Long-term update: Audi S3 Cabriolet
Now that things have started to warm up, it has become a little easier to enjoy all that our long-term Audi S3 cabriolet has to offer. I am of course referring to the fabric drop-top which remained fixed in its up position for most of the winter. But with temperatures rising, we’ve been able enjoy the little convertible when its at it’s best.
There is nothing better than taking a drive on a warm summer’s evening in a convertible and enjoying the infinite headroom and the view of the stars. But that’s not a trait unique to the S3 Cabriolet — so how has it stacked up over the last few months?
Normally, when I test a car I look predominately at what makes it unique. That’s because a lot of this is personal preference, so I figure that by focusing on that one thing and evaluating it offers a good representation of what other people will be looking for.
That approach is very difficult in the S3 Cabriolet, because it has a lot of those ‘unique’ aspects.
It’s hard to ignore the fabric roof, but it is also the first cabriolet built on the new A3 sedan platform, and thus represents a drastic improvement over the previous-generation A3 Cab. And how can you forget that it is also a 210 kW S3 from the waist down, complete with quattro and launch control.
But the most noticeable feature of our S3, on top of all that, is that it comes with a very bright and very expensive yellow paint option. That’s a lengthily list of ‘key’ features so lets get started.
Looks-wise, the A3 sedan-based convertible is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous-generation A3 convertible, but that’s hardly a surprise. Audi decided that, instead of trying to force a folding roof onto a hatchback, which only really works on a Mini Cooper (hell not even Fiat is brave enough to have a fully folding roof on its 500 Cab, and that is saying something) it would opt for the sedan as the basis for the drop-top version.
With the roof up, the car has a muscular stance and thanks to its compact footprint, the lack of a C-pillar doesn’t make the rear look too expansive. This is often a problem with very large convertibles like Rolls Royce’s Phantom, which has enough room to put down decking behind the rear passengers. No, really – that’s not hyperbole: it is an actual option when ordering a Phantom drop-top.
Apart from the roof, the most noticeable feature of the Audi (okay, maybe third after the yellow paint) is that this is a S3. It means that it has been given a performance role in life, and thanks to a 210 kW/380 Nm turbocharged 2,0-litre TFSI engine plus quattro, it has the credentials to do so.
Audi claims that the S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox and launch control (both of which are fitted to our test car) the S3 Cab reaches 100 km/h from standstill in 5,4 seconds, and we can believe that.
But it is the car’s quattro all-wheel drive that really allows it to excel as a driver’s vehicle. Cornering is flat and with the electronic aids set to more lenient dynamic mode, the chassis will allow for a little four-wheel drift while you use the power to pull the S3 through a corner.
But while the S-tronic gearbox is great for traffic and using launch control, it does have a serious flaw which frustrates me endlessly. You see, it is very difficult to get the S3 off the mark quickly without using launch control.
With a manual gearbox, you could prime the revs a little and then flatten the accelerator once you’re moving, but with the S-tronic it just sort of wafts forward like a torque vectoring slush box from the 90s. It seems Audi wants to protect the gearbox from the S3’s healthy torque, but it handicaps its day-to-day friskiness off the mark as a result.
I often find myself swearing at it when I’m trying to make use of an elusive gap in a busy stream of oncoming traffic, and using launch control to immediately turn 90 degrees seems like an automatic entry into the Darwin Awards …
But while our yellow mean machine has its faults, it’s still very much a S3, which means it’s one of the best platforms money can buy. It’s rapid and competent, luxurious but not soft and still gives you that gorgeous view when you find a drive where the sun won’t fry you to a crisp.
It does cost you the practicality of a hatchback. but with the roof down, you can actually fit in a very large box or two!
And the yellow paint? Well it gets you noticed; like a lot. The cost is not so much because of the bright hue, though – the Exclusive paint is meticulously finished to a super-smooth level. So if you are after that sort of thing then the extra R30 000 might be worth it.
But if this was my money, I’d opt for a slightly less noticeable …