There have been times when Audi took motoring journalists abroad for its UK launches, in search of the best roads and fair weather, but, for the press presentation of the new A3 Cabriolet, they picked a perfect time and place, here in Britain.
Based at New Milton in the New Forest, during the warm sunny spell in the middle of March, it couldn’t have been a better environment to sample the joys of fresh-air motoring, especially after several weeks of wind and rain that had left some of the side roads still straddled with sand bags as a reminder of the worst weather we’ve had for some time…
It may not have been the French Riviera, where the international launch had been held late last year (reported in our December 2013 issue), but it has always been much more relevant to drive the full UK-spec models, with right-hand drive, here in Britain.
For the UK market we now have a choice of 140 PS 1.4 TSI and 180 PS 1.8 TSI petrol engines, and a 150 PS 2.0 TDI diesel, with SE, Sport and S line trim levels, and we were able to sample several permutations of engine and trim on typical British roads, with familiar road signs, in the warmth of the first Spring sunshine First, a brief reminder that this latest A3 Cabriolet is based on the third generation A3, using the much improved Volkswagen Group MQB platform, with a bodyshell that is up to 50 kg lighter thanks to various weight savings in the basic construction as well as the use of aluminium for the bonnet. That’s despite the new model being 183 mm longer than its predecessor, although with the wheelbase up by just 17 mm, the extra length is mostly in the rear overhang.
The extra bodywork behind the rear wheels not only improves its proportions for a more balanced appearance in profile, but also provides more space for the power hood to retract into, without severely reducing boot capacity. With the hood folded down, the boot volume is reduced by just 45 litres; no real loss, since the overall load capacity has increased by 60 litres, to 320 litres, compared with its predecessor.
The other big improvement in the styling is that the rollover protection is now recessed into the bodyshell. Instead of the previous bulky fixed twin hoops, the new A3 Cabrio uses an active system comprising two spring-loaded spars which extend in milliseconds, to protect the occupants, if the system electronics detect that a rollover situation is imminent.
Although it undoubtedly has the technology, Audi continues to eschew the folding metal roof solution instead sticking to a power-operated highquality fabric hood, with a heated glass rear window panel. The entry-level SE model has the standard 3-layer fabric roof, with a more soundabsorbent ‘acoustic’ top available as an option. The superior hood is standard on Sport and S-line models.
Its most significant advantage is that the hood can be retracted or powered back up again, with automatic latching, in just under 18 seconds even while driving at road speeds of up to 50 kph (31 mph). In the circumstances, we ran with the roof down for most of the test drive, enjoying the sounds and smells of the countryside, pausing only for a rolling test of the roof operation at low speed.
But the thought then occurred, what if you have to accelerate past 31 mph while midway through raising the roof, to avoid being rear-ended by a truck for instance. Rather than put it to the practical test and risk any damage, we asked the question of the technical staff and after some consultation we were assured that the system doesn’t restrict the road speed, but it does stall the hood operation and alert the driver with a warning to slow down. Be careful also, as the hood switch is right alongside the electronic parking brake switch; pull the wrong one at 20-30 mph and you could get quite a nasty jolt, or maybe even incur a considerably reduced boot capacity!
The power hood operation is clearly a big advantage, but for extended operation at speed with the hood down you really need to fit the windbreak that fits across the rear seat area, to prevent the curlover draughts around the back of your head and neck. That not only requires unfolding it from the bag in the boot and fitting it manually, but it also compromises the rear seat space which can now only be used for stowing luggage beneath the windbreak.
Sure, the new A3 Cabriolet can be a full four-seater, but only when the hood is up, although – even then – rear legroom is still rather restricted for fullsized adults. Like virtually all open-top cars, you really need to consider the Cabriolet a 2-seater, or develop a keen sense of logistical planning before you invite anyone else along for a ride out in the country.
Undoubtedly the biggest improvement with the new model is the superior structural rigidity. Compared with its predecessor, it is a huge step forward in terms of integrity and ride quality, especially with the roof lowered, when you’d normally expect some degree of flexing. But, despite traversing some quite bumpy and choppy country roads, the new A3 Cabriolet fared very well, with only the slightest trembling through the steering wheel and hardly a squeak or rattle from the bodyshell, even over the bumps and potholes that are all too prevalent these days.
