The improved Audi A3 Cabriolet is at its most popular in 2.0 TDI 150PS guise. Jonathan Crouch checks it out.
Ten Second Review
Audi's A3 Cabriolet becam a much more desirable thing in its second generation guise and it's been usefully further improved in the facelifted form we look at here. All the Audi attributes you're used to - cool design, fantastic build quality, engine efficiency and strong residual values - are matched to sleek looks delivering that 'want one' factor. You can't really ask for much more from a compact convertible. Let's check out the 2.0 TDI 150PS diesel variant.
There wasn't much else wrong with the original drop-top Audi A3, a car we first saw in 2007. It was well built, had a range of great engines to choose from and made all sorts of sense on the balance sheet thanks to decent efficiency and strong resale values. The problem lay in its underpinnings, which had to be based on those of the A3 Hatch, hence the short, stubby shape and pram-like look when the roof was down. BMW knew not to do this, basing the Audi's closest rival, their 1 Series Convertible, on a coupe platform for a sleeker, more elegant look.
So the Ingolstadt engineers went back to the drawing board, resulting in this second generation version, a car we first saw in the Spring of 2014 and a design clearly based on a very different approach. For a start, it was spun off the chassis of the A3 Saloon, a more effective base for a smartly styled cabriolet conversion. As a result, it better suited the needs of owners of Audi's long lamented A4 Cabriolet who couldn't stretch to its A5 replacement.
Now, just a few years into this model's production lifecycle, Audi has lightly revised it, adding in minor styling enhancements and including the option of its clever 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument binnacle technology, as well as more advanced infotainment choices. Most potential buyers sem to want the 2.0 TDI desel version, so that's the derivative we thought we'd look at.
So how does it drive? Well, we'd be lying if we said there was no shake or shudder at all with this car over poor road surfaces, but there really isn't very much. Especially if, at point of purchase, you make the right suspension choice between 'firm', 'firmer' or 'firmest' - or to put it in Audi-speak, the 'Standard', 'Sports' or 'S line Sports' suspension set-ups that your dealer will offer you. Get this wrong and you run the risk of spoiling the cossetting, luxurious character of this car in pursuit of dynamic attributes it was never really designed to prioritise. The 'Sports' set-up is lowered by 15mm: the 'S line Sports' by a further 10mm. Neither is a very pleasant companion on a poorly surfaced road, so if you're going for a test drive in this car, make sure you ask the sales person which set-up is fitted to the car you're driving.
As for engines, well for UK buyers, the most obvious choice will be the 150PS 2.0 TD diesel variant we're looking at here. And, sure enough, it's a very impressive engine, with eager pulling power delivering the rest to 62mph sprint in 8.9s en route to a 139mph maximum that ought to be enough for anyone. The sprint figure falls to 8.8s if you take up the option of S tronic auto transmission. Go for the option of quattro 4WD and the top speed falls to 136mph.
Design and Build
Built on a modified version of the A3 Saloon's chassis, the A3 Cabriolet lost its somewhat dumpy, pram-like styling when re-launched in second generation form. Exterior changes to this revised version are slight but the front looks a little more purposeful, courtesy of sharper lines for the familiar and now broader Singleframe grille. The headlights are flatter, with distinctive outer contours and can now be ordered in Matrix LED form, so they are significantly brighter and constantly adapt themselves to avoid dazzling other road users, plus of course they never need to be dipped. Equally subtle changes at the rear aim to accentuate the width of this car - with the horizontal illuminated graphics of the rear lights and the separation edge above the redesigned diffuser.
Inside, the 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument display used in the TT and other pricier Audis is now available in this one as an option. This displays the most important driving-relevant information in high resolution on a 12.3-inch diagonal TFT screen. The driver can switch between two views by pressing the "View" button on the multifunction steering wheel. In addition, the menu structure that works the centre dash MMI infotainment screen has been redesigned and is now more intuitive.
As before, the soft fabric roof is stretched over a magnesium-steel 'skeleton'. The opens or closes electro-hydraulically in less than 18 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph. When retracted, the top - folded into three layers - rests in a tray that barely affects luggage capacity, which is 287-litres (10.14 cubic ft). There's a proper glass rear window and the roof can be specified in black, grey and brown - while the inner liner is available in black or lunar silver.
Market and Model
Prices for this 2.0 TDI variant start at just over around £27,500 in base 'SE' form, so you're looking at a premium of around £1,350 over the 110PS 1.6-litre TDI variant. Budget around £1,500 more if you want the S tronic auto gearbox. You'll need to trade up to ritzier 'Sport' trim though, to get the option of being able to find around £1,500 more to add in quattro 4WD. By that stage though, you'll be looking at spending around £31,000.
The key option with this improved model is the clever 'Virtual Cockpit' system replacing the conventional instrument dials with an eye-catching 12.3-inch TFT display. But of course, there's much else to select from. An 'MMI radio plus' set-up with an electrically extending 7-inch diagonal monitor is standard, while the 'MMI navigation' system is fitted from 'Sport' trim upwards. Go further and specify the 'MMI navigation plus with MMI touch in conjunction with the Audi connect' package (what a mouthful!) and you can have many online functions in your A3 at high speed via the super-fast LTE standard. They include, for example, navigation with Google Earth and Google Street View traffic information in real time, as well as practical information on parking, destinations, news or the weather. There's also a free 'Audi MMI connect' app that enables other services, such as online media streaming and transfer of a calendar from a smartphone to the MMI. Mobile phones with iOS and Android operating systems can now be connected with the car via the standard Audi smartphone interface.
Cost of Ownership
The weight saving of up to 60kg that Audi engineers have achieved with this second generation A3 Cabriolet is notable - and all the more so given that this is a better performing and more spacious car: the basic convertible top weighs only 50kgs. So this model starts off with a useful head start when it comes to running cost returns, an advantage which can be added into the existing efficiency initiatives you'd now expect from a car of this kind.
But let's get to the figures. The variant we're looking at here, the 150PS 2.0 TDI diesel, delivers 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and 110g/km of CO2 when on 16-inch wheels. If this is the version you have in mind, we'd suggest that you don't sign on the dotted line before first checking out the comparably priced - and very clever - 150PS 1.4TFSI CoD petrol model. Here, hi-tech 'Cylinder on Demand' technology sees this four cylinder engine running on only two of its cylinders at low to mid-throttle speeds. Thanks to that, this variant manages a combined cycle figure within spitting distance of that of the TDI - 58.9mpg and 110g/km. And the petrol model gets even closer to the running cost returns of its diesel counterpart should you opt for automatic transmission thanks to its use of a more efficient 7-speed gearbox: the TDI gets an older, dirtier 6-speeder. As a result, a 1.4 TSI CoD S tronic variant returns up to 57.6mpg and 114g/km, while a 2.0 TDI S tronic delivers no more than 61.4mpg and a smokier 120g/km of CO2. Still want that diesel?
It's hard to think of any other car in Audi's recent history that's been improved so dramatically from one generation to the next as this A3 Cabriolet. You name it, it's better. Clever design, the way the car drives, practicality, running costs, equipment; everything's all a big step on and things have been lightly improved again with the facelifted version we've been looking at here.
Provided you don't enter the purchasing process with unrealistic expectations that this model will be mainstream brand-affordable - or some sort of sportscar - it's hard to see how you could be disappointed by what's on offer here, especially with a willing 150PS 2.0-litre TDI diesel installed beneath the bonnet. The A3 Cabriolet has matured - got a little more Vorsprung durch Technik. And the compact convertible class retains its benchmark.