Now that we’re well into spring, with hopes of a long and warm summer just around the corner (Farmer’s Almanac be damned), there’s no better time to contemplate a new convertible. Fortunately, Audi has the ideal answer to your newfound dilemma of which drop-top to buy.
Take a look at the recently updated 2017 Audi A3 Cabriolet, a refreshed version of the entry-level luxury convertible that’s made a comfortable home for itself just below the A5 Cabriolet since it debuted for the 2015 model year. Audi isn’t alone in this category thanks to BMW’s 2 Series Convertible, which gets an even more subtle facelift and interior improvements as part of an early 2018 release (the former appearing to be nothing more than body-color lower fascia paintwork added where matte black used to be, some chrome splashed onto the top edge of the corner vents, and an interesting new hexagonal take on the corona LEDs within the headlamps, plus more of an M2 design added to the Sport package fascia), but the four-ringed Ingolstadt, Germany-based luxury brand offers plenty of reasons to consider its open-top compact over the Munich-sourced alternative.
First and foremost it looks every bit an Audi and a particularly attractive one at that. While the brand’s horseshoe-shaped singleframe grille is big and imposing on any model, most find it difficult to figure out exactly which Audi is heading toward them from a distance. This is done intentionally, and while some competitors have attempted to add near full-size versions of their grilles to compact models with questionable effect, none has succeeded as wholly as Audi. As it is, all Audi cars, from the full-size A8 to the comparatively tiny A3, are obvious siblings.
In total, the A3/S3/RS3 sedans, the five-door A3 Sportback (only available with the e-tron plug-in hybrid powertrain), and this A3 Cabriolet were refreshed for 2017, the result being a win-win-win aesthetically. I’ve driven and reviewed the other two already, so this convertible version will complete my coverage of the North American entry-level luxury segment’s bestselling triumvirate (S and RS models aside).
All receive a new chiseled edginess to their designs in the form of new sharply scalloped standard HID and as-tested optional full LED headlamp clusters bookending a broader more angular grille frame, this latter item visually floating above a variety of reshaped lower fascias; the differing fascia designs dependent on whether the S Line sport package is added or not (my Prestige loaner has it standard, as does the mid-range Premium Plus). New lenses and a revised array of standard LEDs update the look of the already stunning blade-shaped tail lamps, whereas the bumper below gets a few tweaks to make it new.
On that note, the just mentioned S Line package not only enhances the front fascia, but also provides rocker extensions down each side and a new bumper cap with intricately fashioned diffuser-style details for the rear lower fascia, this latter addition worth the price of admission alone.
As always with a mid-cycle update, Audi added new standard and optional wheel choices to the mix, while new exterior paint finishes are also on the expected upgrades menu. All in all the updates modernize the A3 Cabriolet’s look and aligns it more fully with the rest of Audi’s lineup, but I must say the outgoing version didn’t need many changes to bring it up to speed.
Where Audi often wins against rivals, including BMW, is interior design and execution, and the new A3’s improvements won’t help the Bavarian’s cause. Tasteful minimalism continues, as do high quality surface treatments that include plenty of soft synthetics, genuine aluminum inlays and accents, plus rich leathers.
As for all-important electronic interfaces, the A3’s infotainment system continues to power up out of the dash upon startup, which is a bonus for those who’d rather stow it away during night driving, and a negative to others who prefer larger displays (the A3’s is only 5.8 inches diagonally) with tablet-style pinch, swipe and tap touchscreen convenience.
The A3’s display is controlled via a beautifully finished rotating aluminum dial with classy knurled edges. It’s situated on the lower console, which is common in the premium sector, making it easy to perform handwriting gestures, as well as pinch, swipe and tap inputs on the knob’s matte black circular top. The Audi MMI system’s brains get filled with much of the latest tech, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus various apps like Spotify and WhatsApp, and more when upgraded to the Audi Smartphone interface (which is standard in second-tier $40,850 Premium Plus and $46,550 top-line Prestige trims), while its new iPhone-inspired graphics and more intelligent interface make it easier to figure out.
Even more impressive is Audi’s fully configurable “Virtual Cockpit” TFT gauge cluster, new for the A3 this year and totally worth the upgrade to Prestige trim (or the upgrade in Premium Plus). It’s a 12.3-inch digital display that completely replaces the base and mid-range models’ traditional dual-dial analog gauge package, and in the process offers a number of driver selectable configurations. The most interesting is a steering wheel-mounted “VIEW” button that reduces the size of the digital tachometer and speedometer before placing them to each side, at which point the center-mounted color multi-information display grows to epic proportions. When navigation is chosen, an eye-arresting array of colorful maps takes over most of the primary cluster. By scrolling through the steering wheel controls you can use this feature for enhanced readability of other functions as well, and then when needing to check up on vital driving info you can simply press the view button again.
