CABRIOLETS come with compromise. That's been the unwritten rule for those wanting drop-top driving.
Yet the new Audi A3 Cabriolet is writing a new chapter for going topless.
Priced below $50,000 for the first time, representing a drop of nearly five grand over the outgoing model, this is one of the most composed compact variants we've experienced in this genre.
Offering four seats, a reasonable sized boot and good looks, it's another string to the Audi bow which is hitting targets with Australian buyers. Audi is coming off record sales in June, and is already close to notching 10,000 sales in 2014.
The Hungary-built A3 Cabriolet starts from $47,300, book-ended by an all-wheel drive derivative that starts from $54,900.
Growing in just about all directions has resulted in greater internal space. Unlike many cabriolets, the rear two pews are actually useful. It's still the preserve of children or smaller adults, yet they're not just there for illustration purposes and the seats are surprisingly comfortable with reasonable lumbar support and head rests.
Sitting on the front row provides the best seat in the house which is at its best with the lid off.
The electric rag-top roof will fold into the boot within 20 seconds and at speeds up to 50kmh - brilliant when you are faced with rapidly changing weather conditions.
Cabin ambience is close to hard-top levels. Only typical European tyre rumble is pronounced on coarse chip surfaces…although our experience was aided by the $450 optional acoustic roof which has additional headliner material.
When the roof is off, the front passengers can carry a conversation without shouting and there is very little wind buffeting.
Facing the South Australian winter we were aided by bottom-warming seats and neck heaters (a $1250 addition) which made travel a surprisingly comfortable experience.
Cabin layout is typically Audi - crisp, clear and easy to operate. The driver has two primary instruments, speedometer and tachometer, while the driver can toggle between information on the digital computer in the middle.
On the road
Stepping onto the natural preserve that is Kangaroos Island, the drop-top tackled some interesting terrain. Dirt and corrugations which would challenge some modern-day soft-roaders were laughed at by the little Audi cabriolet.
There is a choice of Attraction and Ambition trim levels with the option of three turbocharged four-cylinder powerplants, two petrols and an oil-burner.
While growing in size, the new A3 Cabriolet is about 75kg lighter courtesy of various lightweight materials including an aluminium bonnet.
That means it's one agile performer which is more than capable in entry-level guise. For those who stay within city confines or undertake easy highway travels, the 1.4-litre donk is adept in all areas. While lacking the punch of the 1.8-litre, which is more useful for rapid overtaking and sprints away from traffic lights, the base powerplant is no shrinking violet. No wonder it will account for the bulk of A3 Cabriolet sales.
Those digging deeper into pockets for the diesel won't be disappointed either. It's the most rewarding with 320 Newton metres of twist on tap which delivers instantaneous mid-range throttle response and also lopes along at the national speed limit with consummate ease.
No matter which powerplant, the A3 Cabriolet feels ultra taut. Slot it into a bend with vigour and the little drop-top remains sticky and confident, with no flex in the body - even with the roof off.
Only some pretty hefty bumps caused some minor wobble.
What do you get?
Base variant Attraction comes with an eight-speaker CD stereo, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, along with front and rear parking sensors, paddle shifters on the steering wheel, auto lights/wipers, cruise control, leather trim and dual zone air-con.
Ambition adds colour driver display, sports steering wheel and front seats, as well as groovier five-arm alloys.
While there are optional extras aplenty, five packs offer the best value. One of the finest is the Technik grouping which comes with a larger screen, sat nav, 64GB hard drive, DVD capability and two SD card readers along with a rear view camera for $2650.
For extra safety gizmos over the five airbags and usual technological suite, opt for the pack which includes radar cruise control, lane and blind spot assist for $1800.
Grocery trips or weekends away are accommodated by the 320 litre boot (45 litres less with the top down) which can bolstered by folding the rear seat backs.
There is a pair of cup holders front and back, and some good storage spots up front and a 12-volt plug. Audis still don't have a USB slot, instead requiring a special adaptor cord for smartphones which cost about $100.
Forget being confined to those in the hairdressing industry. Those with an eye for style, both male and female, will appreciate the sexy lines and low slung stance.
There are 14 exterior colours, but if you'd like something truly special you can customise your own hue.
What matters most
What we liked: Good looks, comfortable top up or down, near faultless powertrain line-up.
What we'd like to see: Safety features such as radar cruise and blind spot warning standard, USB slot instead of requiring special Audi cables.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, servicing is annual or every 15,000km.
Model: Audi A3 Cabriolet.
Details: Two-door four-seat front-wheel or all-wheel drive luxury compact convertible.
Engines: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol generating maximum power of 103kW @ 103kW @ 5000rpm and peak torque of 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm; 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol 132kW @ 5100-6200rpm and 250Nm @ 1250-5000rpm (280Nm on Quattro); 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel 110kW @ 3500-4000rpm and 320Nm @ 1750-3000rpm.
Transmissions: Seven or six-speed auto.
Consumption: 1.4-litre 4.9 litres/100km; 1.8-litre 5.8L/100km; 1.8-litre Quattro 6.6L/100km; 2.0-litre diesel 4.7L/100km.
Bottom line plus on-roads: 1.4 - $47,300, 1.8 - $51,900, 1.8 Quattro - $54,900, 2.0 TDI - $51,900.
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