Preview: 2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet

Mark Richardson
By Mark Richardson
Posted on December 27th, 2013
0 Comments

NICE, FRANCE—When the phone rang, I was in a deep, deep sleep.

“Good morning sir — we just wanted to be sure you’re not asleep,” said the hotel receptionist at the other end of the line. “Your car’s been waiting for some time now.”

It had been waiting more than an hour. I looked around in panic. The sun shone brightly past the edge of the blackout curtains into a thin line on the opposite wall. The bedside clock showed my flight home to Toronto would leave in 90 minutes.

Ninety minutes! Leaving from the Nice airport, about an hour away. Making it would depend on traffic, and my car.

No time for a shower. No time to choose clothes for the journey. I dressed in whatever was sitting on the chair from the night before and rammed everything else into the suitcase. A couple of minutes later I was outside looking for the car, hoping its driver would know the quickest route to the airport.

“Good morning sir, here’s the key to the cabriolet,” said the Audi rep, who seemed oblivious to time. Other auto journalists from Britain were leaving to catch their much later flight. “Let me set the navigation for you.”

My eyes were wide from adrenaline behind my sunglasses as I settled into the driver’s seat. The roof was already down on the compact new A3 soft top, and the rep leaned across from outside to push a couple of buttons.

The display screen swished up from a slot in the top of the dash and a spaghetti tangle of virtual lines showed itself. Those were the streets of Monaco and I launched into them with hardly a backward glance.

Alone in the car, there was no time to think about anything but following the screen’s highlighted blue line to wherever it wanted me to go. Fortunately, I’d driven here from Nice the previous day in the same car, although on a completely different, relaxed route that hugged the Mediterranean coast.

Outside the car was a mystery, but at least inside was familiar.

Nobody looked twice in Monaco at the sassy little A3, which was too bad because there was plenty of time for it as the Bentleys and Ferraris lurched from clot to clot.

I was driving a 1.8-L S-line version with a six-speed manual transmission. In Canada, like the A3 sedan that’s arriving next April, we’ll only get the S-tronic automatic transmission, with Quattro all-wheel drive to take care of Canadian snow and ice.

We won’t get the 1.8-L engine for our cabriolet, either. We get a 2.0-L that makes a fair bit more power, similar to the engine in the current A4.

It won’t arrive here until after next summer, which is a shame. No price has been announced, but if it’s like other convertible Audis, expect it to cost about $12,000 more than the regular A3, which would put it around $44,000.

There was no snow and ice in Monaco, of course, but I was facing a local challenge nonetheless: the tiny principality is built into the side of the mountains and there are road tunnels everywhere, some even intersecting at roundabouts deep underground.

The navigation system was having problems figuring out where we were. At one point, after shutting down in a snit, it came back to locate the car floating away in the Monte Carlo harbour.

This was not the time to drive a vehicle that’s overly complicated, especially with motorcycles and scooters constantly jostling the rear bumper looking to overtake. Fortunately, although the A3 is technically very advanced, it’s a cinch to drive.

The car is larger than the previous edition that never came to Canada — 18 cm longer with an extended rear overhang, and with another 2 cm added to both its width and wheelbase.

It weighs 60 kg less though, thanks to judicious use of lighter materials, and this makes it nimble and responsive. Audi says its proportions are now better balanced, with a 56/44 weight distribution between the axles.

I only drove the stick, but the seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission we’ll get is apparently lightning-fast, helping to put the engine’s 220 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque through the wheels and onto the road.

I also started driving that morning with the top down, but then I put it up in the heaviest traffic to help deflect the curses of the scooter riders alongside.

Audi says it will go up or down in 18 seconds, and my car came with the optional acoustic cloth roof, which has thicker foam to make it quieter.

It worked, too: when I made illegal U-turns, precise Monegasque shrieks became muffled Gallic mumbles, clarified only by their accompanying gestures.

Finally, as the stoic navigation voice was exhorting me to turn right, I saw a sign for Nice and the autoroute and turned left, directly into a long tunnel that ran deep through a mountain. Traffic eventually thinned and the tunnel’s four-lane road emerged into Riviera sunshine.

In the open air, the GPS locked onto the wide and clear highway ahead and its display promised I’d be at the airport within a half-hour. Hope returned. I slowed for a tollbooth and put the roof back down — it’ll work at up to 50 km/h — breathing more steadily now.

On the autoroute, the little four-seater leaped forward and sped me to the terminal, smooth and confident and with barely a breeze inside the cabin. I took the time to look around and relaxed at last, whipping in the left lane past trucks.

Not for long, though. An Aston Martin loomed large in the rearview mirror and flashed its lights at me. When I moved over, the Vanquish overtook at almost half my speed again.

Maybe its driver had slept in and was late for a flight. Haven’t these people heard of alarm clocks?

Transportation for freelance writer Mark Richardson was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

2015 AUDI A3 CABRIOLET

Price: n/a ($44,000 est.)

Engine: 2.0 L I4 Turbo

Power/Torque: 220 hp/258 lb.-ft.

Fuel consumption L/100km: n/a (premium required)

Competition: BMW 1-Series cabriolet

What’s Best: Quiet and effective roof, nimble handling, immaculate interior.

What’s Worst: No diesel available to Canada, gets pricey with options, not available here until after next summer.

What’s Interesting:The A3 is a WiFi hotspot, and its navigation map uses Google Earth in its display.

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