Ingolstadt adds some angst and adrenaline to its A3 convertible range with the four-seat Audi S3 Cabriolet.
WHAT IS IT?
The range-topping variant of the Audi A3 Cabriolet line, complete with quattro all-wheel drive and a muscular 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four. Available solely with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, the S3 Cabriolet demands a $22K premium over the entry-level A3 1.4TFSI Cabriolet and is intended to appeal to 30-plus men who want sports and sunshine in equal measure.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Along with its tin-top relatives – the S3 Sportback and S3 Sedan – the ace up the S3 Cabriolet’s sleeve is its powertrain. Packing 210kW and a chubby 380Nm, the S3 rag-top’s new-generation 2.0-litre turbo four smashes the older 1.8-litre turbo fitted to its closely related A3 1.8TFSI quattro sister by more than 50 percent for both power and torque.
When it launches in 2015, the turbo-six BMW M235i convertible, or, if you don’t mind just two seats, the ballsy but unrefined Nissan 370Z Roadster. Only the deeply misguided should consider the ancient (and slow) Lexus IS250 C.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Arguably a step too far for the stylish A3-based Cabriolet, lacking the sweetness of the $55K 1.8TFSI Cabriolet quattro. But if you prioritise looks and performance, the S3 is the one.
PLUS: Handsome; grippy; beautifully built; barky and muscular engine
MINUS: Feels heavy-footed; cramped rear seat; compromised ride quality
THE WHEELS REVIEW
SPORTS models and convertible lids rarely exist in harmony. Even Porsche’s brilliant 911 loses some of its lustre when its roof gets chopped, so what hope is there for Audi’s first small S-badged convertible offered in Australia, the S3 Cabriolet?
Based on the Volkswagen Group’s impressive MQB architecture, and sharing most of its vitals with the likeable new A3 Cabriolet, the S3 version definitely has good genes.
Benchmark build quality, a classy interior that exudes expense, and a subtly muscular body that looks great even when the insulated ‘acoustic’ cloth roof is in place all get the S3 Cab’ off to a great start.
Chasing one through the twisting Gold Coast hinterland, the S3 Cab even has a bit of ‘lead-sled’ ’49 Mercury about it, thanks to its low roofline and broad glass rear window, embellished by four rear exhaust pipes blurting and popping.
Up front, the Performance Pack-equipped S3 boasts full LED headlights, while underfoot, 19-inch rims with superb Continental ContiSportContact 5P tyres fill the Cabriolet’s guards. For the additional five grand Audi asks for the Performance Pack, you also get adaptive magnetic dampers, diamond-stitched sports seats and a cracking 705-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo with 14 speakers.
Indeed, it’s hard to think of an ‘affordable’ drop-top more suited to posing along the Surfers Paradise boulevard, surfboard poking out the rear seat, than the buff S3 Cab. But what’s this hipster Cabriolet like to drive?
Given its tight sports suspension (25mm lower than an A3 Cab quattro’s) and fat, low-profile rubber, the S3 Cabriolet’s body does a pretty impressive job resisting flex and twist, though you can always sense the loss of rigidity over its tin-top siblings.
Then there’s the multi-setting magnetic dampers, which do a surprisingly effective job of keeping it all together in Dynamic mode, yet somehow deliver too much vertical pitch and not enough suppleness in Comfort mode.
The S3 Cab’s suspension is clearly less disciplined than the hatch and sedan versions, yet the drop-top does an admirable job throwing its 1620kg kerb weight around in tight stuff.
Its steering works best in Dynamic, offering consistently meaty weighting without muffling too much feel, and so do its dampers in press-on conditions, though there’s a heavy-footed feel – just like a Golf R – that champions outright grip over delicacy or poise.
What the S3 Cabriolet is all about, though, is its engine.
A robust 210kW (up 4kW over the hatch/sedan, though all MY15 S3 models will soon get the same upgrade) makes the S3 Cab 59 percent stronger than the 1.8T and you can feel it.
The ballsy 2.0-litre turbo overcomes the S3 Cab’s mass with effortless arrogance, and there’s plenty of personality in its subtle induction growl and barky exhaust crackle.
For many, the S3 Cabriolet’s extra visual and acoustic sizzle will be enough to immediately discount a 1.8TFSI A3 Cabriolet as a viable alternative. But unless you really have to have a convertible, we’d go for either the S3 Sportback or Sedan with optional sunroof without a second thought.
Model: Audi S3 Cabriolet
Engine: 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 210kW @ 5300rpm
Max torque: 380Nm @ 1800-5200rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch
Kerb weight: 1620kg
0-100km/h: 5.5sec (claimed)
On sale: Now