"The Audi A3 cabriolet has no problems turning heads, but space is limited, both in the cabin and the boot."
The convertible A3 Cabriolet has the same well-weighted steering and agile, responsive handling as the standard hatchback A3, and is a serious rival for the likes of the Volkswagen Eos and BMW 1 Series convertible. The interior is as luxurious as you’d expect from Audi, while the canvas roof is effective at minimising road, wind and engine noise inside the car, proving to be only one decibel louder than the hard-top version when driven on the motorway. The back seats are a bit of a squeeze for adults, but it does offer a relatively large boot and a generally spacious interior. There's an impressive array of engines to choose from, running the spectrum of efficient to fast, with some offering a very appealing balance of fuel economy and performance. The top-of-the-range 2.0-litre TFSI delivers great performance, but the 1.8-litre unit is equally impressive and should be more than enough for most people's needs. As is usually the case, the diesels are the most efficient, with the 2.0-litre TDI engine offering the best combination of power and economy. The A3 Cabriolet comes in three main specifications – the entry-level Standard, mid-range Sport Final Edition and the top-spec S Line Edition.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
This is the good news. Because Audi has fitted the A3 Cabriolet with clever petrol engines and frugal diesel units, none of the models are particularly expensive to run. The cheapest of the bunch, though, is the 1.6-litre TDI unit, which comes equipped with a stop-start system to further save fuel while idling in traffic by switching the engine off, and costs just £30 a year to tax thanks to its CO2 emissions of 114g/km. The fuel economy is just 66mpg, too. However, even the performance-focused 2.0-litre TFSI engine returns combined economy of 39.2mpg.
Interior & comfort
Given that it has a roof made of fabric, the A3 Cabriolet is surprisingly well insulated from any wind, road or engine noise that you get on the move – even when driving on the motorway. This combines with its very comfortable ride to make it a really good all-rounder. One downside is that rough roads do make the interior vibrate and the steering wheel shake a little, because of the reduced rigidity in the car's body, but this is only really an issue when you get a large pothole sending a crash through to the passengers. Almost all the engines offer excellent quietness, but the diesel and turbocharged 1.2-litre TFSI engines do tend to get a bit noisy, if only because they have to be worked hardest to get the most out of them.
Practicality & boot space
The rear seats are basically useless, really only big enough for small children – and even then bigger child seats probably wouldn’t fit in easily. Luckily, the canvas roof isn’t inside the body of the car, but on the top instead, which means it doesn’t take up valuable boot space when it's folded down, like in the VW Beetle convertible and the MINI Convertible. However, It does mean the view out of the back is slightly restricted, so the optional rear-view cameras are desirable. The roof itself is the quickest in the class, folding down in just nine seconds at speeds up to 19mph. The boot has 260 litres of storage space, which expands to 674 litres when the split-folding rear seats are dropped down.
Reliability & safety
Audi's reputation for reliability and quality has been somewhat variable over the last few years. If you use the Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey as a gauge, the premium car company placed seventh in the manufacturers list in 2011, when it was ahead of both BMW and Mercedes, then dropped to 15th in 2012 and how now climbed back up to 10th in 2013. Clearly, Audi makes decent, durable cars but some customers cited limited practicality and equipment that wasn’t great value for money as some complaints. As for the A3 Cabriolet itself, the convertible model doesn’t rank on its own, but the standard A3 hatchback came in at 110th in the poll's top 150 cars, which is hardly anything to shout about. However, the interior does still feel top-notch, with plenty of soft-touch materials used around the cabin and chunky, solid-feeling buttons and switches throughout. In terms of safety, the A3 was re-tested in 2012 by Euro NCAP and secured the maximum five stars for crash safety, and it comes fitted with driver, front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control as standard. The cabriolet also has roll-over protection bars fitted behind the front seats for added safety.
Engines, drive & performance
The price many convertibles and cabriolets pay for the drop top is the loss of some body rigidity compared to the hatchback or saloons on which they’re based. That's true for the A3, certainly, but it's still great fun to drive. You do feel some vibrations and rattle over rough roads, but there's plenty of grip and the steering is accurate, which makes it very easy to drive with confidence at speed. If you’re looking for the best performance you can get, you should choose the 197bhp 2.0-litre TFSI engine, which accelerates the car from 0-62mph in a decent 7.4 seconds. The most economical engine in the line-up is the 1.6-litre TDI, which can feel sluggish but offers combined fuel economy of 66mpg.
Price, value for money & options
Audis aren’t cheap as a rule, but you’ll already know that if you’re in the market for a premium German car. They are desirable, so you pay for that with a high price tag, but that also means that its resale values will be strong on the used-car market and you should see more of your money back than you would on an Eos, Volvo C70 or BMW 1 Series convertible. Equipment included as standard isn't particularly generous by Audi standards, but running costs will be low, particularly on the diesel engines.