drop the roof!)

Audi hasn’t joined the folding metal roof crowd yet and the A3 also gets a fabric top that not only gives the car a traditional cabriolet look, but also helps keep weight down and lowers the car's centre of gravity.

And, one has to give Audi credit for sound insulation as with the roof up, the car’s noise levels are almost on par with that of a normal premium sedan. After all, Audi claims that with the cabriolet’s (optional) three-layered roof that noise levels are only 1db more than the A3 hatch.

The z-folding roof doesn’t intrude on boot space either and one can’t help, but to be impressed with the size of the luggage area.

The A3 offers 260 litres of load space, which increases to 674 litres with the rear seats folded down. This gives the A3 an advantage above the 1 Series, which doesn’t have the folding rear seats, as you can carry items of up to 1.5m.

The down side is that the boot opening is narrow, but then again if you need to carry bulkier items you can just as easily load it via the rear seats when the roof is down.

Good cabrio genes

Cabriolets are all about driving with the roof down and the A3 doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

As with most other topless four-seaters you do experience some form of scuttle shake, but the car’s body feels rigid for the most part. With the top dropped a wind deflector, which is really effective, can be placed over the rear seats to reduce wind buffeting.

Our test car featured the tried-and-tested 147 kW 2.0 TFSI engine with six-speed manual transmission.

This engine makes the A3 a pleasure to drive, even though the turbocharged 1.8-litre unit is sufficient too (and cheaper). After all, this is a vehicle that’s not meant to be some robot chaser.

Although this Audi cabriolet isn’t exactly labelled as a "driver's car" it does a good job on the road. It’s a great cruiser and road grip is good too, while steering is accurate and gear changes precise.

The car also feels solid and Audi has reinforced the topless A3 with an array of safety equipment, with the body constructed mainly of high- and ultra-high strength steel and roll bars. Dual front, head and thorax side airbags are standard too.

In town we found the optional hill-hold function useful in stop-go situations and with pull-aways. But manoeuvring is difficult since rear visibility is poor since the twin roll hoops and huge roof increases blind spots. Even with the roof down, you’ll find that the hoops and high boot hampers your rear view.

Style at a price?

Inside, the A3 is typical Audi with a stylish fit and finish, and good ergonomics.  Standard equipment levels are acceptable but buyers will probably find themselves forking out a lot of extra cash to spec up their cars.

We liked our test car's optional S-line sports package, which adds extras such as a sports suspension, 18-inch wheels, sport seats and some decorative elements.

In conclusion, the A3 cabriolet is again a showcase of why Audi buyers like their cars – it is a well-engineered, stylish and practical vehicle with premium appeal.

The A3 has been built to high standards and it will definitely have a keen following. But it doesn’t come cheap either with a standard price tag of R355 000, which will balloon rapidly when you start adding extra gizmos.

The A3 cabriolet features the latest styling updates to the A3 range such as the neat new headlights.

The A3 looks odd with the roof up but if you go topless it is quite a looker. Also, it features the latest Audi design trend and A3 styling update with features such as daytime running lights. Despite the awkward appearance with the raised roof we do like the car’s design.

As always with Audi the A3’s interior is a masterpiece with a premium feel to the build quality. The interior layout just works well with good ergonomics. Though the A3 is a small four-seater cabriolet it offers acceptable room for four adults, and is roomier than a 1 Series.

Audi injected some TT genes into the A3 cabriolet to boost its sporty credentials. However, the A3 is more of a cruiser than a sports car. The car is quite accomplished at speed with good traction and stability. It offers an enjoyable, composed and comfortable ride, while the familiar 2.0-litre TFSI engine is a gem. Its solid road manners will please most.

We find the A3 cabriolet to be a more accomplished drop-top than the 1 Series. Yes, the Audi might not beat the 1 Series when it comes to driving dynamics, but it does a good job at being at being a four-seater convertible. The ride is also more comfortable than that of its arch rival. It’s a good cruiser, versatile, feels the million-dollar part, looks good and most of all feels more the premium part.

- Build quality
- Versatility
- Roof retracting time

- Looks awkward with roof up
- Blind spots

Space for rear passengers are better than that in a BMW 1 Series. Overall the A3 is comfortable with acceptable interior space.

With the roof raised, rear visibility isn’t great, while the presence of roll-over hoops don’t help either.


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