The brilliant blue coastline of the French Riviera provided both poseur’s promenades and Monte Carlo Rally routes to test the full skill set of the new Audi A3 Cabriolet at the international launch of the compact drop-top in Monaco.
Audi convertible-top tech man Mario Weiland says the Audi A3 Cabriolet was benchmarked the BMW 1 Series convertible as well as its own A5 drop-top. He says customer feedback suggested the A5 cab was “perfect” so it set out to give the smaller cabrio the same qualities.
The continuing choice of soft-top over folding-hardtop brings cost, packaging and weight benefits, if not the same security or noise suppression, but there’s more to it, says Audi. Apparently the average convertible driver wants onlookers to know their car’s a cabriolet even when the top’s up, which makes the contrasting black fabric top of the Audi A3 Cabriolet preferable to a body-coloured hardtop.
The electro-hydraulic roof takes 18 seconds to drop, which can be done while driving, at up to 50km/h. The new fabric lid takes up less boot space than before, and the boot starts out 60L bigger than that of the outgoing model.
The official figures are 320-litres, or 275L the roof folded away with your luggage. A pull-down roof storage bin prevents the mechanism from squashing your stuff.
The previous rigid rollover bar has been replaced by an active system that consists of a pair of spring-loaded steel elements that deploy when required. The new bars are no less strong, says Weiland – they can easily support the weight of the A3. A wind-deflector is effective, but must be stowed if you’re carrying people in the back.
Three engines and two transmissions are offered – a pair of petrol turbos and a turbo-diesel, with six-speed manual and seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmissions.
Aussies will get both the petrol 1.8 TFSI and the diesel 2.0 TDI in Ambition trim. The smaller cylinder-on-demand petrol 1.4 TFSI in Attraction spec is a possibility, and a manual may be offered.
Quattro all-wheel-drive is offered in Europe, though seems unnecessary given the Audi A3 Cabriolet’s role. Audi says it will consider AWD for Oz, but that the A3 cabriolet will be a front-drive proposition at launch.
All three engines are new, meet Euro 6 emissions, and use less fuel than the old ones. The combination of a diesel with 110kW of power and 320Nm of torque and sporty chassis works well, but the sounds and smells of an oil-burner don’t quite fit in a drop-top.
The 132kW/250Nm 1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder (above) is the sweet spot, Audi claiming a 7.8sec 0-100km/h for the 1.8 TFSI, which feels right.
The engine spins freely to redline with a subtly sporty note, though the efficient, 5.0L/100km COD 1.4 impresses on paper – the 103kW engine can deactivate two of its cylinders under low load.
As well as engine efficiency improvements, stop-start and thermal management systems, and 12 percent slipperier aero (0.30 Cd) help cut the car’s consumption.
A seamless free-wheeling function also helps save juice.
The system could be seen as the counterpart of brake energy regeneration – when you take your foot off the accelerator, but don’t want to stop, free-wheeling helps conserve speeds, which means fuel isn’t needed to re-accelerate the car after its momentum is lost to engine-braking.
The sedan-based new cabrio brings scaled-down-A5 aesthetics and greater body rigidity that help make it a more persuasive proposition than its hatch-based predecessor.
The Gyor, Hungary-built new Audi A3 Cabriolet is a substantial 180mm longer than its predecessor, and 20mm wider – the figures are 4420mm long and 1790mm wide, on 17mm-longer 2600mm wheelbase.
Despite the bigger dimensions and stiffer body, the Audi A3 Cabriolet is down 60kg to 1345kg compared with the outgoing model, thanks to the use of ultra-high-strength steel in the body – stronger material means smaller, lighter components can be used – and an aluminium front subframe and bonnet.
Audi says it also trimmed weight via aluminium suspension components and lighter engines. The A3’s dynamic abilities are right where they need to be given its role as a wind-in-your-hair look-at-me mobile.
Front occupants are cosseted in supportive seats and presented with a classic-looking dash with jet-style air vents and a centre stack that’s subtly oriented towards the driver. The small wheelbase stretch liberates leg-room for a pair of back-seaters in subtly sculpted pews. The seatbacks fold to expand cargo capacity, but the lack of a centre armrest is a miss – at least you get cup holders in the seat base.
The electromechanical steering is light and accurate and offers some feel as speed and corning g-forces rise.
The chassis, which is based on the VW/Audi Group’s MQB component set, shifts the front axle forward by 52mm, which amounts to more weight on the rear tyres, and more even weight distribution.
The strut front, multi-link rear suspension offers dependable front-end grip and a trustworthy tail. It’s not hot-hatch adjustable, but the A3 Cabriolet's agility, balance and grip envelope mean it remains satisfying well beyond a Cote D’Azur cruise, with the assistance of the electronic stability control’s limited-slip differential effect.
According to Audi, the A3 Sportback Ambition gives a guide to the equivalent cabriolet’s standard equipment, which should include 17in alloys, rear-parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, and the maker’s drive select system.
Inside, fabric, leather and Alcantara trim combinations are offered, as well as neck-level heating, a progressive steering system, Bang & Olufsen sound, MMI nav plus with seven-inch monitor and Audi connect internet access and services, topped by an optional acoustic roof with a sound-deadening foam layer.
Driver assistance tech includes adaptive cruise control, side-, and lane-assist, traffic sign recognition and pre-sense safety systems. The driving-focussed extras include magnetic ride dampers, 19-inch alloys, and sport and S-line suspension packages.
However, even without an overload of options the newly appealing Audi A3 Cabriolet makes a strong case for itself. Based on looks, let alone ability, it will undoubtedly hurt sales of similarly priced German rival the BMW 1 Series when it arrives in Australian showrooms in the third quarter of 2014, starting at around $57K for the 1.8 TFSI Ambition S-tronic.