Driving through San Francisco on a sunny day past a typically packed Dolores Park, I couldn't help but blast the stereo in the 2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet, treating everyone in the vicinity to a blast from the past with Asia's Heat of the Moment. I wouldn't have done it in a hardtop, but a top-down convertible demands exhibitionism, in this case turning me into the world's self-appointed DJ.
The A3, offered as a compact sedan, sportback and the soft top Cabriolet version, sits at the bottom of Audi's line-up in the US. The base price for the convertible comes in at $35,600, although the Prestige trim package brought the cost of my example up to $45,525, with destination. An A3 Cabriolet in the UK will run you only £26,085, but will come with a 1.4-liter engine instead of the 1.8-liter in the base US car. Likewise, in Australia the base A3 Cabriolet also comes with the 1.4-liter engine, and a price of AU$52,861.
Last year, CNET's Antuan Goodwin reviewed anwith Quattro all-wheel-drive and the available two-liter engine, and could find no major criticisms of the car. I felt a bit let down when I got behind the wheel of this A3 Cabriolet, as it was stuck with the smaller engine and front-wheel-drive. After waiting the 20 seconds for the top to go down, however, the magic of open-top driving made everything all right.
The 1.8-liter four cylinder engine in the Audi A3, with direct fuel injection and a turbo, makes 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, decent numbers for the displacement. Power goes to the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission offering fully automatic and sequential shift modes. I found the power delivery satisfying, although there was a moment of hesitation when I floored it from a stop. When manually shifting or using the transmission's Sport mode, I could hear a little growl from the engine as the revs climbed, but my sense of the A3 Cabriolet was more fun cruiser than aggressive sports car.
Of course, the smaller engine means better fuel economy, with 24 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. The city figure would likely have been higher if Audi gave the A3 Cabriolet an idle-stop feature to save gasoline at stop lights. Through a course of driving that encompassed dense urban streets, 65 mph freeways and twisty mountain roads, using all the transmission modes, I came in at 27.5 mpg. The A3 Cabriolet weighs about 200 pounds more than the A3 sedan, but strangely, it turns in slightly better average fuel economy.
If you want fuel economy up in the 30s, Audi offers a diesel version of the A3, but not in Cabriolet form.
From a design perspective, I really don't like four-seater convertibles. The A3 Cabriolet's lumpish top adds nothing to the styling, although Audi mitigates it somewhat with a silver windshield frame that combines with an exterior cabin wrap-around trim piece for a more cohesive look. Impacting practicality, the soft top greatly reduces trunk space, bringing the capacity down to a measly 7.1 cubic feet. You will have to put the groceries in the rear seat.
Those rear seats are tight, especially in knee and hip room, but access is easy as the front seats slide far enough forward. The soft top, when up, does a good job of blocking out road noise, too. I was surprised that the Prestige trim did not include power adjustable seats, but I tended to forget such deprivations when driving with the top down.
LED headlights came with the A3 Cabriolet as part of the Prestige package, as well as a blind-spot-monitoring system with LED warning lights in the side-view mirror casings. The back-up camera offered trajectory lines to help me maneuver. Available as part of the Advanced Technology package, which was not included on this car, are adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
The ride quality in the A3 Cabriolet was about the best I have experienced in a car with a fixed suspension. Despite the car's small size, its suspension soaked up bumps and humps with excellent comfort. More impressive, the ride was not overly soft.
Getting the A3 Cabriolet on a twisty mountain road, I blame the open-air driving experience for getting me in a rowdy Audi driving mood. Using the transmission to get the revs high, I extracted what power the 1.8-liter had to offer and pushed hard into the turns. The electric power steering made for exceptionally light wheel turn, too light by my standards, but very responsive. At the same time, the suspension held the car steady as I pulled through the turn apexes.
A bit short ofor handling, the A3 Cabriolet felt on the verge of rotating neatly in the corners, but then devolved to understeer.
At $800, the very reasonably priced Sport package would have added a sport-tuned suspension and Audi Drive Select, the latter feature offering programs for sport and comfort. However, without Quattro or an adaptive suspension, the drive programs can only do so much.