We have always been fans of the A3. Can a missing part change that?
While it has been on sale for a while now, the “new” Audi A3 cabriolet (convertible) hasn’t been easy to come by since there are very few of them floating about. Maybe even less on the ground. But when we did get the opportunity to take it for a weekend spin on a summer solstice, we weren’t going to pass it up. The sedan version has been one of our favourite compact luxury cars, especially in the 1.8 TFSI, 180bhp engine version. This topless version comes with the exact same motor. Even similar 17in wheels, similar interior and almost the same feature set. But it does get a smidgen shorter (by 35mm) compared to the hard top and has less boot space to stow away that fabric soft-top. In most other areas, it offers more. More wind in your face, more of India to smell and more grins to bear when you get paparazzied in a hotel lobby.
Get behind the wheel and feel is familiar. Typical Audi switchgear quality, clear graphics and perfect ergonomics. The only real gripe is the spartan nature of the cabin, which some may actually like. But for something that costs close to ₹50 lacs, it doesn’t make you feel pampered enough. Yet, it’s only a matter of time until you mash your right foot down and it goes like stink, thanks to the smoothest 4-cyl turbo engine we have ever driven. It’s so smooth that gaining speed becomes imperceptible, except when you glance at the speedo and realise you’re way above the safe limit. The 250Nm of torque might not seem much on paper, but it’s delivered so linearly that you are never left wanting for more power while overtaking or standing at the start line of a drag race.
The lightness of the body and body agility help in exaggerating this sensation of silliness, making it the most fun convertible to drive anywhere near its price point. Audi’s 7-speed S-tronic transmission is beautifully matched to this engine and never misses a beat, the flappy paddles adding to the communication. Shifts are quick, but in stop-go traffic, the D mode works better than the Sport or Manual, making light work of city traffic. The steering remains featherlight though, and also is getting a bit long in the tooth in terms of its girth and looks. Audi needs to update this with one of its newer-generation, flat-bottomed wheels from the TT.
Drive-wise, you get the Audi Drive Select program that allows you to select Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, Individual or Auto modes. Each of them alters the steering weight and shift points to make the drive perceptibly different. It works well and even the engine comes to life in Dynamic mode, sounding sufficiently macho with the top down. It’s no V8 growl or a V6 snarl, just a refined snarl that lets you know this is one of the world’s greatest small engines in any production car right now!
Getting the inside out
The biggest downside to having the biggest sunroof in the world is the rear-seat space. Occupancy is down from four to two adults. Even with the front seats pulled ahead, there is no way you can take a vacation with the family in this car. Pets shouldn’t complain though. Boot space hasn’t been compromised too much, miraculously, and you could still pack in a couple of full-size suitcases in there. Appointments are more or less the same as the standard A3 sedan, with the exception of a Bang & Olufsen audio system which is only for the better because with the top down and wind noise, you will need that additional power and punch.
Additionally, you do get a reverse camera and sat-nav, both of which are missing options on the A3 40TFSI sedan. The pop-up screen and the handwriting-recognising trackpad remain intact, though the screen looks like it could do with better graphics, now that we have been spoilt by the Merc CLA’s quality. What is different on the cabrio is the high-quality, brushed aluminum finish on the A-pillar and with the top down, it looks absolutely gorgeous. In fact, the A3 looks great even with the top down and makes the car seem longer too, thanks to the ruler-flat shoulder line. You could fold the powered top up or down within 15 seconds, while stationary or driving at a snail’s pace.
Audi A3 Cabrio verdict
Since the A3 cabrio isn’t assembled in India, the cost of entry into the topless club is steep, as expected. On-road price swells up to ₹50 lacs and maybe even more, depending on which city you’re located in. But what you’re guaranteed is a superb drive, with or without the roof down and that’s testimony to Audi’s super-rigid body shell that doesn’t flex and creak like convertibles of the past. This is as nimble and agile as its sedan counterpart, maybe not as easy to get in and out of, though. If you want to enjoy the mountain drive over a weekend morning, this is one of the sharpest and funnest tools at this price.