What is it?
It’s an Audi A3, and there’s no mistaking it for anything else, not even any other Audi, thanks to its compact dimensions (at 4,421mm, the A3 Cabriolet is 35mm shorter than the A3 sedan). It shares its entire front fascia with the A3 sedan, as well as its tail-lights and even its 17-inch alloy wheels. The obvious differences, of course, are the fabric roof and the fact that two doors are missing, but you’ll also notice that the frame for the windscreen is now finished in brushed silver; a nice stylistic touch. It looks particularly good with the roof folded away, as this makes it appear longer than it actually is. In fact, it managed to draw attention from all and sundry like a proper sportscar normally would.
There are four seats in the cabin, but let’s call it a 2+2 rather than a four-seater, because the two rear seats are narrow and only useable if the front seats are set a fair bit forward, and even then it’s a squeeze. That said, the front half of the cabin is pretty much identical to a top-spec A3 sedan. It’s upholstered in the sportier black leather trim, fit and finish are top notch, and it’s loaded up with equipment, including dual-zone climate control, a touchpad for the MMI system, and the optional Bang & Olufsen audio and satellite navigation on our test car. One thing that is missing, however, are powered front seats, which is a glaring omission on such an expensive car.
The other big problem with convertibles is, of course, that the boot space is compromised by the folding roof. That’s the case here too, but considering how compact this car is, 320 litres of storage is not too bad. And though the load area is not very tall, it is just as wide and long as in the sedan, so while large suitcases will be a problem, you can easily get a few soft bags in there without issue.
What is it like to drive?
Step into the driver’s seat and one quirk typical of most four-seat convertibles strikes you immediately – the top of the windscreen is lower and stretched further back than in the sedan, and while it doesn’t block your view, it does fall into your field of vision; something taller drivers will need to get used to. This is done, of course, to reduce the area the folding roof has to cover. Speaking of which, with the roof up, headroom all round is a bit tight, and the cabin feels a bit too ‘cozy’. But then, we are talking about a compact convertible here, and this is a small sacrifice to make for being surrounded by limitless sky with the roof folded away.
There will be no diesel version of the Audi A3 Cabriolet. The only motor it comes with is the 1.8 TFSI turbo-petrol engine, which sends its 177bhp and 25.5kgm through the front wheels via a seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox. That’s fine by us, as this powertrain is what cemented the A3 sedan as one of our favourite cars to drive in 2014; the diesel version just isn’t as much fun. As ever, the 1.8 TFSI is super smooth and refined, spins quite freely and builds its power in a beautifully linear surge. There are, however, three differences to the driving experience compared to the sedan. For one, you can option a sports steering wheel on the A3 Cabriolet that comes with paddles for shifting gears manually, rather than just using the gearlever as you have to in the sedan. Secondly, the soft-top gets as standard Audi’s Drive Select driving modes – Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual – that alter the powertrain responsiveness as well as steering weight. And finally, with the roof folded, you can hear more of the otherwise silent motor when you open it up a bit, which only adds to the thrill. It makes a pleasing purr at high revs, and in Dynamic mode, delivers a subtle ‘whump’ from the exhaust with every upshift. Lovely.
Another concern with convertibles is that, in removing the roof, the car often loses a lot of its chassis rigidity, which in turn compromises handling and just the overall feeling of solidity. Yes, go over a steep bump and you might be able to sense a slight shudder through the body, but it’s barely there. Put it down to the car’s compact dimensions or just the integral rigidity of the new MQB-platform chassis the A3 is built on, which makes for a nice, taut bodyshell. Where it really matters, though, is in the handling, and we’re happy to report that almost none of the dynamic prowess of the A3 sedan has been lost with the roof cut off. It still darts into corners eagerly, there’s plenty of front-end grip and it just feels light and compact at your fingertips. In fact, the sensation is only amplified with the roof off and the wind in your hair. Find yourself some nice weather and a good road, and you won’t be disappointed.
Should I buy one?
Because it is a CBU import, the Audi A3 Cabriolet costs Rs 44.75 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), or Rs 12 lakh more than the most expensive locally assembled A3 sedan. Now, with your sensible hat on, you might think paying big luxury sedan money for a compact luxury car with compromised practicality makes no sense. But then, that’s missing the point. This isn’t meant to be your first car; it’s meant to be at least your third. It’s a toy you take out for a drive in town at night (don’t try and squeeze in more than one companion though), or on a blast through the Western Ghats on a chilly weekend morning, as we did. With all the other convertibles on sale in India priced north of Rs 70 lakh, the only car that comes close to being competition for the A3 Cabriolet right now is the cheaper but even less practical Mini Cooper Convertible. Like that car, this one is largely a fashion statement that just so happens to be fun to drive too. The soft-top A3 is undoubtedly an indulgence that comes with a number of compromises, but if it's roofless motoring you're after, it’s the most practical option yet.