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2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet

Audi's latest A3 Cabriolet combines style, convenience, luxury and top-down driving pleasure

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

      • SEE ALSO: Audi Buyers Guide


If it seems that cars and trucks are getting ever larger, that merely opens new niches at the other end of the size scale. Among luxury cars, compact is the coming thing, and the newest A3 is Audi's entry in the American marketplace.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet

Although there were three-door hatches and even a two-door convertible in other markets, the previous A3 sold in the US was in five-door hatchback "Sportback" form only. Which had its adherents, but… If Americans are slowly recognizing the usefulness and benefits of small hatches, there is still resistance. And more traditional body styles could increase sales, not only here but in Europe and Asia as well. Which is the goal for all manufacturers. To that end, the new A3 is offered in four-door sedan and two-door cabriolet form, with the five-door Sportback slated to make a reappearance later in the year.

Following current trends, the V6 that was the upscale engine in the previous generation is history. US-spec A3s get a variety of turbocharged four-cylinder powerplants. The standard 1.8T is, as the designation suggests, 1.8 liters in capacity, with horsepower peaking at 170 from 4500 through 6200 rpm and torque at 200 lb-ft from 1600 through 4400 rpm and driving the front wheels. Above that is the 2.0T, basically a stroked version of the 1.8, with 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft at the same engine speeds. The old 2.0T made 200 hp and 207 lb-ft. 2.0T means quattro, which is Audi's all-wheel drive system, meant for optimum traction in any weather condition and on any road surface. The TDI uses Audi's latest 2.0-liter turbodiesel in front-wheel drive form for 150 hp and 236 lb-ft.

Wondering about the lack of a V6 performance model? Instead of a V6, there is the S3, with a hot version of the 2.0T good for 292 hp (from 5400 through 6200 rpm) and 280 lb-ft from 1900 through 5300 rpm. Quattro only, no surprise -- and a bit stronger than the old 250-hp V6, not to mention lighter. The only transmission for all engines is the six-speed automated dual-clutch S tronic®.

The four-door sedan body can be fitted with any of the powertrains. The cabrio is 1.8T and 2.0T only at this point. Sportback plans are for TDI and e-tron® gasoline-electric hybrid power.

Standard equipment level is high, with leather seating, xenon headlamps, LED DRLs, Sirius/XM® satellite radio (subscription required), Bluetooth® connectivity, dual-zone climate control and more standard. If more is desired, it's readily available as nearly all of the conveniences that may be had in the larger and more expensive Audi are offered for the A3.

The A3 that I've spent the past week in was a 1.8T Cabriolet. Convertible? In winter? Hey, it snows in Ingolstadt… although assembly is at an Audi facility in Gyor, Hungary. Winter is the perfect time to see just how weather-tight and insulating the convertible top may be. The answer is: very. No, no snow this past week, nor even rain. But plenty of cold, dense ground fog and temperatures barely into the 50s. No drafts, no chill, and when the sun did make an appearance, no fuss getting the top down and back up as it's a no-hands, one-touch power operation. The 1.8T engine never left me desiring more power, and with a 28-mpg average for the week, went impressively far on not much fuel. Want to go further? TDI. Faster? 2.0T or S3. The 1.8T strikes a fine balance between performance and economy, with Audi style and an enjoyable driving character as well.




APPEARANCE: It's instantly recognizable as an Audi thanks to the Singleframe® grille and clean lines that combine a simple, gently-rounded shape with crisp detail lines in the manner of the company's design for nearly twenty years. If it looks like an A4, that's illusion as the A3's body panels are unique and it is smaller in every dimension. Oversize grilles and LED running and tail lights are commonplace in the industry now -- but Audi was the first to use them. Never follow… With the top up, the Cabrio's profile is similar to the sedan's. The rear window is smaller, but it's glass and has a heater element so stays clear in cold weather. Brushed aluminum surrounds the windshield and passenger cabin opening.

