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Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TFSI Sport

Click to view picture gallery“Brits love their convertibles. And
ll be lusting after Audis latest
  A3 Cabriolet — not just because of
  its chic looks and its genuine four-
  seater capacity, but also because
  of the way it drives. When it comes
  to Show and Go, this Cabriolet has
  got the lot...

THE VERY FIRST THING THAT YOU NOTICE as you approach Audi's neat-looking A3 Cabriolet is that it's fitted with a proper fabric soft-top not one of the folding metal hard-tops that are currently in vogue.

Audi does nothing without good reason. And the very good reason for the A3 Cabriolet's soft-top is that a folding fabric roof is easier to package, lighter and less complicated than a folding metal roof (and therefore quicker to raise and lower) and it frees up more space for a bigger boot along with maximising room for rear passengers.

With the A3's large fabric roof stowed neatly away in its own dedicated storage well between the boot proper and the rear seat backrests, the rigid front part of the roof forms a cover over it behind the two roll-over hoops. All of which benefits the A3 Cabrio's clean, classy and uncluttered look. Better still, the 260 litres of boot space remain the same whether you're sampling the sun or motoring with the roof up.

The very next thing you notice is that, while it may well be an 'entry level' convertible in the Audi range (the alternatives are the TT Roadster and the A4 Cabriolet), the four-seater A3 Cabrio is definitely one very smart looking car — but you do need to see it in the flesh to really appreciate it.

Inside it's much the same stylish story as outside, with a fascia enhanced by high quality soft touch plastics, classy looking and crystal-clear instruments and well-engineered and faultlessly laid out switchgear. All unmistakably — and typically — Audi. Four rotary air vents with milled chrome outer rings, similar in style to those found on the Audi TT, ensure a goodly supply of hot or ice-cold air, top up or top down. If SatNav is fitted (a not unreasonable £600 option) the screen is sited just below the centre pair of air vents in the centre stack.

The handbrake is of the swan-neck type and, commendably, there's ample room around it to avoid pinched fingers. There's also lots of storage bins and cubbies dotted around the cabin and you'll be doing well if you can fill half of them. For the record, the soft-top is neatly lined with a smart charcoal-coloured fabric lining that finishes off the cabin nicely.

Wide door and easy tilt 'n' side seats ensure easy entry and exit to both the front and rear seats. The front seats have generous adjustment (including height on both the driver and front passenger seats) and there's impressive leg, shoulder, elbow and head room. Our test car came with the optional and excellent 6-stage seat heating — worth every penny for the additional comfort it provides.

The cabin — open or closed — has a great ambience, whether you're a passenger or the driver who, thanks to the multi-adjustable seat and extensive reach and rake adjustment on the great-to-hold leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel, is guaranteed a first-rate driving position. The multi-function steering wheel-mounted controls are for the on-board computer, SatNav, voice command and audio functions.

Paddle-shifts for manual gear changing are perfectly sited on the rear of the wheel's horizontal spokes: left for downshifts; right for up. Two nice touches deserving of a mention are the buttons inset in the sides of the front headrests that make adjustment completely hassle-free, and the extra shoulder bolstering on the front seats that provides excellent support exactly where you want it. Another much appreciated feature is the powerful lighting that takes much of the strain out of night driving.

A good many so-called four-seat convertibles are not practical and sometimes the rear seat accommodation is not even viable for two small children. As for the A3 Cabriolet — when Audi say it's a genuine four-seater, they're as good as their word. Sit in the rear and you'll be surprised to find that you and another 5' 11" adult can sit behind two 5' 11" adults — not only very comfortably, but with your heads well short of the roof. Another unlooked-for surprise is that the A3 Cabriolet's rear seat backs can be folded down (although not quite flat), extending the luggage space from 260 to a very functional 674 litres.

Buying into the A3 Cabriolet 'club' will cost upwards of £20,750. For that you can drive away a 1.9 TDI model. There are two diesel and two petrol engine options, offering power outputs of between 103 and 197bhp. We tested the 197bhp 2.0 TFSI Sport fitted with Audi's superb 6-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox.

