Audi isn’t so much a company on a roll these days as an automotive steam roller, finding instant success whatever area of the market it goes into. Confidence is typically high for the new A3 Cabriolet, the company’s third open car, but, asks Russell Bray, are females really expected to account for more than a third of sales?
Stop! Don’t turn over the page or pass this magazine to your wife/girlfriend/ concubine/interior designer etc. I know this car is an Audi, and that it is a convertible, but having pedalled a variety of A3 rag tops on some twisty roads up hill and down dale, I can assure you it isn’t only a girl’s car for being seen in around town, topping up the tan and drying your nail varnish. True, in this shade of blue I was tempted to wear a mask as well as sunglasses, but this little sister to the A4 Cab, can muster enough speed and poise when and if the conditions allow.
Your reporter was surprised to be so impressed by the A3 with maximum headroom, because Audi let me drive the theoretically mental 572bhp RS6 Avant at the same venue in the south of France and I drove the RS6 first.
It’s a thunderous beast in a straight line, but round the twists and wiggles of the Paul Ricard race track, the A3 would have been more fun, even though it is not likely to be as involving a drive as the car’s only direct rival, the forthcoming BMW 1-Series Convertible. So how does it go?
Well, there’s enough weight in the steering and plenty of sheer grip in the bends, (all the press cars were fitted with the £1,850 optional sport pack which lowers the car by 0.6in for nimbler handling) though most owners are likely to be more concerned that the fabric hood becomes fully electrically operable rather than requiring you to fiddle with the windscreen catch. Bumps don’t bounce you off line, the ride is pampering, and you can brake deep into corners without fear of the back of the car swinging round on you. The driving position is as adjustable as a Savile Row suit and is very comfortable in the main. Though, as usual, perhaps because I am tall, I found the brake pedal too high in relation to the accelerator. If I had one, I would have to bend something, but you only really notice it when driving in what the Germans call a sporty, dynamic manner. I like the wind in my hair, but even with the rear wind deflector in place over the rear seats, and the four side windows fully up, there was more wind buffeting than I wanted. If only I could have lowered the seat more.
Diesel engines continue to improve measurably. This engine felt sharper and more lively, higher in the rev range than they ever used to. But the red line is still low at only 4,500 rpm, which meant frequent gearchanges in these multi-hairpin parts. The rev limit is typically 2,000 rpm lower than with even a mundane petrol engine, while some sportier cars are now edging nearer 8,500 rpm, so the A3 diesel’s character is less urgent. On the plus side with only 1,500rpm showing on the rev counter, the car would pull strongly in fourth gear, even up steep inclines, with, err, a couple of cases of wine in the boot.
The 2.0TDI, actually only 1968cc despite the badging, dished up brilliant third gear performance on a twisty mountain road near Aix-en-Provence. The performance was especially punchy up to 80mph and though I had six forward gears to play with, the car probably only needs five really and reverse was a bit notchy to engage. Autoroute cruising, though, is near effortless in sixth. Under such treatment, the A3 Cabriolet returned 30mpg overall according to the on-board trip computer.
Roof up, there is not much wind noise, but you do feel the body and scuttle shake, unlike in the hard-topped car, and there was also some tremble through the steering wheel. I didn’t try a car fitted with the S tronic gearbox, which on paper offers exactly the same performance, but from experience, it is best left to do its own changes rather than tugging on the little paddles.
One area where the A3 Cabriolet is really fast, is when it comes to going topless, taking a mere nine seconds compared to an average 22 to 25 seconds for cars like the Peugeot 307 CC, Renault Megane and VW Eos, and 35 seconds for the Ford Focus CC. The Audi, it must be said, is the only car with a fabric roof and not having a concertinaed metal one in the boot doesn’t just help storage space roof down, it might also benefit handling by reducing the heavy dumbbell effect at the back end. You don’t even have to be stationary to open or close the roof; just be travelling slower than 19mph.
With the fully automatic soft top you get an “acoustic” hood with a synthetic fibre matting between the outer skin and inner lining to improve sound proofing and thermal insulation. The car seemed quiet to me and according to Audi’s sound equipment it is only 1dB (A) louder inside the cabriolet than the hardtop at 85mph. As often with convertibles, over the shoulder visibility is not very good because of wide rear window pillars and the thickness of the head restraints.
With prices starting at £20,750 (for the 1.9TDI) the A3 Cabrio is expensive, but Audi it seems can do no wrong at present and in the words of the company’s intense CEO, Rupert Stadtler before dinner: “There is no stopping us!” So, it will be interesting to hear his comments when Audi’s multi-winning diesel race car comes up against Peugeot’s improving car at Le Mans, the patriotic home of French motorsport this June. Initially there’s a choice of four engines, two petrol and two turbo-diesels, the latter pair both with particulate filters, producing 104 and 138bhp.
The 1.9 litre comes with a five-speed manual gearbox, the 2-litre I drove for £24,615 in Sport form with a six-speed manual. The twin-clutch S tronic automatic transmission is an extra £1,400. All versions are frontwheel drive only, with no plans for a fourwheel drive quattro version, but sportier S-line models will arrive later this year. There’s a TT look to the Cabriolet’s cabin with the circular, metal rimmed air vents, and the grab handle/transmission braces each side of the gear lever, but you don’t have to suffer the gimmicky, flat-bottomed steering wheel that only makes sense in the confined space of a racing car. The interior is a high quality interior, but the wood trim in some versions didn’t look real, or appropriate and made the car feel old fashioned. A display between the speedo and rev counter tells you what gear you are in when you are driving a manual which hopefully you should already know.
A typically analytical effort from Audi, though the more artistic will find the shape rather too short and frumpy to be elegant. In the glorious light of the south of France, the A3 looked great in bright white, but would you be brave enough to take a punt on residual values and buy in white? Either way, the result was stunning.
On sale: Now // Price from: £24,610. // BMW 120d M Sport Convertible, Volkswagen Eos 2.0 TDI Sport, Volvo C70 2.0D Sport
- Price: £24,610
- Engine: 1968cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged
- Gearbox: 6-speed manual
- Max Power: 138bhp at 4,200rpm
- Max Torque: 236lb ft at 1,700 – 2,500rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 1,700kg
- Combined Consumption: 53.3mpg
- CO 2 Emissions (taxband): 139 g/km (C)
- 0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
- Max speed: 127mph
Standard equipment includes:
Fully automatic, hands free fabric roof, wind deflector, 17-inch alloy wheels, aluminium trim interior inlays, chrome package (roll bars, window capping, door handles), climate control air conditioning, Servotronic power assisted steering, RDS radio with CD player, three-spoke leather rimmed steering wheel with audio controls, split folding rear seats (50:50). Electronic stability control, central door locking, alarm, engine immobiliser, body coloured bumpers, door handles and mirrors. Height adjustable driver’s seat, reach and rake steering wheel, driver and front passenger front and side airbags, front and rear electric windows, tinted glass, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, front fog lamps, front and rear floor mats.
Metallic paint £500, leather seats £1,000, cruise control £215, satellite navigation £650, rear parking sensors £300.
Well built and solidly engineered. Handles well and is able to keep a keen driver entertained on a twisty road. Fabric roof allows quick operation and plenty of space. Comfy
Pricey, styling lacks elegance, some creaks and groans despite body strengthening, some wind buffeting/can’t sit low enough, awkward pedals for spirited driving