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Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI Sport

Click to view picture galleryAudi lifts the lid on its new A3
  Cabriolet. And with prices starting
  from 20,745, it looks like Audi has
  yet another winner on its hands...”

AUDI'S FIRST EVER COMPACT CABRIOLET arrives in the UK from 10 May — in time for summer and with prices from 20,745 to 27,060. These are less than its main rival, the new BMW 1 Series Convertible, but they are around 2,000 more expensive than the equivalent A3 three-door hatchbacks on which the Cabriolets are based.

Initially, the new A3 soft-top models will be available with turbocharged, four-cylinder engines and front-wheel drive. There are two petrol and two TDI diesel units — 1.8 T 158bhp, 2.0 T 197bhp, 1.9 TDI 104bhp and 2.0 TDI 138bhp. The 1.9 TDI model has a five-speed manual gearbox, the others six-speed manual transmissions.

Around 30 per cent of customers are likely to choose the S tronic twin-clutch transmission, available at an extra cost of 1,400 for all versions except the 1.9 TDI. There are three specification levels: Standard, Sport (1,850 premium over standard) and S line (1,550 premium over Sport).

The new A3 Cabriolet is a four-seater but with a luggage capacity from 260 litres to 674 litres depending on whether the rear seats are folded. Audi says that by giving the A3 Cabriolet a classic Z-shape folding fabric roof the advantages are both quick up and down action: lowered in nine seconds and raised in 11 seconds, at speeds of up to 19mph.

The roof is lighter and less complicated than a folding metal roof, and it takes up the minimum of space in the boot when folded thus giving rear passengers more room. Audi also says it looks better and it is more distinctive than a folding metal roof — and in the cabriolet market, looks definitely do matter.

Standard specification includes alloy wheels, semi-automatic hood operation, AirCon, powered windows and mirrors and a CD audio system. Sport and S line models incorporate a fully automatic acoustic hood and wind deflector.

Interestingly, BMW thinks their 118i petrol 1 Series Convertible model will be the most popular — it certainly is their cheapest variant, and petrol models overall with sell more than diesel. Audi, for the A3 Cabriolet, believe the opposite: they say diesel models will take 70 per cent of their sales, and that the 2.0 TDI variants — priced from 22,760 to 26,160 — will be most popular.

At the press launch in the South of France last week, Audi unfortunately only had the 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol models for us to try: no diesels at all. Unless customers are really
high-mileage users I'm no longer sure that diesel models in a cabriolet range work. They generally cost more to buy and diesel fuel is much more expensive than petrol. On the other hand, for diesel models Benefit in Kind company car tax can be lower, as is road tax, and diesel engines do give more mpg. I think, in this class, where retail buyers predominate and mileages are not generally high, looks and affordable price count for much more than performance.

Although, as I've said, we did not drive diesel models, the 1.9 TDI model might be the cheapest version in the range but it also the oldest engine. If diesel is the choice, go for the new Audi 2.0 TDI unit — we already know it's very refined, powerful and, more importantly, quiet.

The two direct injection turbocharged petrol engines are ideal for the A3 Cabriolet. They are quiet, fuel-efficient and CO2 friendly. The 1.8-litre TFSI unit produces 158bhp from 5,000rpm, so it needs to be pushed hard if the driver is in a hurry. However, for day-to-day driving, its maximum torque of 184lb ft (developed from only 1,500rpm) makes it an ideal unit for the UK's congested roads or for driving in town. The latest VW-family TFSI turbocharged direct injection petrol engines are very close to providing diesel-like driving characteristics. Top speed is 135mph and 0-62mph takes 8.3 seconds with the manual transmission.

With the S tronic auto the car is marginally faster under acceleration. The average official fuel economy from this 1.8-litre engine with a manual gearbox is 38.7mpg and our test car returned 32.5mpg during some spirited driving on traffic-free country roads around the Bandol region. CO2 emissions are 174g/km, so the annual road tax bill is going to be 170 — the same as the 2.0-litre TFSI.

The 2.0-litre TFSI unit pushes out 197bhp from 5,100rpm with 207lb ft of torque from 1,700rpm. Top speed is 144mph with 0-62mph taking 7.4 seconds. Official average fuel economy is 37.2mpg but the test car came nowhere near that — in real life it returned just 28.8mpg. CO2 emissions are 182g/km, so road tax is also 170. Yes, this engine is a bit faster, perhaps more responsive, but there is so little to choose between it and the 1.8-litre unit — I'd go for the latter and save 1,360.

Taking the roof off a conventional car and turning it into a cabriolet normally unhinges the integrity of the bodyshell. Torsional stiffness becomes an issue and the body starts to flex during cornering or over bad road surfaces. Very little of this was evident with the A3 Cabriolet. It is there but you do not really notice it. The front-wheel drive layout means the car handles well; it is agile, the steering is well weighted and precise and the cornering is predictable. Ride comfort is also excellent.

Wind buffeting inside the car for the passengers is minimal, especially for the front seat occupants. With the roof up, the insulation against wind and road noise is also good and, another plus, the roof mechanism is quiet and very fast to operate. With the roof up, visibility to rear quarters is restricted. With the roof down, the steeply-raked front A-pillar causes some obstruction and you have to watch you don't impale your face on the end of it getting into the car.

The quality of the interior is typical Audi: top-notch. The driving position is first rate and the controls are easy to see and use. Whilst there is plenty of room in the front, the rear passengers are also well catered for, with adequate legroom for adults. Better than the BMW 1-Series Convertible in that area. The boot is a good size as well.

While the new A3 Cabriolet can be expensive if lots of options are added that's not as much a demerit as the steeply-reclining front A-pillar, which can be tricky for tallish front passengers when first entering the car. Strong 'pluses' include being the 'right' size with the 'right' looks, a classy desirability factor, good to drive, easy to use roof, well made and a good quality cabin. All-in-all then, the new Audi A3 Cabriolet is a pretty car; it looks really smart, build quality is excellent and I can see it becoming a fashionable but very useable must-have motor. — David Miles

Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI Sport
| 24,150
Maximum speed: 135mph | 0-62mph: 8.3 seconds | Overall test MPG: 32.5mpg
Power: 158bhp | Torque: 184lb ft | CO2 174g/km | Insurance group 14