I could go on talking about the Virtual Cockpit ad nauseam, or for that matter the A3 Cabriolet cabin’s improved switchgear, much of which now utilizes white backlighting for a bright, modern look, or we could all just celebrate that a USB port is now standard across the A3 line (it was Apple or the highway before), but we really need to get into the nitty-gritty of performance.
The 2017 A3 Cabriolet is available in two states of tune, the first utilizing front-wheel drive and an all-new 186 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder (which replaced the aging 170 horsepower 1.8-liter turbo mill), the engine now making 236 lb-ft of torque and improved fuel economy thanks to a new combustion process, auto start/stop, and a new seven-speed dual-clutch “S tronic” automatic. I’ve tested this engine in the 2017 A3 Sedan and came away more than satisfied, but I must admit to liking the carryover version of this 2.0-liter four even more thanks to 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Its mostly carryover six-speed twin-clutch automated transmission is well suited to the job at hand due to the added twist and extra grip from standard Quattro AWD, the difference from last year being a new auto start/stop system just like on the lesser drivetrain. If you like the idea of more power along with AWD traction, it’ll only set you back $2,700 across the A3 Cab lineup.
Like with the base engine, auto start/stop reduces emissions and fuel consumption, the 2017 A3 Cab’s claimed EPA economy being a very reasonable 25 mpg city, 34 highway and 28 combined with FWD, or 24, 31 and 27 with as-tested AWD. Some might scoff at the importance of fuel economy to those who purchase a sporty premium convertible, but not everyone who buys Audi’s entry-level drop-top does so to win stoplight wars or carve up canyon corners.
For those that choose performance over pragmatism the A3 Cab scoots to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds and on to a 130-mph top speed, more than enough to get you in serious trouble with the law. My tester was upgraded with a gorgeous set of 19-inch machine-finished five-spoke alloys shod in 235/35 Continental ContiSportContact summer performance tires, providing a nice balance of comfort with superb at-the-limit cornering capability.
While suitable for slicing up the tight switchbacks of a serpentine two-lane mountain road, the A3 Cab is a particularly agile handler around town too, while I’ve always found Quattro all-wheel drive comes in especially handy when a dry spell ends and rain or snow descends.
The A3 Cab’s four-cylinder spools up power quickly while making the most of the six-speed gearbox it’s mated too, a set of quick-shifting paddles at the back of the steering wheel providing a level of driver engagement only upstaged by a true manual, unfortunately not available on the U.S. market.
Fortunately Audi’s Drive Select is, providing Comfort, Auto and a Dynamic modes, the latter for enhancing the already nicely set up MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension system, the result being sharper steering and a tauter ride, while snappier gear changes occur when pushing the shift lever to the right for “S” sport manual mode.
To be totally truthful, I found myself driving slower than usual with the A3 Cabriolet. There’s something about dropping the top on a sunny day that makes me want to take in the surrounding scenery, and the car’s easygoing stride (when not in Dynamic mode), compliant ride (surprisingly so considering its big footprint), and overall comfortable demeanor leant itself to laid back motoring.
The top fully retracts in less than 20 seconds (or alternatively it takes about 30 seconds to deploy), and can be lowered (or vice versa) while driving at speeds up to 31 mph, so you don’t need to worry about doing so while waiting at a stoplight. All four windows can be powered up or down buy a single button too, a convenient feature found just aft of the four individual power window switches on the driver’s door. When upright, the three-layer soft top gets a nicely finished fabric liner that hides plenty of insulation for year-round warmth and coupe-like silence, plus it provides fairly good rear visibility for a convertible thanks to large rear quarter windows and a sizable piece of glass at the back (all of which are also heat-insulating).
It’s best to take in the interior with top down on a sunny day, a quick walk-around revealing stunning satin-finish aluminum trim around the rear of the passenger compartment, butting up against thinner strips of the same material running along the lower edge of each side window, before meeting up with the pièce de résistance, a set of aluminum capped A-pillars.
Open the door and slide into the leather-upholstered driver’s seat and the same satin-silver aluminum joins additional metal textures throughout the cabin. I know it sounds like aluminum overkill, yet the way it all comes together is hardly overdone. As is the case with all Audis, premium detailing combines with sporting overtones in equal amounts, the German brand finding the ideal balance of luxury and performance in styling and chosen materials too.
