2016 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI Cabriolet Review
Serious style arrives in the compact convertible class.Audi hasn’t had a sedan-based convertible in its lineup since the advent of the A5 Cabriolet in 2009, at least not in name, so the A3 marks a return to a formula that won a lot of fans over to the four-ringed brand during the A4 Cabriolet years.
The A3 Cabriolet is significantly smaller than any A4 Cab, a car that was already shorter than the A5, so it literally opens Audi up to a new market segment not available to the Ingolstadt brand prior to the new model’s introduction last year. Previously, these buyers looked to BMW’s old 1 Series Cabriolet or Volkswagen’s Eos and others in the mainstream volume sector, but ask any in this latter crowd if they’d rather drive an Audi for the same price and you’ll get a vigorous nod.
Of course the A3 Cabriolet costs more than the current Eos, at a base of $36,600 compared to $31,995, which to VW’s credit is a pretty good deal for a four-seat convertible with a retractable hardtop. Just the same I have a feeling the A3 Cab is the Eos’ death knell, with VW only managing to pawn off 2,993 units throughout the U.S. all of last year. As riveting as this news of the Eos’ demise is you’ll probably be more interested in knowing that the A3 Cab is priced $2,050 lower than its main rival, the BMW 228i Convertible.
It’s difficult to say how much of last year’s 35,984 A3 sales were Cabriolets, as Audi doesn’t differentiate between the two body styles, nor its more sporting S3 sedan, but calendar year sales grew 61.7 percent from 22,250 since 2014 so it’s a pretty good sign that the A3 Cabriolet is doing its job of attracting new customers, no doubt California and the other Southern states responsible for snapping up the majority of these particularly stylish tanning machines.
You’ll want to catch that tan up front, mind you, the rear seats only usable for small to mid-size adults, although relatively comfortable. On such a pragmatic train of thought the trunk isn’t bad either at just over 10 cubic feet with the top powered down or a considerably more generous 12.3 with the top upright and divider out of the way, which incidentally makes it a bit bigger in both configurations than that 2 Series Convertible just mentioned. What’s more, standard 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks add cargo/passenger versatility, a step up from the 2 Series that eliminates both rear passengers from the equation when folding its one-piece seatback down. Additionally, a handy lever on each side of the A3 Cab’s cargo wall makes dropping those split seatbacks conveniently easy.
That A3 Cabriolet’s electrohydraulic fabric top comes down or goes up quickly and easily too, the task taking a mere 18 seconds. That’s quick enough to deploy while waiting at a stoplight, but not to worry if the light goes green as it will continue opening or closing at speeds up to 30 mph until finished. The car delivers coupe-like quietness when upright too, much thanks to multi-layer roof construction that includes a full layer of sound insulation. And while we’re on the subject of soft sound absorbent roofs, the A3 is protected during rollover collisions via a reinforced windshield frame and active roll bar-like plates positioned behind the rear seats that instantly spring into place when a rollover is detected.
For something so utile it certainly looks good. The sporty yet elegant design is especially impressive given the car’s short, wide stature, Audi’s bold singleframe grille, attractive LED-infused combination headlamps and razor sharp-edged lower fascia making almost as big a visual statement on this compact as with the brand’s larger cars, while its gorgeous aluminum-finished A-pillars are right out of the A5 Cabriolet playbook. The A3 drop-top’s profile looks more A4 Cab than A5, however, this due to a more upright stance, straight beltline, shoulder line and base line elements, plus a deeply sculpted bone line that rises gradually from front to rear yet is still devoid of the larger convertible’s sexy curves. Still, a fully integrated deck lid spoiler adds a tasteful hint of the performance to come, whereas the lower extremities of its rear end design are finished with a matte black diffuser-style valance featuring chromed pipes at each corner for dramatic effect, while its sharpened blade-shaped taillights are to die for.
The wheels on this upgraded model are a stylish set of 10-spoke 18-inch alloys on 225/40R18 Continental ProContact all-seasons, replacing standard 17s, and despite these not being the most tenacious shoes in the A3 Cab’s closet they gripped tarmac well enough for all but the most extreme aggressiveness. Then again, even when I pushed the little convertible too hard through a particularly serpentine set of S curves it took to each corner effortlessly without a single chirp of complaint from the rubber below, while the body always felt taut and rigid with the top up or down. The A3 Cabriolet is thoroughly enjoyable on the highway too, where it settles into the role of quiet, comfortable traveling companion perfectly. Around town it was as easy to pilot through busy thoroughfares as any Audi I’ve experience before, while the same front strut and multi-link rear suspension that’s so capable when mixing it up in the twisties showed comfortable compliance over rough pavement.
