2015 Audi A3 1.8 TFSI Cabriolet long-term car review, part 1

Audi A3 Cabrio with James Whitbourn

Images clash as Whitbourn settles into life with his flash compact soft-top.

I FEEL like other drivers are silently passing judgement, sniggering from their macho-mobiles. I mean, a car says a lot about its owner, and they don’t know it’s a press car. To them, it just looks like I reckon this is the best way to spend $52K.

Well, from the outset, let me say I don’t think that. In all likelihood, too, the majority probably see a good-looking compact Audi rag-top when they look at my new Scuba Blue long-termer.

Either way, I begin three months with the A3 cabriolet like any good road-tester, with my mind as open as the cabin.

Audi -A3-Cabrio -frontIt’s not that I have a problem with the A3’s image, more that it doesn’t match mine. I want my car to reflect my offbeat tastes and, ideally, the effort I’ve put into owning and customising something a bit different. Admittedly, this is difficult with a new car, especially a trendy one like this.

What could I do to (reversibly) modify the A3, I wondered. Hubcap removal is a proven way to give a base hatch a bit of eff-off cool, but wouldn’t apply here, while a Nurburgring map decal has never improved any car. Perhaps a tongue-in-cheek ‘Real Aussies Drive Utes’ bumper sticker, though that might upset utilitarians as much as Audi HQ.

Fortunately, the rest of the A3 line-up,
including the cylinder-on-demand 1.4 TFSI sedan in which I’ll spend a second three months, is largely free of image issues.

Paranoia aside, my initial impressions of the cabrio are that the A3 becomes less good along its roofless journey.

Purists may scoff but I don’t mind a sunroof. It can transform a claustrophobic cabin, brings great airflow, and can be nice on a summer night. But I usually draw the line at a moonroof. Convertibles I generally view as a body rigidity-reduction step too far. I don’t dig their look-at-me personality or getting sunburned while stuck in traffic.

Audi -A3-Cabrio -front -sideThe can-openered A3 body isn’t floppy and neither should it be considering how much heavier it is than its siblings (presumably largely in chassis reinforcement). But over bumps it does do the torsional twist, which you might overlook if not for the loud creaking of the interior roof trim.

And the stiff-legged low-speed ride doesn’t help because it transmits its harshness to the body as well as the occupants.

However, the powered operation of the roof itself leaves little to be desired. It’s quick and, like most, can be opened and closed at low speeds (up to 50km/h). Whether it’s raised or lowered, the A3 is a crisply styled, sedan-based
drop-top that’s much better looking than
the previous hatchback-derived version.

Having come to the conclusion that the modern dual-clutch is largely free of the dithering/abrupt clutch engagement that plagued early examples, I welcomed getting an ‘auto’ Audi. But so far the A3’s gearbox takes me back. Initial clutch engagement can be hesitant, which takes the sparkle off the turbo four’s bottom end and has left me hanging at intersections.

Audi -A3-Cabrio -InteriorThe trick with the dual-clutcher is being decisive with the throttle, though that can result in a lurching getaway. But once into the 1.8’s mid-range, the A3 offers lively performance with good overall fuel economy, so far.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, then. So when friends enquire how my new car’s going, I don’t lie. I tell them that, if it was a manual shooting brake that rode well and had torque-vectoring AWD and a twin-turbo V6, it’d be faultless.

Until such time as that niche has been filled, I’ll remain comfortable in the knowledge there’s one group of drivers on the road who won’t judge me – blokes in A3 cabrios. Trouble is, I’ve yet to see any.

Don’t weight up

AS IF the cabriolet’s 130kg penalty over the sedan isn’t enough, the quattro version is an additional 110kg over the front-drive version. At 1540kg, incredibly, my new long-termer is only 20kg lighter than my outgoing Mazda 6 wagon. Or is it? One day in, it started raining and axle-tramp announced that my A3 is not the quattro I was expecting. All good, my FWD cabrio is a handy $3K cheaper, lighter (at 1430kg) and officially a whole lot more economical than the quattro: 5.8 versus 6.6L/100km.

Thirst impressions

THE A3’s fuel consumption hovered at around 10L/100km in the initial days. I expected better, and blamed the weight and mechanical losses of the quattro system. As well, the quattro gets 132kW and 280Nm while the front-drive is down 30Nm, with the same peak power. Discovering that I actually had the front-driver coincided with a trip to Canberra, which saw economy improve considerably to 6.7L/100km. The A3 cab can be economical then, and is not alone in being relatively thirsty in Sydney traffic.

Price as tested: $51,900
Part  1: 1549km @ 7.4L/100km
Overall: 1549km @ 7.4L/100km
Odometer: 1798km
Date acquired: January 2015

Click here to read the full range review of the Audi A3 and S3.

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