Engine: Turbo 1.8L I4
Power: 170 HP / 200 LB-FT
Transmission: 6-Speed DCT
0-60 Time: 7.4 Seconds
Top Speed: 130 MPH (limited)
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Engine Placement: Front
Curb Weight: 3,373 LBS
MPG: 24 City / 35 HWY
Base Price: $35,600
As-Tested Price: $43,000 (est.)
When my 758-mile journey on the A3 TDI Challenge came to an end in Boulevard, CA, Audi had a very nice consolation prize waiting for me: the 2015 A3 Cabriolet you see here. And with miles left to drive before reaching my hotel in Coronado (just outside of San Diego), what better way to celebrate my personal victory of achieving nearly 60 miles per gallon in the TDI than to run the rest of the route in couple of turbocharged A3 droptops? After all, the efficiency part of my drive was done, so it was time to have some fun.
The A3 Cabriolet comes to market just as the sun sets on another four-seat convertible from the Volkswagen Group stable: the Eos. That car, often criticized as being too expensive, is technically replaced by the Beetle Convertible as far as VW-badged products go. But for those who still prefer something a bit more upmarket, the A3 Cabriolet will fill the void nicely, and with more style and grace than the Eos ever had.
The A3 Cabriolet arrives with a choice of engines. On the base end lives a 1.8-liter turbo-four with 170 horsepower, 200 pound-feet of torque and front-wheel drive, or you can pony up for the 2.0T with 220 hp, 258 lb-ft and standard Quattro all-wheel drive.
Regardless of engine, the only transmission available in the A3 Cab is Audi's six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch unit. This is a fine cog-swapper, with quick shifts regardless of chosen powertrain, and steering wheel-mounted paddles that offer plenty of fun from behind the wheel. That said, I found it best to just leave the transmission alone, no matter the engine. The paddles are entertaining, sure, but slick the gear selector into Sport and the A3 will instinctively hold gears through turns and always have you right in the heart of the powerband.
The 1.8T's 170 hp and 200 lb-ft are more than adequate for duty in the 3,373-pound A3 Cabriolet. I was never bothered by a lack of power, especially with the engine on boil with the transmission in its sport setting. Hitting 60 miles per hour takes 7.4 seconds, en route to an electronically limited top end of 130 miles per hour.
If speed is your thing, though, the 2.0T certainly delivers quite a punch. That same 0-60 sprint takes just 5.9 seconds with the more potent powerplant, and you can really feel the stronger rush of power right off the line, even with the quicker A3's 210-pound weight penalty.
With either engine, steering feel is roughly the same, with that A3-typical, dead on-center feeling that builds weight nicely as you turn. There's a bit more in the way of through-the-chassis feedback in the 2.0T, thanks largely to its different suspension geometry. But grip is vastly improved with the bigger engine because of Quattro and my tester's 19-inch wheel/tire package (compared to the 18s found on the 1.8T model pictured here).
Still, despite the 2.0T's tendency to feel a bit like a droptop GTI, both A3 Cabriolet models offer a more relaxed kind of fun. Understeer is widely present with the 1.8T, and body roll is really quite noticeable. Whereas the 2.0T/Quattro setup offers more confidence in terms of overall handling, the front-wheel-drive 1.8T will wash out earlier than you might expect. The 1.8 Cab is a willing and reasonably competent dance partner for canyon cruising, but it's certainly not an attack missile. That said, it's an enjoyable car to flick around, one whose limits are very easy to learn.
The Cabriolet's interior is largely carryover from the sedan, with that same clean (if stark) dashboard design incorporating a simply laid out center console, with just a thin row of heating and cooling controls. The logical MMI setup is still found aft of the shifter (though the dial's default left-for-down, right-for-up orientation still feels backwards), as are the power controls for the folding soft top. This is technically a four-seater, and while the rear chairs are indeed more spacious than many other convertibles, you'd still be hard pressed to fit someone over the age of 13 back there comfortably.
Anyone who balked at the Eos' price point will want to remember that Audi is the more premium brand here. The A3 Cabriolet starts at $35,600 for the 1.8T, or $38,600 for the 2.0T Quattro. If you go overboard with the options sheet, however, it's easy to build a pretty ridiculously priced example. The 1.8T I tested came in around $43,000 (not fully loaded), and if you check every option on a 2.0T, you'll crest $50,000. It's worth keeping in mind that the larger, sexier A5 2.0T Cabriolet starts at $47,600.
The A3 Cabriolet exists as a way to bridge the gap between the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet and that A5, and if you tick the option boxes correctly, you can have a really nicely optioned example for around $40-43k. That still seems like a lot, of course, but it's right in line with the rear-wheel-drive BMW 228i Convertible, which will start at $38,850. And remember, that dear old Eos carried a price tag ranging from $35-40k, as well. Considering how much more modern and better to drive the A3 Cabriolet is, I have no doubt that it'll find enough happy homes among folks desiring a more premium – but not too sporty ≠ wind-in-the-hair experience.