In this spec the A3 Cabriolet definitely has the bite to match its bark. With 197bhp transmitted to the road via the front wheels, there's more than enough poke — should you ever feel so inclined — to faze the average hot hatch: 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds and a top speed at 144mph. More pleasing news is that our test average, calculated over a week's satisfyingly hard driving on mixed roads, worked out to 30.1mpg. Officially, less hard-charging drivers could achieve a combined 37.2mpg with 27.4mpg in the city and as much as 46.3mpg on the extra-urban cycle. Not only that but you won't need to interrupt your journey too often as the 55-litre (12.1 gallons to most of us) fuel tank should be good for at least 400 miles between top-ups.

The A3 Cabriolet is one of those cars that feels totally at ease with whatever driving style you throw at it. Want to play the boulevardier? The A3 nonchalantly obliges. Feel like blowing the cobwebs out? Again, the A3 eagerly indulges you. And with 197bhp and, more importantly, 206lb ft of torque on call between 1,800 and 5,000rpm, it's more than capable of meeting your right foot's demands.

The four-cylinder 2.0-litre is a satisfying and muscular powerplant that's keen to perform all the way through the speed range. For the record, the 'T' in the TFSI tells you there's a turbocharger under the bonnet — not that you'd guess from the driver's seat as, even from low revs, there's no sense of anything other than a smooth surge of horsepower in response to pressing down hard on the accelerator.

Driven as it should be — with the top down and, therefore, unlimited head room — wind roar and buffeting are minimal, thanks to a flip-up mesh deflector that fits over the rear seats (a quick and easy one-person operation), and even at fast cruising speeds you can talk to your passengers without shouting. Roof up, sound insulation is impressive and wouldn't, we're sure, be noticeably better with a heavy metal roof. The fully automatic, triple-layer roof comes with extra acoustic and thermal insulation and is well-engineered, quiet and fast to open or close, opening in just 9 seconds and closing again in only 11 seconds at up to 19mph.

Capping it all is the Cabriolet's high level of rigidity, which endows it with a palpable sense of robustness. New owners will be impressed by how precise it feels and how easy it is to hustle down a challenging stretch of road. The brakes, too, are equally reassuring, scrubbing off speed efficiently and in a fuss-free manner. Sport trim A3 Cabriolets have a ride height lowered by 15mm but riding on the shorter, stiffer springs was no hardship.

In fact, the ride quality is yet another plus point: a well-judged mix of comfort and sportiness. Handling is predictable, it holds the road well and body control is good — even on poorer roads marred by bumps and ripples. Prospective customers can tick the Sport-spec box without fear. Precise, well-weighted steering and refined, near-instantaneous gear changes from the brilliant S-tronic automatic transmission are the icing on this wedge of automotive cake — you can, for instance, drop down from 6th to 3rd as quick as you can flick.

Sport spec Cabriolets come with 17-inch alloy wheels, fully-automatic hood operation, wind deflector, dual-zone electronic climate control, powered front (auto one-shot up/down) and rear windows with comfort (all four together) open/close function, electrically-operated and heated door mirrors including heated washer jets, sports suspension, MP3-compatible CD/radio with uprated speakers, Servotronic speed-dependent power steering, three-spoke leather-covered multi-function sports steering wheel, sports front seats and a driver's information system.

Of course, you also get the usual comprehensive array of safety kit you'd expect from Audi, including Hill-Start Assist — if you press and hold the footbrake for several seconds on a gradient, this will prevent the vehicle from rolling back and when you then take your foot off the brake pedal, the car will be held for a moment longer, allowing you to drive off cleanly. It goes without saying that all of the optional extras available are desirable, but the one we'd most readily recommend is the reversing sensor.

Clearly Audi has yet another winner on its hands with this fashionable, genuine four-seater cabrio. Not only is the convertible A3 good to look at, it's also very enjoyable to drive. Top up, top down and even — especially agreeable — with the roof in place and all four windows fully open as a pillarless coupé. In addition, the A3 Cabriolet conspicuously maintains Audi's well-earned reputation for comfort and is delightfully easy to live with. So what's new? — MotorBar

Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TFSI Sport
| £26,910
Maximum speed: 144mph | 0-62mph: 7.3 seconds | Overall test MPG: 30.1mpg
Power: 197bhp | Torque: 206lb ft | CO2 181g/km | Insurance group 16