COMFORT: Interior styling is as elegantly functional as the exterior, with first-class materials. No surprise there, while the A3 may be the entry-level Audi, it's still an Audi. Seat and steering wheel adjustment are manual, but you sit on and grip leather, and a multi-function steering wheel is standard fare. It has controls for audio, phone, and information systems. Cruise control, wipers, and lights are on stalks. Brightly-backlit main instrument are well-shaded, with no glare. Front seat comfort is very good; the rear is a 2+2 arrangement with reasonable space. Unusually for a convertible, the rear seatback folds 50/50, with a short space available underneath the top compartment.

My test car had the MMI Navigation plus and Premium plus option packages, which added Google Earth-based navigation, the Audi connect telematics system, heated front seats and mirrors, push-button start/stop, aluminum interior trim, and more. Contemporary luxury, here it is. Interestingly there was no backup camera.

The top goes up or down quickly, with no need to manually latch or unlatch. The car can be moving at speeds of up to 31 mph / 50 kph. The multilayered cloth top insulates very well, both against noise and temperature. Its rear window is smaller than the sedan's, so visibility is slightly diminished top-up. And much better top-down. Wind noise and buffeting with the top down and windows up is minimal, but goes up as the windows go down. And yes there is less trunk space, especially with the top down.

SAFETY: The 2015 Audi A3 has all of the required and expected safety equipment. Active safety is enhanced by very good roadholding, maneuverability, and braking characteristics.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Since the top of a unibody car is an essential part of its structure, a convertible version requires modification of that structure. Which is usually additional bracing and material in the sides and floor pan. Take a shoe box. Try twisting it with the top on. Now try with the top off… The extra lower structure will add weight, in this case about 200 pounds. And it still won't be as rigid as the tin-top version. Still, here cowl shake is minimal, only noticeable on poor surfaces. The Cabriolet's fully-independent MacPherson strut / multilink suspension is tuned moderately firmly, more "sport-touring" than sports and perfectly fitting the car's mission. It won't beat you up, even on a bad road, and it won't shake itself to pieces. The speed-sensitive electromechanically-assisted steering is weighted perfectly, and the brakes work very well.

PERFORMANCE: If you absolutely must have the quickest and fastest car, it won't be the convertible version. See above for weight details. That said, to me the 1.8T engine fits the A3 Cabrio's personality perfectly. It has enough power -- 170 hp from 4500 to 6200 rpm, and torque peaking at 200 lb-ft from 1600 through 4400 rpm -- to move 3400 pounds of car quickly enough for pleasure or accident avoidance, and with minimal thirst for unleaded premium. Yeah, 0-60 time, at 7.4 seconds, is 0.2 seconds more than the sedan. But you can't put the sedan's top down. And the 28-mpg average I got for the week was not obtained by gentle use of the throttle -- the turbo is too much fun for that.

CONCLUSIONS: Audi's latest A3 combines style, convenience, and luxury. And it the Cabriolet, add top-down pleasure when the sun's out, and all-weather comfort any other day of the year.

SPECIFICATIONS

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T

Base Price $ 35,600

Price As Tested $ 42,225

Engine Type turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection

Engine Size 1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.

Horsepower 170 @ 4500-6200 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 200 @ 1600-4400 rpm

Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual

Wheelbase / Length 102.2 in. / 175.4 in.

Curb Weight 3373 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 19.8

Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.

Fuel Requirement unleaded premium gasoline

Tires Conti ProContact 225/40R18 92H m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS and ESC standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 24 / 35 / 28

0 to 60 mph 7.4 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Scuba Blue Metallic paint $ 550

Audi MMI Navigation Plus Package -- includes: 1 CD/DVD player with HD radio, Audi MMI Navigation plus without voice control, Audi MMI touch, color driver information display, Audi connect® w/online services (6-month subscription) $ 2.600

A3 Premium Plus model -- includes: 18" 10-spoke alloy wheels, heated front seats and exterior mirrors, Audi advanced key, aluminum interior package $ 2,550

Destination charge $ 925