When I went to Gujarat this time around, I noticed a very peculiar contraption fitted on two wheelers. It was what looked like a long, thin aluminium pipe, with both its ends tied to each of the rear view mirrors and forming an arc with it peak extending a couple of inches over the rider's head. This contraption may not be a safe bet for the pedestrians in case of an accident, but it does the job of deflecting a stray manja (kite thread) and protecting the rider from getting any cuts or bruises from this dangerous fibre.
Coming across stray kites in Gujarat isn't unusual, more so if you visit it during the kite festival like I did. So driving around in this scenario in a convertible may not be the best idea, but I did it anyway, aware that the wind-in-the-hair experience could turn into a shaved-eyebrows-and-hair accident within seconds.
The convertible here is the Audi Cabriolet - the drop-top variant in the A3 line. Unlike the sedan, this one only has two doors and a fabric roof. That also makes it shorter in length and height and a wee bit narrower too. But before you make any assumptions, know that despite the smaller proportions it is a good 135kg heavier, thanks to the automated mechanism for the convertible roof. In its defence, it is claimed to be able to fully open or close the roof in 18 seconds, which may not be as quick as the R8 Spyder, but is a second quicker than the BMW.
The mechanism takes a toll on the boot space too, reducing it to 320 litres. That is still enough for a weekend's worth of travel cargo, or a golfing/cricket kit. The roof is the fabric type and is offered only in black which means that it can get soiled easily and cleaning it costs almost Rs 2,000 per man-hour. Even when the roof is up, the fabric hat guarantees that the onlookers know that you are driving a convertible and that should massage your ego. With the hat on, the A3 has a balanced design and the contrasting fabric doesn't look like an afterthought, provided you choose the right colour for the car. Red or white would be the best options in my view.
With its squat stance and 17-inch wheels shod with the low-profile 225/45 section tyres, the topless A3 manages to look very sporty. Since it is available only in the range topping trim, it can't be specified without the fog lamps and LED DRLs, and that is a good thing. Audi insists that this is a four seater, but the rear seat is only good enough for kids or adults with a smaller frame. The A3 sedan itself had very little rear leg-room and the convertible has even less of it. The cabin contours in towards the end and drastically reduces shoulder room, so much so that people with a broad frame need to sit at an angle.
That said, the front seats have decent room.The automatic transmission means that you aren't going to be elbowing your co-passenger frequently, but both of you will be jostling for room on the centre armrest when on a long drive. The quality of materials is quite decent and the use of an all-black theme actually works well for a convertible in our conditions. Any beige upholstery would be prone to getting soiled easily and quickly when the roof is down. Some parts of the cabin do feel a tad too plasticky, like the centre console for example. Keep your phone in any of the spaces provided, and you will feel the rhythmic vibrations in the dead pedal every time your phone rings. New take on 'connected' technologies then, I guess.
There's still 320 litres of space even with the roof down which leaves enough space for a weekend's worth of baggage
Powering the A3 Cabriolet is a 1.8-litre petrol engine that gets the 40 TFSI moniker. It puts out 178PS between 5,100 and 6,200rpm and that is the range where you actually feel the shove. The engine also makes a pretty sweet sound around this zone. Torque is a decent 250Nm and with the car's weight tipping the scales at a little over 1,400kg, you don't feel that the pulling power is inadequate. What dampens the experience is the gearbox, which isn't as quick as you expect an Audi to be. During our tests, the A3 Cabriolet managed to return an overall fuel economy of 12.01kmpl with the roof down. The cabriolet cruises effortlessly and there is adequate power to put a smile on your face when you put pedal to the metal.
The simple interior design is familiar and the all-black theme is sensible for our dusty climate but it does feel a little plasticky when you consider the price
It is a fairly quick car and is stable over highway speeds. Drop the roof though and you will realise that she gets relatively wallowy at higher speeds. Wind noise at highway speeds isn't too high and you will wish the engine had a better soundtrack to fill the cabin with. But it isn't a sports convertible after all and doesn't have any inhibitions about it. The car's chassis feels flexible around the bends and the front wheel drive configuration doesn't help either. Add to it the fact that the steering is pretty lifeless and you realise that this car isn't really made for precision cornering. Where it feels more rewarding than the sports convertibles in on the average roads where its ride remains supple and the fairly high ground clearance means you won't leave bits of the underbody on every speed hump.
In fact, that is the A3 Cabriolet's trump card - practicality. It isn't as hard to live with as a sports convertible, nor as squeaky as a drop-top Mini. The icing on the cake would have been the 2.0 litre diesel variant, the 35 TDI, which would not only have bumped up that practicality quotient, but would also brought down the starting price for the A3 Cabriolet. The A3 in itself is a competent car, but as mentioned in its comparative review with the A-Class and 1 Series, it just doesn't have high desirability value. The A3 Cabriolet fixes that.
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