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Soft Fop. Image by Audi.

Soft Fop
The soft-top A3 is a clever thing, but who exactly does it appeal to?

   



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| Week at the Wheel | Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TDI S line S tronic |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

Taking a can opener to the A3's tin roof has transformed the dull-looking hatchback into a handsome and attention-grabbing cabriolet. By stowing the electric folding roof away cleverly, Audi has crafted a really well resolved shape, whether the roof is up or down, although practicality has suffered. The boot aperture is miniscule; using it is like posting your stuff through a letterbox, which is ok for essentials like hair straighteners, but frustrating at the best of times.

Inside it's, well, an Audi A3. Fit and finish is top notch, and the upper level dash materials employ that deliciously squishy stuff more befitting of an executive saloon. Most impressive, however, is how little of the interior space the roof mechanism seems to have eaten into. It'll still seat four in relative comfort. In fact, our test car provided more than adequate family transport for a 200-mile weekend road trip from Newcastle to Harrogate, with an 18-month old (and accompanying buggy) and an eight month pregnant mother-in-waiting in tow.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

There are few combinations of engine and transmission more satisfying and ruthlessly efficient as 2.0 TDI and S tronic gearbox. The VW Group diesel unit is effortlessly punchy in the mid range. It will hit the 62mph benchmark from standstill in 9.4 seconds, but it feels even quicker than that. And, possibly because of the cloth-roofed Cab's increased cabin noise, the TDI unit has taken on a distinctly more rorty note. Very satisfying.

Lightning quick changes mean S tronic equipped cars post better 0-62mph time than the manuals, along with only a slight dip in economy and emissions, and there's a set of paddles fixed to the steering wheel for manual changes. You'll probably never use them, though - this is hardly the car of a focussed driving enthusiast. The 'box is a 1,400 option, but definitely one we'd recommend.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

Despite the average three-star score, ride and handling are probably the best - or at least most surprising - characteristics of the A3 Cabriolet. It's a genuinely enjoyable thing to drive. Audis are usually criticised for numb steering feel, and in the hands of a snotty car tester, this one's no different. But, really, what difference do the nth degrees of steering feel make in a car like this? None. The turn in is sharp enough, the steering well weighted, and there is enough feel for the kind of driving this car is likely to do.

That said, this A3 is built for the sun in more ways than one. Show the tyres even a hint of surface moisture and they take on the properties of soap: understeer in wet weather is chronic. Quite good fun, to be honest, but pretty shocking really. Other than that the handling is perfectly acceptable for a car of this type, and the tyres soak up the bumps well enough to keep your well-groomed barnet intact.

Wind noise is this car's biggest problem. Below 40mph it's fine, but above that it's just plain annoying. The aforementioned trip down the A1 left driver and passenger with sore throats after an hour of screaming friendly conversation at each other.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

Was our car well equipped? Yes. Was it economical? Over 400 miles of hard driving from a single tank says yes too. Value for money? Well, it's an Audi, so have a guess.

Our car tipped the fiscal scales at over 33,000. There are two ways of looking at that: on one hand it's a very good looking, high quality soft top with leather upholstery, satnav, a great engine, an even better gearbox, a CD changer and one of the best Bose stereos you're ever likely to hear (all optional save for the engine). On the other, it's over 30 grand for a tarted-up A3 hatchback. You pay your money; you take your choice, as Francis Rossi once sang. Lower down the range is probably a more prudent, if less satisfying, purchase.

Officially this A3 returns 50.4mpg on the combined cycle and emits a relatively lowly 148g/km of CO2. That's not quite minty fresh, but this is a quick car and a surprisingly driver-friendly one too.

Overall: star star star star star

An Audi A3 Cabriolet really shouldn't be a good car, but this is. In fact, S3 aside, this might be the most appetising car in the A3 gamut - a true all-weather convertible with proper kerb appeal that's fun to drive and has a good chunk of personality that eludes the rest of the range.

But who's going to buy it? It's more practical than a MINI Convertible, but it doesn't have the charm and it's way more expensive. The boot's too awkward to make it a truly useable day-to-day runabout, but it's too expensive to be a second, 'fun' car. Its motorway manners will put many off, and some much better cars can be bought for considerably less - including a few by Audi. But its biggest problem is, of course, its image. No car screams that old hairdresser chestnut louder than this car. None. And that's a shame, because Audi has done a cracking job with it. It's much better than it should be.

Mark Nichol - 2 Dec 2008



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2008 Audi A3 specifications: (2.0 TDI S line S tronic)
Price: 26,810 on-the-road (44,025 for equivalent in Ireland).
0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
Top speed: 128mph
Combined economy: 50.4mpg
Emissions: 148g/km
Kerb weight: 1495kg

2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.



2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2008 Audi A3 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 






 

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