A gap like this from a company with a 48-car model range was never going to be left unfilled and so I made my way down to Chewton Glen for the unveiling of the A3 Cabriolet, available at launch with a choice of two petrol engines and one diesel.
Audi doesnt do folding hardtops, so the A3 Cabriolet features a fabric roof, double-lined in the Sport and S line versions; as a consequence it looks like a soft-top should. Offered in black, grey, or brown, its a neat job that folds down to give a clean, uncluttered profile and can be lowered or raised in around 18 seconds and can be operated at speeds of up to 31mph. Active rollover protection comes as standard, as you might expect.
The body is made from aluminium and steel, and weighs less than the model it replaces. The Cabriolet is based on the shorter 3-door A3 for improved torsional rigidity, always a problem with you cut the roof off, but is as long overall as the 5-door Sportback; any awkward proportions from what is, on paper at least, an uncomfortable compromise, are disguised beautifully. This is a very handsome car.
No-one in this class - and I do mean no-one - does interiors as well as Audi; everything is beautifully designed, impeccably finished, and operates with a silky precision that is a tactile joy. The air vents, for example, are turned on and off by twisting a knurled chrome ring through 90-degrees and the limit of travel at either end is marked with a satisfying click. These things matter when you are living with a car for years at a time, and you will never tire of the Audis interior.
Three trim levels are offered: SE, Sport and S line and equipment levels are matched with that of its range siblings. Levels are good but injudicious use of the options list can see the purchase price soar dramatically. The 2.0-litre TDI Sport that I drove had a basic list price of 27,820. A series of optional extras saw that rise by 10,000 in the blink of an eye.
The boot is compromised by the need to house the folding roof but it is still acceptably large at 320 litres with the seats up (260 litres in the old car) and 678 with them folded. Talking of which, the rear seats dont have much legroom and are best reserved for those odd occasions when you want to give a friend a lift across town; try the same thing across the country and they wont be very friendly at the end of it
The existing A3 range drives beautifully and the Cabriolet rises to the challenge very well. There is the slightest hint of scuttle shake at speed over rough roads, and a touch more steering imprecision than I remember from its tin-top brothers, but other than that it is really very satisfying to punt along, especially with the roof down.
I drove both manual and S tronic versions and liked them both; Im a fan of auto boxes so would plump for the S tronic if I were writing the cheque but Id understand entirely if you wanted to take matters into your own hands.
Three suspension options are available: standard, which fitted to the SE models and is primarily comfort oriented; Sport, which is 15mm lower and stiffer; and S line, which drops the car by 25mm. Sport seemed to do the trick best, with the S line feeling a bit jarring.
Three engines are on offer at launch: a 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine developing 139 bhp and 185 lb/ft of torque; a 1.8-litre TFSI developing 177 bhp and the same 185 lb/ft of torque; and a 2.0-litre diesel with 148 bhp and 250 lb/ft.I drove the smaller petrol engine and the diesel and preferred the oil-burners languid power delivery as it allowed me to waft along with the minimum of gear-changes but still produces enough torque to let me despatch slower traffic with aplomb.
The 1.4-litre engine felt a tiny bit underpowered to me; interestingly, Audi predicts that 30 percent of buyers will opt for this engine, with 25 percent going for the 2.0-litre TDI and 30 percent expected to opt for the (not available at launch) 1.6-litre TDI.
Fuel consumption and performance figures are at, or near, the top of their class across the range and some truly remarkable official fuel consumption figures are possible. The 1.4 TFSI will reach 62mph in 9.1 seconds with the manual gearbox and go onto a top speed of 135mph and return up to 56.5mpg, helped in part by clever Cylinder On Demand technology that closes the valves and shuts off the fuel on cylinders 2 and 3 when the engine isnt under load. Its imperceptible in use.
The 1.8 TFSI will do the same sprint in 7.8 seconds when fitted with the S tronic box, hit 150mph and deliver up to 48.7mpg. The star of the show is, however, the 2.0 TDI, which will hit 62mph in 8.9 seconds (with the manual 6-speed gearbox), go on to a top speed of 139mph yet deliver up to 67.3mpg in VED class B.
Value for Money
The range starts at 25,790 for a basic 1.4-litre with a manual gearbox, rising to 40,000-ish for a fully specd 2.0-litre TDI. AS ever, you pay your money and take your choice but even the profligate will be reassured by the A3s predicted residual values, which should be strong; 40 percent after 3 years/60,000 miles is predicted by industry experts.
The A3 Cabriolet is everything we expected it to be; stylish, swift, economical, and great fun. Its another range addition seamlessly and beautifully integrated into the range and is available in showrooms now.