No matter where you’re driving the A3 Cab’s acceleration off the line is strong with speed really picking up as the revs rise, Audi’s direct-injection and turbocharged 2.0 TFSI ideal for overcoming the A3 Cab’s 3,582-lb mass. A total of 258 lb-ft of torque allows good initial jump with full twist available from just 1,600 rpm, whereas this model’s standard four-wheel Quattro traction makes sure all the power gets to the ground no matter the condition of road underneath, while the 2.0-liter mill’s 220 horsepower keeps adrenaline on tap for a spirited sprint from standstill to 60 mph of only 5.9 seconds before attaining a claimed 130 mph terminal velocity. Even when flicking its lightning quick shifting paddle-shift actuated six-speed S tronic dual-clutch automated transmission to its final gear ratio I never saw the trees blur past at such speeds (and would never admit to it if I had), but I experienced the quick rush of speed up to more conservative limits and while not quite as zippy as the aforementioned Bavarian it’s still amply enjoyable.
Then again the A3 Cabriolet delivers slightly better fuel economy than the base Bimmer convertible at 23 mpg in the city, 32 on the highway and 26 combined as-tested (its 170-hp 1.8-liter FWD base drivetrain is good for 24, 35, 28 respectively), thanks in part to a sophisticated idle start/stop system and other eco-goodies, but where the car truly shines is in its combination of performance and comfort, the seats wonderfully cradling due to standard 12-way adjustability including four-way lumbar modulation. They’re leather covered and three-way heatable too, whereas the thick, meaty multifunction steering wheel also gets the leather treatment as does the gearshift knob and skirt.
While we’re talking features I might as well give you a rundown on the car’s key items per trim level, with additional Premium kit not already mentioned including aluminum-look interior detailing, auto on/off HID headlights with integrated daytime running lights, remote keyless entry, an electromechanical parking brake, heatable powered side mirrors, powered windows with auto up/down all-round, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, a monochrome driver information system, a large color infotainment display with a reverse camera, AM/FM/CD audio with an aux plug, satellite and HD radio and Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, front and rear parking sensors, an alarm, a wind blocker that’s stored in the trunk, and more.
You can upgrade the Premium trimmed A3 Cab with a $2,200 MMI Navigation Plus package that adds a color multi-information display within the primary gauges, plus Audi’s MMI infotainment upgrade to the top of the center stack and lower console featuring the aforementioned touch pad controller and navigation as well as Audi Connect.Additionally, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition can be had for $500, Audi’s music interface for $350, heatable front seats for $500, the same set of previously noted 18-inch rims for $800, a sport suspension for $250, plus the choice of three no-cost solid paint finishes and seven $575 metallic hues, plus Black, Chestnut Brown or Titanium Gray leather at no charge, depending on the exterior color chosen.
A3 Cabriolet Premium Plus trim, which starts at $39,300 for the 1.8 with FWD or $42,300 for the 2.0 with AWD, increases the standard wheels and tires to 18s as mentioned, while adding proximity key and pushbutton start as standard, Mistral aluminum interior inlays, aluminum-optic interior trim elements, standard heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated compass, and Audi’s music interface.
A $2,700 Technology package adds everything from the base model’s MMI Navigation package as well as Audi’s Side Assist blind spot and rear warning system; an $800 Sport package includes a three-spoke flat-bottomed sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, Audi Drive Select with a sport-focused Dynamic mode, front sport seats and a sport suspension; while an $800 S Line Style package can be added that includes special exterior styling, S Line aluminum doorsill plates, and a bunch of cool red S Line badges. You can also dress up your Premium Plus trimmed A3 Cab with a $1,250 LED Lighting package featuring adaptive cornering full LED headlights and LED ambient lighting inside, plus a $950 13-speaker 625-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system upgrade. After selecting the Sport package you can also add a set of 19-inch alloys for $800. Optionally, you can choose to forgo the sport package and just get a sport suspension upgrade for $250.
Top-line Prestige trim, at $48,450, adds the Technology package, Bang & Olufsen stereo and S Line Styling package as standard, while the same Sport package and 19-inch wheel upgrade is available.
Much of this impressive equipment comes in a cabin featuring a full soft touch dash top that wraps all the way down the instrument panel, albeit not so far to include the lower dash in front of the driver and glove box ahead of the front passenger. The door uppers and rear window sills are soft touch too, but most of the door panels are made from a durable harder plastic, as is the entire center console, all of which seems to be par for the course in this class.
My tester’s aluminum trim was beautifully done, especially the thicker band that ran right across the dash and around the cockpit, while the vent bezels included stylish aluminum grips for a cool look and greater usefulness. Additional aluminum trim surrounded the shifter and MMI controller, while the latter includes a thinner, wider dial that’s an improvement in design, feel and functionality over its predecessor, its matte-black top actually a touchpad for finger-gesture inputs. It connects through to a high-resolution infotainment screen that powers up out of the dash upon startup, and for those who’d rather have it hidden away, can be powered down while driving by pushing a button on the center stack. Likewise the dual-zone auto HVAC interface is a real thing of beauty, while graphically stimulating and ultra-easy to use. Last but hardly least, the A3 boasts some of the best switchgear in the Audi lineup, with tight fitting, nicely damped buttons and knobs made from better than average materials, plus a row of toggles across the center stack that feel as if they’re constructed from solid composite.
There’s a lot to love about the new A3 Cabriolet. From its sharp styling to its even sharper response on the road, it’s an energetic little drop-top that simultaneously delivers a high level of refinement and plenty of practicality for the class. Don’t let this one pass you by.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press