Audi A3 Cabriolet Review (25/10/14)

I HAVE never been a really big Cabriolet fan. The explanation is quite a simple really because it is all to do with dynamics.

A Cabriolet is, essentially, a car with the roof lopped, off and while it might be nice for driving around with the wind in your hair, it does absolutely nothing for the behaviour of the car on the road.

If you think of a car as a box with six sides – front, back, top, bottom, left and right sides – it appears as a rigid and strong structure. However, if you take the top off, then the box loses much of its inherent strength and when various loads are applied to the box then it will not have the same rigidity as it once had.

And so it is with a car with the roof in absentia, as it were.

Science was never my forte at school, but I learned enough to know that one of the key things about the structure of a car – or a ship or an aeroplane or a motorbike, for that matter – is torsional rigidity. This is the key factor when it comes to how a car will perform in the dynamically critical areas of ride and handling.

Now when a car has no roof, its torsional rigidity is completely compromised and you arrive in marshmallow-land – a land where your car has all the stability of said confectionary. Sure manufacturers down the years have tried to address this problem with the adoption of a variety of solutions - heavyweight RSJs among them, believe it or not.

The intrinsic problem for carmakers, though, has been the popularity of the Cabrio concept. Women love them, but whatever the gender breakdown, manufacturers sell them by the lorry load.

And so we come to the new Audi A3 Cabrio which, it has to be said, is as fine looking a ragtop as is out there right now, possibly better looking than most. And so, for those who like the wind in their hair, the Audi comes to market as a very attractive piece of kit, albeit one that’s going to cost you north of 40k.

Audi has stuck with the ragtop essence of the Cabrio with a fabric folding roof and for purists this will undoubtedly strike a chord; none of that fancy-dan folding metal roof stuff here. For all that though, the operation of the roof is as seamless as you would expect from an outfit like Audi.

It takes some 18 seconds to raise or lower the roof and this can also be done while you’re on the move at speeds up to 50 kph. Anything higher than that and you’re going to have to launch a search party for the thing.

Worth noting too is the fact that the roof does not – as is so often the case with these things – take up most of the boot space and the A3 Cabrio offers some 320 litre of storage capacity back there and Audi tell us that the design of the car has also allowed for greater interior space than heretofore.

That may be the case, but while the front seats are commodious enough, the rear ones are very tight and only really suitable for kids – and even then long journeys would be something of a trial for them, In general, though, the interior design and decor are well up to Audi’s usual high standards and the inside of the car is a very nice place to be.

But then we come to the – contentious, let it be said – part of the deal here, how it performs on the road.

Well – and as you might have gathered I’m not a terribly big fan of the genre – by Cabrio standards it’s not too bad. So many examples tend to wallow and squirm around corners rather than driving around them, basically because the chassis is not up to being asked serious questions about its capabilities.

For anyone who enjoys getting to the bottom of a car the A3 Cabrio will not present much of a challenge because they’ll find it fairly quickly in these shallow waters. That’s not to say it is a terrible drive because it is not, but for anyone who likes truly precise handling and turn-in characteristics, then look elsewhere.

Even so, for a chassis which is essentially compromised, this is not a terribly bad drive or anything, just, well, compromised. That may well not matter to a majority of potential owners, but if you do buy one, just don’t be complaining about it afterwards.

On the engine front you have a choice of off-the-shelf VW engines in both petrol and diesel formats and we tried the well-known and liked 150 bhp 2.0 litre turbodiesel (8.8 seconds 0-100 kph and consumption of 4.6 l/100 km) with the S-Tronic seven speed gearbox. I suspect, however, that the biggest seller in the range might be the similarly performing but cheaper 1.4 TFSI petrol unit.

For someone who is not a particular fan of the wind-in-your-hair experience (I’d like to keep whatever of it I have left) and of wallowy Cabrio driving, I nearly enjoyed this car. Nearly but not quite.

That said, I have to say I was particularly struck by the numbers of women who swooned when they saw the thing. In this gig you get used to people quizzing you about various cars, but they usually represent a cross-section of the public at large. In this case it was very gender specific.

So there is definitely a consumer pool out there for the taking, but at the price being asked, I suspect it might be a very small one.

 

The Verdict

The Cost: from €41,850 - €53,771 as tested.

The Engine: a familiar - and good, it has to be said - 2.0 litre turbodiesel from the VW parts bin.

The Specification: good standard kit, but I was amazed that with a €40k base price for this thing, they still managed to add 12k in added spec. Not cheap.

Overall Verdict: the drop-head is not really my personal cup of tea, but not a bad stab at producing something that drives reasonably well.

 


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