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The all-new Audi A3 Cabriolet has upped the ante - and dropped the entry price - for small luxury cabriolets.
The new Audi A3 sedan-based model is bigger, lighter, more fuel efficient and cheaper than its predecessor. And in terms of design, the old hatch-style A3 drop-top is well and truly a thing of the past. One of the first things I noticed was those awkward looking rear passenger roll bars are gone, in favour of an active protection system that will deploy in the event of a rollover. I think it looks stunning and is a welcome change from the old model.
Among the other changes are three new drivetrains, quattro all-wheel-drive is available for the first time, and there's a long list of standard and optional features that add up to make the A3 Cabriolet an impressive package.
The price makes things interesting - there are very few competitors, and the A3's entry-level price of $47,300 (plus costs) makes it cheaper than it's main rival, the BMW 120i Convertible. Among the standard inclusions for all variants are front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitor, aluminium front window surround, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, light and rain sensors, electromechanical speed sensitive steering, leather seats, a 5.8-inch electric pop-up display, Audi Music Interface and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
The lines of the new A3 Cabriolet are longer and stronger, with sharper edges and a more attitude. The length has been increased from 4.24m to 4.42m, wheelbase 2.58m to 2.60m and width 1.77m to 1.79m. It weighs 1,380kg, and is 75kg lighter than before.
Lightweight design improvements include the use of ultra-high-strength steel in the occupant cell with an aluminium bonnet. Changes to the engine and chassis design have also helped to reduce its weight.
The extended rear overhang offers more boot space too: 320 litres with the roof up or 275L with the top down. Though it's not generous, it's enough for a weekend away. If you don't need the rear passenger seats, they fold to increase the cargo area.
Though it was a chilly winter's day on Kangaroo Island for the official Australian launch, it was also a great opportunity to test out the new Neck-Level heating and crank up the heated seats.
That heating takes the comfort level to the, er, neck-level. Mercedes-Benz introduced Airscarf in the SLK and its the same concept: vents built into the front driver and passenger seats blow hot air onto the back of your neck and you can choose from three different speeds. This is optional, as is seat heating.
The soft-top opens or closes in 18sec at speeds up to 50km/hr. It's possible to have a conversation with the front passenger while on the road, but there's no hope of socialising with the rear passengers when the top is off, though a wind deflector is available.
There is a bit of road noise with the top on, which is to be expected. However an acoustic top with a thicker inner foam layer can be optioned.
There are three new engine types and four variants; the base model 1.4 TFSI, 1.8 TFSI, 1.8 TSFI quattro and a 2.0 TDI.
The turbocharged petrol and diesel engines are paired with a six or seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission and the result is a quiet and refined driving experience. But the lack of a manual could put off some buyers.
The entry level trim grade is called Attraction, that's the 1.4 TFSI, which has Cylinder on Demand (COD) technology that shuts down two cylinders at low load to improve fuel efficiency for a claimed 4.9L/100km. On average, the new-generation has 13 per cent better fuel economy than its predecessor.
The Ambition trim level comes into play in the 1.8 TFSI and the 2.0 TDI. Ambition models score the Audi drive select system which facilitates changes to the engine management, power steering, S tronic and air-conditioning with five modes: comfort, dynamic, auto, efficiency and individual.
Out on the road, the A3 Cabriolet was put through its paces on highways, dirt tracks and bumpy, windy roads.
The range-topping 1.8 TSFI quattro produces 132kW of power and 280Nm of torque. The vehicle I tested had the optional S line sport package with sport suspension.
It is impressively well behaved while cornering, there's very little body roll and you can feel its low centre of gravity helping to keep the tyres firmly planted on the road through the bends.
There's a bit of lag low down in the rev-range, but that's easily minimised by swapping into sports mode or going manual and using the paddle shifters. It's quick to respond to throttle inputs and, depending on the variant, you can get a decent kick off the mark; the claimed 0-100km/h time is 7.6sec in the quattro, which rises to 9.1sec in the base model.
The quattro certainly had a stiffer suspension set up than the front-drive models I drove, and the road undulations were more noticeable but not rough. Overall the ride is pliable and accommodating - even hours behind the wheel didn't result in numb-bum or backache.
After driving the quattro with its flat bottom sports steering wheel, it was hard to appreciate the standard round wheel in the base Attraction model. There's something about the flat-bottom sports steering wheel that feels amazing in your hands and makes you feel more in control.
There's very little not to like about the Audi A3 Cabriolet. With improved technology, engines, handling, design, performance, efficiency, price and options, if you like the wind in your hair it's hard to go past.