Bear in mind, though, that the lowered suspension options of the Sport (–15 mm) and S line (–25 mm) versions inevitably takes some toll on ride quality, not only because of the firmer springs and dampers but also because of the respective 17-inch and 18-inch diameter alloy wheels with their lower profile tyres. They may make the A3 Cabrio look so much better in brochures and in the showroom, but out on the open road they’ll find favour only with those enthusiasts who want to make full use of the driving dynamics.
The good news is that both the Sport and S line models can be specified with the no-cost option of the comfortoriented SE suspension, while the perfect solution is the Magnetic ride option which allows the driver to switch between Comfort, Auto and Sport settings for the damping, with steering response similarly adjusted through the (optional) Drive Select system.
Engine and drivetrain combinations currently comprise two petrol engines, the 140 PS 1.4 TFSI with 6-speed manual gearbox and the 180 PS 1.8 TFSI with the 7-speed S tronic transmission. There’s just one diesel, the 150 PS 2.0-litre TDI with 6-speed manual gearbox.
In terms of overall fuel economy, especially considering the higher cost of diesel here in the UK, it’ll be a very close call between the 1.4 TFSI and the 67.3 mpg 2.0 TDI because the sprightly 1.4 TFSI comes with cylinder-on-demand, automatically cutting out two of the four cylinders under light loads, and is claimed to be good for up to 56.5 mpg along with its 0-62 mph acceleration time of just 9.1 seconds. While the variety of test routes and limited timescale didn’t give us chance to compare overall mpg between models, the 1.4 TFSI certainly impressed greatly with its smooth and eager performance and even a fairly spirited drive around the swooping roads of the New Forest, finishing off with a short blast along the A31, failed to drop the mpg readout below 45 mpg.
The high-performer is the 180 PS 1.8 TFSI which is capable of a 0-62 mph of 7.8 seconds and a top speed of 150 mph, but even that can fare well in the fuel economy stakes, with its freewheel facility in the S tronic transmission allowing it to coast on the over-run, when running in efficiency mode. It is claimed to be capable of 48.7 mpg overall.
Additional engine options, to follow later this year, include the 74.3 mpg 110 PS 1.6 TDI, and a 184 PS 2.0 TDI which will also be available with either front-wheel drive or as a quattro. The option of four-wheel drive will also be available with the 1.8 TFSI and, of course, as standard with the 300 PS S3 version of the Cabriolet which we recently drove in Sweden, as reported separately in this issue.
Customers can expect their first deliveries early in April, and we’ll shortly be road-testing the A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TDI Sport, for a more comprehensive report in the pages of Audi Driver.
Trim levels comprise SE, Sport and S Line, with even the entry-level model well equipped with the fully automatic power hood, 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, MMI with folding screen, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth interface and light and rain sensors.
The Sport and S line also come with Sports seats, Drive Select adaptive dynamics, dual-zone climate control and the superior acoustic hood, while the S line adds part leather upholstery, sports steering wheel, 18-inch alloys, body styling kit and Xenon plus headlights with LED running lights.
|1.4 TFsi se 140 Ps 6-speed manual £25,790|
|2.0 TDi se 150 Ps 6-speed manual £27,240|
|1.4 TFsi sport 140 Ps 6-speed manual £27,015|
|1.8 TFsi sport 180 Ps 7-speed s tronic £30,270|
|2.0 TDi sport 150 Ps 6-speed manual £28,465|
|1.4 TFsi s line 140 Ps 6-speed manual £29,165|
|1.8 TFsi s line 180 Ps 7-speed s tronic £32,420|
|2.0 TDi s line 150 Ps 6-speed manual £30,615|
|Performance||0-62 mph||Top speed||Combined economy||CO2 emissions|
|1.4 TFSI 140 PS||9.1 sec||134 mph||56.5 mpg||114 g/km|
|1.8 TFSI 180 PS||7.8 sec||150 mph||48.7 mpg||133 g/km|
|2.0 TDI 150 PS||8.9 sec||139 mph||67.3 mpg||110 g/km|