by Lem Bingley
Obligingly, the British summer is providing the perfect weather for sampling Audi’s A3 Cabriolet – bright, warm sunshine interrupted by upturned buckets of rain, sufficient to transform roads briefly into rivers.
Given the unpredictable conditions it’s handy that Audi’s fabric roof can be stowed or unfurled on the move at up to 31mph. It takes 18 seconds to fully open or close, which sounds pretty quick but isn’t. Stand fully clothed under your bathroom shower for a similar length of time and assess how wet you get. The likes of the Golf or Beetle Cabriolet will get you under cover in around 11 seconds, by contrast, giving you 40% less of a drenching.
The big difference between the A3 Cabriolet and its VW cousins is that the Audi folds its roof away neatly under the bootlid, whereas the Golf makes do with a section of its own roof as a sort of tonneau cover, while the Beetle simply flops its canvas into an untidy pile behind the rear seats. The Audi solution may be slower but it is undeniably neater and classier. As ever, beauty is not without cost.
The A3 Cabriolet is good looking too – much prettier than the previous generation, which was a bit dumpy and stumpy. The new convertible is longer, lower and wider than before, with a saloon-length boot providing an impressive 320 litres for luggage.
Overall, the Cabriolet is about the same length as an A3 Saloon, or roughly 11cm longer than a five-door A3 Sportback, but with the shorter wheelbase of the three-door A3 hatchback.
The open-topped car is the heaviest of the A3 line-up, carrying 115kg over the saloon, presumably accounted for by girders under the car to make up for the loss of stiffening structure overhead. Aluminium front wings and bonnet, plus pieces of magnesium in the roof frame, help to keep heft in check.
The cabrio body is still subject to some flex, however. A spot of brisk cornering twisted things sufficiently to open a chink between roof and glazing, providing me with a refreshing burst of raindrops in the face.
More pleasantly, no doubt in an attempt to avoid such body flex, Audi has fitted relatively pliant suspension. Even with supposedly sports suspension and 18-inch wheels, the example I’ve borrowed rides very comfortably, smoothing away bumps on straight roads while managing to stay in reasonable shape through bends. If you demand precision, buy a tin-top, but if you prefer to travel alfresco yet arrive unrattled the A3 Cabriolet has the answer.
My test car comes from the bottom of the Cabriolet range, in SE trim with a 1.4-litre petrol engine providing 140PS (138bhp). This unit is very similar to engines featured in the new VW Golf line-up, providing fuel-saving start-stop operation, battery charging during braking and cylinder-on-demand technology.
The latter feature allows the four-cylinder engine to run on only two cylinders if demands are light, saving fuel due to the fact that a lightly loaded engine doesn’t tend to be very efficient.
Whenever this A3’s engine finds itself running at moderate revs, producing less than a third of its full 250Nm of torque, it stops sending petrol to the two middle cylinders and quickly closes their valves. The result is an increased workload for the two outer pistons, allowing them to run in a sweeter spot for efficiency.
The switch between two and four cylinder running takes place entirely automatically and almost instantly – completed within one revolution of the crankshaft or substantially less than the blink of an eye. Two cylinder power remains smooth and since it arises only when the exhaust is murmuring quietly, you’ll never notice the difference. There’s no trace of hesitation in throttle response.
The results aren’t too shabby for a car of this ilk – 114g/km of CO2 and a combined cycle score of 56.5mpg.
Prices for the A3 Cabriolet SE 1.4 TSI start at £25,790. The example pictured has been optioned up with 18-inch replacements for its standard 17-inch wheels, satnav, Bluetooth, cruise control and parking sensors, a foldaway wind deflector plus sundry other items of questionable merit for a grand total just over £32,000.
Rain and shine in Audi’s A3 Cabriolet
24 June 2014
by Lem Bingley