Audi opens up for

Spring

Audi A3 Cabriolet, front
Audi A3 Cabriolet, roof closing
Audi A3 Cabriolet, front, upright
Audi A3 Cabriolet, front, roof up
Audi A3 Cabriolet, front, action
Audi A3 Cabriolet, rear
Audi A3 Cabriolet, interior

AUDI has something for almost every transportational niche you can think of.

So, given a recent winter of record rainfall, you might be forgiven for assuming that their next model would be a submarine.

Instead, they've chopped the top off the latest generation A3 and - with classic German efficiency - managed to time its launch to coincide with the first sunshine any of us had seen for months.

The current A3 is well over a year old now, and we already have hatchback (three-door), sportback (five-door) and saloon versions, but this is the first time UK drivers have been able to get behind the wheel of a cabriolet. Deliveries begin in April.

The first thing that strikes you about this attractive little car is that it has a fabric roof - like all convertible Audis, from the R8 downwards. While BMW and Mercedes give some of their cabrios folding metal roofs, Audi believes that the look and feel of fabric enhances the experience of driving an open-top car even when the roof is up.

There are also bonuses in terms of weight saved and extra space in the boot. However, security and noise are not so well served.

Nevertheless, the A3's hood is well-insulated and doesn't transmit too much road noise - and it can shut itself in around 18 seconds at speeds up to 31mph if a sudden downpour strikes. Unlike some convertibles, the A3 gives a useful beep to let you know it's finished folding everything away.

At launch, the cabriolet is available with three engines - turbo TFSI petrol engines of 1.4 and 1.8-litres, and a 2.0-litre TDI diesel.

The 1.4 TFSI is a peach of an engine, powerful for its size (140ps) and full of eager performance that makes it seem quicker than the stats suggest - 0-62mph takes 9.1 seconds and top speed is 135mph.

Despite its small capacity, it also has Audi's clever cylinder-on-demand technology, which means that when the engine is under light load or coasting, two of the four cylinders shut down to save on fuel and emissions.

Fuel consumption of 56.5 on the combined cycle is claimed (46.mpg urban/65.7mpg extra urban).

I wasn't able to try the 1.8 TFSI, but the 2.0-litre TDI is much less involving to drive than the 1.4 TFSI and, given the smaller engine's excellent economy, it's hard to see what benefits the diesel brings for the extra £1,500 it costs to buy. You'll only see a real fuel saving if you cover a lot of miles, but not many people buy cabriolets for that sort of use.

On the stats sheet, the 2.0 TDI produces 150ps, gets from 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds and hits a maximum of 139mph. It should return 67.3mpg on the combined cycle (55.4mpg urban/76.3mpg extra urban).

While the car doesn't have quite the sharpness of its fixed-head siblings - on roller-coaster roads it politely squirmed around a bit under load - it's still an enjoyable drive, like the rest of the A3 range.

There's the usual extensive list of Audi options available, with things like warm-air neck blowers for those who probably shouldn't buy convertibles in the first place.

Starting at £25,790 on the road, the 1.4TFSI in SE trim is the pick of the bunch so far, with the 2.0 TDI SE costing £27,240.

The 1.8 TFSI in Sport trim starts at £30,270 and there will also be S-line versions of all three engines available between £29,165 and £30,615.

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