£39,580 - £43,490 Price range
The S3 Cabriolet can seat four six-footers and even those on the rear seats have room for short journeys. Inside, it gets a typical S model makeover with sporty dials and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, but the impressive build quality and expensive materials of the regular A3 Convertible are also present. Boot space, however, lags behind the BMW 2 Series.
It’s easier to look at the S3 Cabriolet as more of a grand tourer than a hot hatchback rival – it’s composed and surefooted but ultimately not much fun. Instead, it’s straight-line performance makes for rapid progress and quick overtakes, while the car’s four-wheel drive system means it feels very stable in slippery conditions.
Despite not having a charismatic five-cylinder or a burbly V8 as its bigger brothers the RS3 and RS4 do, the 2.0-litre petrol in the S3 Cabriolet is responsive and not too expensive to run. A DSG automatic is standard and comes with paddles behind the steering wheel for manual control.
To justify its high asking price the S3 Cabriolet is well-equipped from the factory with 19-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, adjustable dampers, climate control and a 5.8-inch sat-nav screen that pops up from the dashboard.
The Audi A3 brings a premium feel to the small car market and the S3 Cabriolet is no different. It gets the same real metal switchgear, soft-to-the-touch cabin materials and plenty of metal trim just like the regular A3 Cabriolet.
To spice things up Audi has given it a racy flat-bottomed steering wheel and contrasting red stitching can be found all around the cabin. The dial faces are now light grey as in other S models in the Audi range. The 7.0-inch screen that rises from the dashboard when you turn the ignition on lets you control the radio, browse media devices and program the sat-nav via a rotary dial on the centre console.
The roof can be opened or closed in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph and the S3 Cabriolet comes with an acoustic roof that makes it almost as quiet as the hard-topped saloon.
Audi S3 Cabriolet passenger space
The driver and front passenger get supportive sport seats that are electrically adjustable. Couple that to the height and reach adjustable steering wheel and most can find a comfortable driving position fairly quickly. Rear visibility is not very good with the roof up, but the standard parking sensors and the £900 blind spot assist should help with the hardest of manoeuvres.
Although, testers agree the S3 Convertible is spacious for passengers in the front, the hard seat backs take up some of the rear legroom. Nonetheless two adults should be able to fit in the back for a moderate amount of time.
Audi S3 Cabriolet boot space
The S3 Cabriolet has a smaller boot than the BMW 2 Series Convertible. Despite it’s fabric roof it holds 320 litres with the roof up and 275 litres when it’s down. The 2 Series has 335-280 litres of space with the roof up and down respectively.
Removing the roof of a car has a negative effect on the way it drives and nowhere is that more noticeable than in performance models. With this in mind there is some shaking of the S3’s chassis over broken road surfaces, but ultimately its only really noticeable on very bumpy roads.
The S3 Cabriolet comes standard with adaptive dampers that have five driving modes that change not only the suspension, but also the response of the throttle and the weight of the steering. The modes are Sport, Auto, Comfort, Efficiency and Individual – are selectable by the rotary dial in the central console. Sport mode firms everything up, but adds a bit too much weight to the steering, Comfort is truly comfortable, Efficiency has a laughably lethargic throttle response that helps fuel economy and Auto is considered the best judging road conditions and adjusting the chassis accordingly.
There is no doubt that if you are looking for a fun-to-drive sports convertible the BMW 2 Series with it’s rear-wheel drive is a better bet. However, the S3 Cabriolet comes standard with quattro all-wheel-drive that boost traction on slippery roads. And on the UK’s frequently slippery surfaces that is a great benefit.
There is very little criticism levelled at the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine powering the S3 Cabriolet. It produces 306hp but instead of an explosive burst of acceleration the S3 delivers its power in a very linear way and performance doesn’t trail off until well into triple digit speeds.
Despite being a four-cylinder engine reviewers say it sounds nice with the exhaust popping as the DSG gearbox changes up through the gears. It’s quick too with 0-62mph taking 5.4 seconds and a limited top speed of 155mph.
You don’t expect good fuel economy from a 306hp engine, but drive carefully and the S3 Cabriolet can return close to 40mpg.
For a compact four seater cabriolet, the S3 isn’t cheap, but you pay for the brilliant engine, the impeccable build quality and a somewhat generous list of standard equipment. It includes heated leather-wrapped sport seats, a voice-controlled infotainment system with sat-nav and a 5.8-inch display, climate control as well as adaptive dampers.
However Audi has put some kit on the options list that is standard on much cheaper models – items such as £225 cruise control or the £345 rear parking sensors.
The S3 Cabriolet fits in another niche that we thought didn’t exist, yet Audi made a car for it. The BMW M235i Convertible and the Porsche Boxster are both more fun to drive, but none can mach the combination of relaxed cruising ability and four-wheel-drive grip of the S3 Cabriolet. If you are looking for an exciting drop-top then the slightly cheaper Porsche might be a better bet, but overall the Audi is a well-rounded talent.