Audi's luxury-sports performer loses its lid, but does it gain anything over its Sportback and sedan siblings?
With summer fast approaching it makes sense to launch a drop-top fast, and the Audi S3 Cabriolet is among the fastest of them all.
You have to spend $89,900 on the two-seat BMW Z4 28i just to match that sprint time, yet the four-seat S3 Cabriolet costs from $69,300, or $7500 more than the four-door sedan and $9600 above the five-door Sportback.
You could buy a Porsche Boxster and still be slower from the traffic lights down the freeway on-ramp. Same goes for an Audi TT or Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class, while currently if you want four seats with speed at least $126,600 needs to be parted with for a BMW 428i Convertible.
Audi engineers say that never before has a platform allowed them to create a four-seat cabriolet this fast, simply because body rigidity with the Audi A3 Cabriolet has never been this good.
With the S3 Sportback and S3 sedan a highly accomplished duo of premium-sports options, perhaps the ultimate test for the S3 Cabriolet is if anything is lost when the roof is chopped off.
You get the same equipment in the Cabriolet as its S3 siblings, with the addition of a fabric-covered roof that can electrically lower in 18 seconds at up to 50km/h, an active rollover protection system and an acoustic layering that’s optional on the regular A3 Cabriolet.
Also unique are front seat vents that blow warm air down your neck, which were far more useful in sub-zero temperatures of its Sweden international launch than the plus-27 degree Gold Coast sun of this local launch. Maybe ventilated seats (that are unfortunately unavailable) would have been handy today.
Otherwise standard are 18-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, dual-zone air conditioning, xenon-plus headlights, MMI touchpad and navigation, and auto-park assist with front and rear parking sensors. (Read full price and specifications here).
There is also the same lovely interior found in all S3 models, with its soft-touch plastics, subtle tones and textures, large and high-resolution centre screen and flawless ergonomics.
Unfortunately as with all A3 models, Audi Connect isn’t available locally – live traffic updates are included, but internet connectivity access to third-party apps, and the ability to download Google Maps, or perform Google or Wikipedia searches are not.
Meanwhile, unlike in the reasonably roomy S3 Sportback and sedan, there isn’t much legroom available for two rear passengers. With the driving position set for my 178cm-tall frame, there’s barely room to fit your fist behind the front buckets. At least the kids can have fun back there, and remain cool even on a sweltering spring Queensland day thanks to the inclusion of rear air vents – extremely rare for a four-seater.
Boot capacity shrinks to a sub-Corolla 285 litres in the S3 Cabriolet, but also rare for a drop-top are 50:50 split folding rear seats to boost practicality, though the load-through space is small because the area into which the roof drops restricts space.
Back inside, and the S3 Cabriolet interior is especially slick when you choose the optional ($4990) S performance pack fitted to our test car, which features diamond-cut stitched tombstone buckets and a high-fidelity Bang and Olufsen audio system with 14 speakers and 705 watts – perfect for cruising past Cavill Avenue, as we did at the local launch top down with Banana Boat applied. Sadly Audi-branded muscle tees are not included.
On the outside, other S performance pack equipment includes full LED headlights and magnetic multi-mode adjustable suspension.
The latter is especially important to help create comfortable ride quality in the S3 Sportback and sedan, but even cruising around the Gold Coast it seems to struggle in the heavier S3.
A kerb weight of 1620 kilograms is 175kg beyond that of an S3 Sportback, and the S3 Cabriolet feels it as soon as you hop over a short, sharp speed hump around town.
In the softest Comfort mode the S3 Cabriolet body bounces up and down with too much float, and even in auto mode there’s some squidgy behaviour from the chassis. Over freeway expansion joints and on mildly rough roads, you also get shivers through the steering wheel as the front-end is clearly more susceptible to vibration in soft mode.
Switch to Dynamic mode and the steering firms up nicely, but also seems to shake less in your hands. Where the firmest-setting suspension is still wonderfully resolved in the S3 Sportback and sedan, it can become harsh in this gas-axed version.
The S3 Cabriolet can corner hard and fast, but it feels heavy- rather than fleet-footed like its range siblings do. There’s plenty of grip from the 225mm-wide, 40-aspect 18-inch tyres, and a lack of bodyroll when pressed, but the drop-top seems to cope with sporty driving rather than be a natural fit for it.
The larger tyres also generate plenty of road noise when the top is up, despite acoustic layering.
A regular A3 Cabriolet driven days before this S3 launch highlighted the wonders of the extra body rigidity, proving both comfortable, tight and even quiet – despite being a diesel. But the extra power, the speed that comes with the S3, and the lower-profile tyres seem to fray the edges of the impressive standard models, something that wasn’t evident on the smoother, but icy international launch roads in Sweden.
With the roof down passengers can at least better access the faint turbo whistle and exhaust-pop acoustics that come with utilising the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine for maximum acceleration, though the Cabriolet loses half a second to its Sportback and sedan siblings in the sprint to 100km/h.
For our country the engine now has 210kW of power, up from 206kW as with all S3s in MY15 specification, but it’s still some way shy of the 221kW featured overseas. Australia’s hot-weather environment is to blame, and although Audi are clearly looking at ways to implement a fix, there’s no news on when we’ll get the full figure yet.
We do get the full 380Nm of torque, and lathered on between 1800rpm and 5200rpm before the peak power figure comes online between 5300rpm and 6200rpm.
A six-speed manual transmission remains Sportback-only, but the six-speed dual-clutch automatic that comes standard is one of the best of the ‘DSG’ breed around (or S tronic in Audi-speak).
The S3 Cabriolet is wonderfully responsive across the whole rev range, and feels every bit as quick as the statistics indicate.
The auto is a bit economy-focused in regular ‘D’ mode, but that’s no problem when the alternate ‘S’ intuitively responds to harder driving, yet doesn’t hold onto gears annoyingly like such a mode in some of its peers do.
So while the Audi S3 Cabriolet can’t quite equal the cohesive, sporting whole of its S3 siblings, the straight-line performance and cabin indulgence of this third variant provides two big-ticket virtues for those who like to cruise, speedily under the sun in style.