Audi is no stranger to the subcompact convertible scene – witness the Audi TT roadster – but American fans of the German brand looking for a small, open air ride more spacious than the two-seat TT but not quite as large as the current A4 drop-top have largely been underserved, or have defected to BMW and its 1 (now 2) Series model. That’s all about to change thanks to the introduction of the 2015 Audi A3 cabriolet.
You see, it’s not that Audi wasn’t capable of putting together a luxurious convertible with a small footprint. It’s more that the company wasn’t sure that U.S. buyers truly wanted it. The Audi A3 cabriolet is receiving its cross-Atlantic coming-out party after years of satisfying European sun-lovers, and we have the shifting tastes of premium shoppers (plus the turning of the screws by BMW) to thank. I had the opportunity to travel to Monaco in order to sample the A3 cabriolet, and I am pleased to report that the car hits all the notes needed to please Audi’s core audience.
One Size Fits All
Despite a variety of drivetrain options presented by the 2015 Audi A3 cabriolet in showrooms located outside of the United States, Americans will only be able to sample the convertible in a singular configuration: a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder matched with the brand’s six-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch automated manual transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Although full details concerning the four-cylinder unit’s specs have yet to be released, expect to see it mirror the 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque found in the Audi A4, which features a similar motor.
Unfortunately, while I was presented with two turbocharged gas engines (1.4-liter and 1.8-liter four-cylinders) as well as a smooth 2.0-liter turbodiesel, there was nary a 2.0-liter gas mill in the European test fleet. Even so, after piloting the somewhat weaker 1.8-liter (180 horsepower, 184 lb-ft of torque) it’s clear that the planned four-pot will be more than adequate in accelerating the somewhat heavy subcompact convertible. Forward thrust in the A3 cabriolet was smooth and robust, and the vehicle’s six-speed manual transmission made it easy to keep the car on boost, where it was happiest handling the Audi’s mass.
Pleasant, But Muted, Dynamics
The 2015 Audi A3 cabriolet is not a driver’s car, but then again, it’s not intended to be one. Lacking the rear-wheel drive dynamics of the BMW 2 Series, and saddled with a safe, but feel-sapping all-wheel drive system, the Audi is at its best when charged with providing a comfy ride on either highway or city streets. The tight confines of Monaco’s road system, as well as the equally-narrow boulevards of nearby Nice, France, provided a variety of surfaces over which to sample the A3’s well-tuned suspension system, which dialed out the rough stuff while keeping the car stable at higher rates of speed.
The Pleasure Principle
Of course, the lack of a sporting nature is quite easily forgotten when sidling along the seaside with the top down and natural light and warmth from the Mediterranean sun flooding the cabin. This is particularly true given the 2015 Audi A3 cabriolet’s well-turned-out interior, which has been put together with the typical attention to detail that the automaker has become famous for. Nary a surface nor angle inside the A3 seems out of place, and everywhere you look – or touch – there’s some type of soft, high end material to be encountered. The vehicle's top-tier MMI navigation system provides an almost photo-realistic view of the path to one’s destination, and the stereo kept up with the ambient noise level of the surrounding wind regardless of how quickly we were driving.
Four Seat Convertible
The 2015 Audi A3 cabriolet is based on the same platform as the equally-new A3 sedan, but from a passenger space perspective things are certainly much tighter in the second row. So much so, in fact, that it’s a stretch to call the car a true four-seater. Think of the rear bench in the A3 convertible as better than taking the bus, but only on shorter journeys – and with the top down, it’s a bit blustery for anyone not positioned directly behind the windshield. On the plus side, it’s possible to raise or lower the roof while driving at a reasonable, city-friendly speed, but it takes nearly 20 seconds from button push to final tuck, which can feel like an eternity in the event of a sudden cloudburst.
I enjoyed the neck-warming jets of air built into the A3 cabriolet’s front two bucket seats, as they did a good job of keeping me toasty around town. At highway speeds, they seemed to be washed out by the wind coming around the side of the car, but the A3's heated leather upholstery stepped up to pick up the slack.
Luxury, On A Smaller Scale
Luxury, On A Smaller Scale
If there’s one thing that the success of vehicles like the Buick Verano have proven, it’s that a modestly-sized premium car doesn’t have to deliver sports car performance in order to appeal to entry-level luxury buyers. In a direct comparison against the 2 Series –the 2015 Audi A3 cabriolet’s closest rival – it’s clear which model is intended to dazzle through the curves, and which one would rather enjoy the scenic route simply for the view. But you know what? Sometimes when I’ve got the top down and I’m out for a nice, relaxing drive, it’s the view that’s on my mind – and what better way to see it than from behind the wheel of such a well-balanced convertible? The A3 cabriolet knows its audience, and better yet, knows how to give them what they want, and that’s the formula for a successful automobile.
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