First drive: 2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet

NICE, France — The sun is high up in a cloudless sky and the Mediterranean Sea is an iridescent turquoise blue. Down on the beach a few of the sun worshipers are topless — in Nice, the denizens consider 25 C a tad too cool to bare all, so it’s mainly the tourists putting their best foot forward. High above the sunbathers I am enjoying a little topless time of my own on some deliciously twisty roads while behind the wheel of the latest Audi A3, the Cabriolet.

Getting into the alfresco mode requires holding a button for 18 seconds, and the transformation can be accomplished at speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour. Watching the canvas top run through its closing procedure is somewhat like watching a finely choreographed ballet — the roof unlatches, then the deck lid lifts to let the top disappear down into the well above the trunk. When it is over, the back end of the car has a finished look with a built-in tonneau.

Watching the top go down in the Audi A3 Cabriolet is a lot like watching a finely choreographed ballet performance.

Watching the top go down in the Audi A3 Cabriolet is a lot like watching a finely choreographed ballet performance.
PHOTO: Handout,

With top up the trunk holds 320 litres; with it powered down the capacity shrinks to 287 L, but it’s still usable — enough room, in fact, for a couple of luggage bags and two briefcases. Folding the rear seats flat allows longer items to be carried and it bumps the capacity to 680 L.

The rear seats provide seating for two, although the legroom is tight and it diminishes as the front seats are moved rearward. That stated, there’s enough room for a couple of kids to enjoy the ride without too much whining. The optional wind blocker, however, eliminates the rear seats as it covers the entire area when fitted into place. The good news is that it does have the desired effect — when the blocker is in the raised position and the windows are up there’s none of the unseemly windy backwash that tends to mar so many convertibles. As a bonus, for those who venture out on a cool autumn evening, the A3 Cabrio has a set of air vents built into in the front seats that blow warm air at the nape of the rider’s neck — it proved to be very effective.

As for the rest of the cabin, well, it is typical Audi — Multi-Media Interface (MMI) and all. The materials are very good (the crash pad is covered in a rich material that has a rubberized feel to it). About the only comment is that after driving an S Line model and then jumping into the base car, the steering wheels felt so thin and spindly. The recommendation is to take the S Line, even if only for its chunkier, flat-bottomed steering wheel!

Driving the A3 Cabrio from Nice to Monaco proved that it is more boulevardier than outright speedster. That however, is not to say it is soft in the manner in which it drives. The steering is lighter than most Audis, but it is precise nonetheless. Likewise, the optional Magnetic Ride suspension proved to be compliant even as it dialed out body roll. Tossing the Cabrio into the hairpins along the route proved it to be light, tight and very civilized.

In terms of looks, the A3 Cabriolet is typical handsome Audi.

In terms of looks, the A3 Cabriolet is typical handsome Audi.
PHOTO: Graeme Fletcher for Driving,

I was also mightily impressed by the rigidity engineered into the body structure. De-roofing any car represents a serious challenge, as the tin-top adds a great deal of integrity to the body. The work Audi has done beneath the skin to replace the strength has the desired effect — over a rougher road there was no evidence of cowl shake. This is the unsettling feeling the driver gets as the body flexes because of its lack of torsional rigidity. In this regard, the A3 Cabrio is exceptionally well-executed. Even in an off-camber corner with a sunken manhole at the apex, it flew through with a rewarding sense of solidity.

The test cars were powered by a 1.8-litre TFSI, turbocharged inline four mated to a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox. The latter has a commendably refined gate and a light clutch. It also featured a hill-holder, which eliminated any rollback on the steep inclines. In this application, the 1.8L engine produces 180 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. On the drive route it proved to have more than ample power and so the Canadian car should be just dandy. It will arrive with a 2.0L, turbocharged four that ups the ante to 220 hp and a more rewarding 258 lb-ft of torque at a very low 1,500 rpm. It will only be offered with Audi’s 6-speed automatic transmission.

All Canadian cars will arrive with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. Under normal driving situations it splits the power in favour of the front wheels (56% versus the 44% sent rearward). Should the wheels break traction the system automatically adopts a 50/50 split, and it did so in a fast enough fashion that the action remained hidden to this driver. As for the rest of the safety equipment, the list runs from the mandatory electronic helpers through to a pair of pop-up bars that sit behind the rear seat headrests. They deploy should the A3 Cabrio be at risk of rolling. Mercifully, I did not test them.

The Audi A3 Cabrio is set to land in Canada in the fourth-quarter of 2014. It will be badged as a 2015 model. There was no pricing information available at the preview.

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