Those front seats include forward, rearward, and up-and-down powered control, but oddly the backrests only offer manual adjustment. This was once a typical German trait, but other than the A3 and some Volkswagen models, manual recline is rarely combined with other powered seat controls anymore. It’s all ok until your passenger wants to take a nap on a road trip, because rotating the circular knob is a bit of a challenge for some. A positive is having powered actuation at all. Another bonus is infinite backrest adjustment, while the seatbacks also remain sturdily in their place when reclined. The seats themselves are very adjustable, wonderfully comfortable and supportive overall, and as-tested even incorporate four-way powered lumbar at back and extendable squabs up front, if you’d like more support under your thighs. Of course, they’re three-way heatable in Premium Plus and Prestige trims too.
From relying on old tech to embracing the future, the aforementioned Virtual Cockpit slays all competitors when it comes to wow factor and real-world functionality, while the dual-zone auto HVAC interface is beautiful bit of user-friendly eye-candy. That previously noted infotainment system’s display delivers ultra-sharp resolution while the depth of color is beautifully rich, and the graphics are as attractive as the system is intuitive to use. What’s more, the backup camera is extremely clear and supplies dynamic guidelines for easing your way into a chosen parking spot, while the navigation system provided extremely accurate guidance. Additionally, the stock Audi stereo is very good, but the optional 13-speaker, 625-watt Bang and Olufsen system fitted to my tester makes a massive difference in sound quality.
Directly in front of the driver is a sensational leather-wrapped flat-bottomed multifunction steering wheel with paddle shifters, this part of the $650 Sport package that also adds the front sport seats with extendable cushions, and Audi drive select. My tester also came with the $250 15-mm lower sport suspension, which requires the fabulous $800 19-inch rims and rubber. Incidentally, the aforementioned S Line upgrade package also enhances exterior styling with a sportier front and rear fascias, side sill extensions, the previously fawned over brushed aluminum trim, unique S line badged metal doorsills, and (normally) 18-inch alloys on 225/40 all-seasons.
I should mention a handful of Prestige features not yet named, which include auto on/off LED headlights with heated washer nozzles, dynamic cornering and auto high beams, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights with dynamic indicators, heated power-adjustable side mirrors with ultra-slim integrated LED turn signals and driver’s side auto-dimming, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, LED interior lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, Bluetooth with audio streaming, satellite radio, front and rear parking sensors, electronic immobilization, an alarm system, and an attachable rear-seat wind blocker.
The A3 Cabriolet Technik includes all the expected active and passive safety features too, as well as as Audi pre sense basic, which instantly prepares the car for an impending impact by synching up the seatbelts, closing the side windows, and if required, deploying the rear roll bars (the windshield cross-member acts as a front roll bar); Audi side assist with cross traffic assist, which monitors both sides as well as the backside of the car for approaching vehicles and then flashes a warning signal from the side mirror, or alternatively warns from passing traffic when backing out of a driveway or parking spot; and active lane keep assist that forces you back into your lane if you try to change lanes while a vehicle is in your blindspot or if you veer off the road. Lastly, adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability makes long trips less arduous.
The only A3 Cabriolet Prestige options include the aforementioned Sport package and Sport suspension, the big 19-inch wheels, various $575 metallic paint hues as well as $3,900 exclusive colors, and no-cost Black, Rock Gray or Chestnut Brown interior motifs.
If the A3 Cab has any shortcomings it would be in the back seat and trunk due to a shorter wheelbase than the A3 Sedan, but of course no one should expect anything more when buying into this compact convertible class. As it is, the rear seats are accommodating enough for smaller folk as long as you pull the front seats forward enough to make room for legs and feet (not an issue when my five-foot-eight frame is in the driver’s seat), and the 9.8 cubic-foot trunk is amply sized for a weekend getaway even if golf clubs are required, much thanks to 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks that can be lowered by levers on the cargo walls. Alternatively, if you don’t mind traveling with the soft top up, a partition in the trunk can be lifted to expand its usefulness to 11.3 cubic feet.
As noted earlier, the only serious alternative to the A3 Cabriolet is BMW’s 2 Series Convertible, and you probably don’t need me to recommend one over the other as it really comes down to personal choice. Both are fun to drive, fuel-efficient, available with four-season all-wheel drive, filled with state-of-the-art tech, and very well made. Audi delivers the price advantage in base trim at $37,600 compared to $38,950, but at the other end of the pricing spectrum BMW furnishes the 335-horsepower M240i version—so far Audi USA hasn’t offered the 300 horsepower S3 Cabriolet to compete.
While the prospect is tantalizing, I must admit our U.S.-spec A3 Cabriolet is more than adequate in the city, where it will likely be used most often, and still fully capable on a curving back road or the wide-open freeway. In other words, I believe you’ll be more than satisfied with Audi’s traditionally even-keeled approach to performance and comfort, while the stylish little drop-top should please in every other way as well.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press