Swanking along the Cote D’Azur in a swish cabriolet was something I’d dreamt of ever since seeing a Hitchcock movie with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant cruising along there in a Sunbeam Alpine.
That was a while ago. I got the chance in Monaco last week, but the sunshine had gone, the azure had turned grey as my hair and the Alpine became a cabrio of a different kind: an Audi A3, so new it won’t be seen on showroom floors anywhere until next year.
Expected in Australia circa September (some countries will have to wait till 2015) the A3 Cabriolet is a pretty thing in an athletic sort of way. It has a longer wheelbase than the previous model, but shorter overhangs front and rear and sits a bit lower, which gives it a slightly chunky look, and there’s a choice of three engines and front wheel or quattro drive.
Australia will get the fwd 1.8TFSI and the 2.0TDI and possibly the 1.4TFSI as well, but it has to be confirmed, likewise the prices, expected to be from about $57,000.
The 1.8 is the most powerful, with 132kW/250Nm on tap. It’s a hi-tech motor with twin fuel injection – one direct, the other not – to maximise efficiency and cut emissions. It can reach 100km/h in 7.8 secs and return 5.8litres/100km. The diesel (0-100 in 8.9 secs) produces 110kW/340Nm and the 1.4TFSI 103kW and 200Nm. Fuel figures are 4.2litres/100km for the diesel and 5.0 for the 1.4.
All engines in the cabrios are tilted slightly backwards for extra wheelbase and allow the front axles to be moved 40mm forward, resulting in improved crash protection and sportier handling. Transmission is a multi-cog dual-clutch S-tronic.
Although a cabrio is more cruiser than sports car, the new one’s dynamics have been developed to give flat cornering and precise handling, and the driver has five driving modes to choose from: comfort, efficiency, auto, dynamic or individual via Audi’s Drive Select system.
It’s a genuine four-seater with all the mod cons and a few unexpected extras. There’s a comprehensive modular infotainment platform that includes a flat seven-inch pop-up monitor with a graphics processor that displays 3D images, Audi Connect with integrated Wi-Fi hotspot which lets passengers connect up to eight mobile devices (from just four people?) video streaming, online traffic info, you name it, it’s there. Somewhere.
And a 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system. Grace and Cary’s old Alpine had none of that stuff. Not even a valve radio. Push a button to take the Audi’s soft-top down, and you get a gentle waft on warm air blowing onto your neck. Soft top? Yep, Audi has stuck with a fabric roof, but it’s one of those self-raising and stowing affairs that takes less than 20 seconds to go up or down, without a hand being laid on it.
The roof, complete with heated rear window, has three layers, comes in three colours and unlike steel roofs, doesn’t take up much luggage space. There’s 320litres of boot space, 280 with the top down and the car’s back seats can be flattened to extend carrying capacity.
And those chromed roll-over hoops of the current series have gone, leaving a smooth, unbroken body line. Should you manage to park your Cabrio upside down, a pair of steel rods will pop up from nowhere to save your noggin.
We spent most time in a 1.8TFSI, which gave a fine ride, without any sign of the shake that afflicted most open-top cars of yesteryear. Performance is impressive with strong acceleration and good balance and the interior is so well insulated that conversation at normal levels is easy, even at high speed. That’s rare in a soft top.
Traction control steps in quickly to arrest any wheelspin and there’s lots of grip from the 18-inch Continentals. Keen drivers can get pretty involved, but this is a set of glam-sophisto wheels to be seen in, so most will take things easy and just enjoy the car’s manifold features and luxuries – and pray for fine weather. The diesel and 1.4litre versions were also fine, smooth operators.
Despite the rain, we just had to test the roof while driving, and did so in one of Monaco’s many tunnels. It works at up to 50km/h, so we didn’t cause a traffic jam although the automatic opening of the rear deck, emergence of the roof and returning of the deck to the car’s smooth contours did cause bulging eyes and jawdrops. It’s quite a sight.
A cultured vehicle at the top of its class. And that breath of warm air on your neck is the stuff to build dreams on.
Audi A3 Cabrio (1.8TFSI)
Price: about $57,000
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder, 132kW/250Nm
Transmission: dual-clutch auto, FWD
0-100km/h: 7.8 secs