India has one of the largest automobile markets in the world. We have all sorts of body styles on offer here. The evergreen hatchback, the aspirational sedan, the macho SUV and of course the family oriented MPV. Sadly though, convertibles in recent years have never taken the fancy of the Indian automotive manufacturers for reasons that seem to baffle us. That said though, if you do have a bit of money saved away and are willing to spend about 50 lakhs on a car you might want to see past the norm and look at something like this. The new Audi A3 convertible.
DESIGN AND STYLE
It’s a sense of familiarity when you look at the Audi A3 cabriolet from the front because it’s essentially the face of the A3 sedan that we see. The large black slatted grille is overlapped by the automaker’s four rings while the headlights expand outwards to the sides.
The cabriolet sits marginally lower than the sedan (4.42mm vs 4.45mm) with a pronounced forward heaviness thanks to the slope in the bonnet which is the same in the sedan but much more noticeable thanks to the lower height of the convertible. The air dams of the front bumper have little aerodynamic vanes which also serve to add to the sportiness of the car.
The side profile reveals the entire extent of the nose heavy stance as well as the sharp rake of the windshield. In that typical orderly German fashion we can see three separate sections to the side. The first section is the area around the edge of the cabin which sports a large chrome surround.
The second section comprises most of the door as well as a strong shoulder line. The third section is a large crease that extends from the edge of the softly flared rear wheel arch to the front wheel arch. The wheels themselves are large 17-inch clover design units which are specific to the non-sedan body styles of the A3.
This being a convertible, it looks particularly good with the roof down. Press down on the roof button in the centre console and watch the roof, windows and boot do a 20 second (we timed it!) synchronised dance to make the car go from top to topless. We would always recommend you bring the car to a complete halt and then take down or put up the roof.
The rear, like the front, has all the familiar Audi bits like the two- piece tail lamp as well as the familiar bulge below the bootlid section. Like the sedan, the cabriolet too has a small lip at the edge of the boot which doubles up as a spoiler. The rear bumper sticks out a bit and has a little honeycomb section just above the two- piece single side exhaust for additional cooling.
The A3 cabriolet is a combination of a modern product with all the traditional elements of a budget convertible. It will certainly get you the attention with the top up and more so when the roof is down and also because it is something you do not see every day on the roads.
CABIN AND SPACE
The cabin design may appear slightly dull but there is no denying that it’s beautifully made and finished to the standard you would expect of a high-end Audi. Positives inhere include dark black textures, plush leather and good quality materials such as the circular air vents and switchgear on the centre console. Audi has also retained the all-black wraparound dash design with horizontal lines which heighten the sense of width.
Despite the shortened wheelbase, comfort levels up front are on par with the rest of the A3 range. There is more than enough shoulder support and good cushioning. The under thigh support, too, is commendable. What’s definitely better though is the view out when the roof is down – the thin A-pillar, low-set door mounted wing mirrors and the absence of B-pillar all add up to provide brilliant visibility all round. Being a 2+2, you wouldn’t really expect it to accommodate two full-size adults at the back and in truth, it’s barely acceptable for short drives. Still, headroom and legroom is decent and it’s best to keep the rear reserved for kids. That being said, the pair of seats are heavily contoured and as a result, very supportive for those small enough to fit into them. Speaking of squeezing stuff, the boot space has been reduced from the standard A3’s 425-litres to 320-litres to accommodate the roof mechanism. Now although its opening is wide, filling it with large suitcases is plain impossible because of the enclosure’s lack of height and depth.
The 2017 A3 Cabriolet gets wireless phone charging function and full LED headlights as all-new features. It also gets dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, front and rear parking sensors and a 7-inch retractable screen for the MMI infotainment system. What it doesn’t get though are features like start/stop button, keyless entry and electric adjustment for the seats.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
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.
RIDE AND HANDLING
The most comfortable A3 Cabriolets are those in SE spec, because this trim level gets well-judged suspension that blends good bump and pothole absorption with decent body control. Move up to S line trim and you get a lower set-up that’s noticeably firmer at low speeds, compounded further with the bigger wheels you get. None of these firmer set-ups is unbearable, but the good news is that you can specify softer SE suspension on S line trim – and doing so won’t cost you an extra penny. The S3 is lower and stiffer even than S line models, although it comes with standard adaptive dampers, so is actually quite comfortable.
The A3 Cabriolet changes direction eagerly. Its steering is precise and gives you plenty of information about what’s going on between the wheels and the road, even though it’s not the most rewarding system we’ve ever tried.
The car has plenty of grip for those twisting B-road drives in the country, allowing you to press on if you so desire. Fortunately, there isn’t too much body roll, even when you choose the standard SE suspension over the more focused Sport and S line set-ups.
Regardless of which suspension you go for, Audi offers an Adaptive Magnetic Ride system as an option, but the mix of comfort and body control is so good on the standard set-up, that we really wouldn’t bother paying the extra.
The A3 sedan earns a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It scores four out of five stars on its frontal crash and rollover tests, and it achieves five stars for the side crash test. The A3 also does well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, earning a top rating in every category. The IIHS names the A3 a Top Safety Pick+. The Audi A4 receives the same rating from the IIHS, while the Volkswagen GTI earns a slightly lower Top Safety Pick designation.
Standard safety features in the A3 include a rearview camera with front and rear parking sensors. Other safety features are available. With adaptive cruise control, the A3 maintains a set following distance from the car in front of it, automatically slowing or accelerating with the flow of traffic. The A3 takes traditional adaptive cruise control a step further with the car’s ability to come to a complete stop and take off again, all on its own. Another driver assistance feature, lane keep assist, alerts you if you stray from your lane and gently nudges the car back into its lane. The A3 is also available with rear cross traffic alert, which monitors traffic behind the car while you’re reversing to prevent an accident.
It is very easy to sum this car up. It has the advantages you get with the A3 sedan, the sheer thrill and pantomime of an open top convertible and of course, the added pride that comes with driving and owning something this special.
The A3 convertible may not be as practical as a top of the line A4 or a base model A6 that costs about as much but as an automotive package, it is certainly more thrilling. And although some might argue that at Rs 45 lakh it isn’t as pratical, for most buyers this will be a second or third car. Should you consider it? Well, if you are in the market for a stylish convertible, there is nothing available in India today that offers as much value as this does and yet allows you to indulge in a bit of fun.