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Converted to the Audi cause
Convertibles. You can't move for them, despite the fact that we live on a windy, rain-swept island. Everyone from Audi to Volvo makes open-top versions of their cars, and UK sales are buoyant, even in this tough economic climate.
But there is a great divide among cabriolet fans: hard-top and soft-top. Technological improvements have allowed firms such as Peugeot, Ford and Vauxhall to create folding metal hoods rather than using the old-fashioned fabric types.
There are some benefits. The metal roof creates a solid slash-proof roof which keeps out the noise and the vandals, and there is nothing quite as posy as raising or lowering your roof at the touch of a button.
But there are negative points, too. Folding roofs never look gainly and they are so bulky that they eat into the boot space when folded away. They're also heavy and require huge motors to power them.
That's why Audi, among others, prefer fabric hoods. Old fashioned? No, they say. Modern fabric hoods are quiet and they fold away neatly to leave plenty of bootspace.
And here's one argument which I'm not truly convinced about. What's the point of having a convertible if it looks like a coupe? Surely, the argument goes, a fabric roof shows off the fact that you have a soft-top.
But there is no denying the benefits of a light fabric roof lead to better handling and performance. Take Audi's A3 Cabriolet tested here. It costs from less than £21,000.
It manages 135mph where legal, zips to 60mph in 8.2 seconds and returns more than 50mpg on a run. And you can store 260 litres in the boot, rising to 674 litres with the rear seats down. Impressed?
It isn't a family car, or a load-lugger, but there's no denying it blends impressive performance, good looks and a degree of practicality that you would struggle to find elsewhere.
While the looks and the image are the lure for the A3 Cabriolet, for me it's the engines and the ride and handling which really impress.
More advanced engine designs and technology have allowed car builders to get more power from familiar capacities without sacrificing reliability.
This engine is a meaty unit and it feels and sounds like a powerful car, but to get the sort of miles per gallon which used to be the preserve of superminis is excellent.
This car also comes with the option of a 1.2 litre engine which brings the entry-level down to less than £21,000, yet still offers spirited performance.
That’s even more remarkable where the cabriolet version is concerned as, despite the canvas roof, the model suffers from the same weight issues as nearly all convertibles thanks to the extra motors and chassis-stiffening required, and weighs in at nearly 100kg more than its three-door equivalent.
Audi, along with its Volkswagen Group stable-mates has ‘previous’ when it comes to setting trends with small capacity engines. Previously, it was the 1.4-litre unit, available in turbocharged and twin-charged (supercharged and turbocharged) form, which raised eyebrows with its capacity belying performance.
The 1.2 TFSI unit also uses forced induction to boost performance to respectable levels while keeping fuel consumption and emissions low.
A replacement for the 1.6-litre unit, it lowers CO2 emissions by 35g/km and raises fuel economy by 9.2mpg while improving zero to 62mph acceleration and top speed.
It’s a highly charismatic unit that adds a lot to the A3 Cabriolet package. Both compact and sophisticated in their own rights, car and engine seem made for each other.
Much of the charisma comes in the form of the engine note; a distinctive grumble that’s ever-present but rarely intrusive. With the roof down it adds to the driving appeal, offering a sports inspired – if not sporty – soundtrack.
The chassis is impressively rigid, too, with scuttle-shake contained roof up or down and little flimsiness apparent at the wheel even when 'pushing on'.
Where Audi has succeeded with its smaller cars, including the A3, is the grown-up feeling inside that’s reminiscent of the larger executive models.
Despite the more care-free, frivolous nature of a convertible, the A3 Cabriolet has this premium feel and maturity in spades.
Add increased economy and the A3 Cabriolet’s appeal gets bigger and bigger while the engines get smaller and smaller.
All we need now is some warm weather. I’m sure someone at Audi is working on it.