The basic suspect
Sometimes it feels that the collective car makers are building a car for every person. New models, filling niches, updating a range, they just keep on coming. Obviously this is quite enjoyable when you’re a motoring journalist but it also means that you have to get your head around cars like the Audi A3 Cabriolet.
“Cabriolet” is a fancy foreign word – I suspect French – defining a vehicle with retractable roof. Convertible, if you like. As part of their ever-diversified A3 range, this is essentially a scalped A3 2-door hatchback with a smaller boot and an electrically-operated, extremely impressive soft top.
“Still – impressive as it may be – why would anybody buy an A3 Cabrio?” we discussed while cruising through the streets after dark with the top down. Surely it just competes with its in-house mates Golf and TT Convertible, both of which are more established or desirable?
As we dismissed folding hard-top and more expensive rivals like 370Z, Z4 and SLK, a few things dawned on us. The Audi TT only has two seats (this A3 Cabrio has four) and the topless Golf is still based on a previous generation model; same goes for the BMW 1-Series. The only rival is the new Mini Convertible.
At this point our critical confusion ended because like a topless Mini, the A3 Cabriolet is almost devoid of purpose or practicality but floods the scales for coolness and desirability. It’s not a Mercedes SL but it also doesn’t cost as much as one. Simpler too, and I felt that it attracted less attention and envy.
Especially when the sober and sophisticated A3 shape is coated in a grey metallic lacquer like our test car, the taught and well-shaped fabric roof could fool almost every passing glance into thinking it’s just a hatchback. Should you wish to be more conspicuous, simply hold a button for 22 seconds to lower the roof.
The mechanism is almost silent and can even be operated at speeds up to 50km/h – a huge bonus in my opinion. When opened, the rear deck shows a chunky silver swoop which is perfectly met by the rear screen once the roof closes again. Needless to say, it is also completely waterproof.
Extremely good insulation means that, compared to a hard-top, one hardly notices any differences in wind or noise levels except at very high speeds or in noisy intersections. The tiny rear seats aren’t really suitable for adults, especially with the roof closed, but driver and passenger shouldn’t have any such problems.
Put the roof down again and a removable, collapsible wind deflector does a sterling job of keeping most turbulence out of the cabin. With a pair of baseball caps and generous helpings of sunscreen, we happily motored in and out of town for a day. The only problem was our test car’s inferno black leather.
Although most people noted that the A3 cabin looks rather basic, I’d prefer words like “subtle” and “uncluttered”. Not just the material fit and finish but the car’s main controls and road manners are exceptionally refined. Everything feels smooth and sturdy.
These Cabriolets are available with two engines (1.4 or 1.8 TFSi), manual or DSG gearbox, 12 exterior and four interior colours, as well as three different roof colours. All models come with a decent level of luxury and safety specifications and this 1.4 TFSi S-Tronic currently retails for N$453,000. An S3 Cabrio is also available.
Our test car featured 17-inch wheels (N$10,400), Xenon Plus headlights (N$11,000), leather seats (N$18,800) and Audi’s MMI navigation system (N$22,200) but none of these are essential to its small cabriolet character. I’d even consider the manual (and a N$17,000 saving) over the occasionally jerky and hesitant S-Tronic gearbox.
Obviously the boot is rather small yet two people won’t struggle with its 320L capacity or small aperture; the rear seats will also carry smaller bags. The 1.4-litre’s 90kW (125hp) and 200Nm aren’t exactly exciting, we measured 0-100km/h in 10.2 seconds and 400m in 18 or so; then immediately went back to cruising mode.
Why would anybody buy this impractical and sluggish little Cabrio? Because it is sophisticated and likeable. It makes you want to tour around the countryside without the roof or any discernible destination. And should you long for more speed, simply spend an extra N$29,500 for the 1.8’s additional 55hp and 50Nm.
0-10km/h: 0.71 seconds
0-20km/h: 1.42 seconds
0-30km/h: 2.03 seconds
0-40km/h: 2.78 seconds
0-50km/h: 3.55 seconds
0-60km/h: 4.44 seconds
0-70km/h: 5.49 seconds
0-80km/h: 7.07 seconds
0-90km/h: 8.48 seconds
0-100km/h: 10.16 seconds
0-110km/h: 12.28 seconds
0-120km/h: 14.47 seconds
0-130km/h: 17.21 seconds
0-140km/h: 20.39 seconds
0-100m: 7.49 seconds @ 83.25km/h
0-200m: 11.28 seconds @ 105.25km/h
0-300m: 14.90 seconds @ 116.39km/h
0-400m: 17.85 seconds @ 126.95km/h
Maximum acceleration G-force: 0.61G
All data captured by Racelogic® Performance Box