Audi S3 Cabriolet14 | 08 | 2014Scotcars rating

    Think cabriolets are just for hairdressers? Well check out the new 296bhp Audi S3 Cabrio

    CABRIOLETS OFTEN GET branded as "hairdresser's cars", but believe me, anyone who jumps behind the wheel of the new 296bhp, four-wheel drive, 155mph Audi S3 cabriolet will probably be more than happy to carry the label.

    Because the reality is, the S3 Cabrio is an absolutely stonking piece of kit. Sure it's not cheap — it'll set you back around £38,910 — but it's sensational. Not only does it get a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, but — in addition to quattro 4WD technology — a blisteringly quick six-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox.

    Let's deal with the main figures first: it'll scorch from standstill to 62mph in 5.4secs. Not bad for soft-top. And this is a soft-top: Audi refuses to go down the road of putting a 'folding steel roof' on their cabriolet, simply because it adds too much weight.

    It's the first time Audi has offered an S3 Cabrio, and the packaging means it's the ideal rapid cruiser with space for four adults.

    We'll deal with the outside of the car later, but first let's concentrate on the interior. Not surprisingly, the cabin is …. well, typical Audi. Boasting the highest quality of materials and construction, it's just a sumptuously reassuring and welcoming place to be. All the controls are pretty well perfectly placed, and it's supremely comfortable.

    Keep the five-layered fabric roof up — like any other A3 Cabrio, the S3 version can raise and lower its hood at up to 31mph — and the sound insulation is about as good as a steel-topped coupé.

    Press the button to fold the roof into the bootspace — where you can stash 285 litres maximum and 245 litres with the roof stowed away — keep the wind break up in the back seat, and you'll not even have to consider a hairdresser's appointment when you get out the car.

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    And even in the cold — which, as we all know, it tends to get in Scotland — turn on the air-scarf neck warmer in the headrest, activate the seat-warmer, turn up the heating and I promise. even if it's below zero you'll be able to drive with the roof down.

    Of course, the cabin comes with the sports upgrades to the seats, steering wheel — and the finishing trims lift the cabin of the S3 above and beyond even the exceptionally high standards found in the cockpits of models lower down the A3 Cabriolet food chain — but there's not a lot in the cabin which makes you think 'oooh, this is a 40 grand car'.

    Sure, it gets S tronic, magnetic ride, Audi's MMI interface and climate control, but I guess to focus on the 'perceived bling' it doesn't have is to miss the point. The investment is in the chassis, what's under the bonnet, and the quattro system.

    Never, ever under-estimate the abilities of quattro. Such is the ingenuity of the most modern version of Audi's iconic 4WD system, that in a fraction of a second it can work out which wheels have traction, and send the power to them.

    The benefit of that? In simple terms, you can accelerate hard in conditions that would see other cars pirouetting backwards into a ditch. Again, think of our average wet, cold and icy Scottish winter, and for me quattro is a must-have.

    The S3 Cabrio sits 25mm lower, and the car's suspension geometry has been fine-tuned: the result? Hmmm … some people might tend to find it too firm. Me? Well, I've always liked Audi's firm ride, so I was perfectly at ease in it.

    In typical Audi fashion, you can select from several suspension and throttle-setting modes: efficiency, comfort, auto and dynamic. What's really great — and yes, ok, it's a bit of a boy's toy — is that in dynamic mode the system opens a flap in the exhaust system to make it sound even more gruntier. Brill!

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    Plus: as the auto gearbox flick through the gears, you're rewarded with a bassy woofle-and-rumble, which is always going to impress your passengers and passers-by.

    Outside, the S3 Cabrio carries a number of very subtle styling cues, including a tiny S3 grille badge, quad-pipe exhausts, front diffuser and air intakes, and its lowered ride height. Ok, the 19in alloys sort of scream, 'look at me', but I guess, if you've spent £40k, you probably deserve to be looked at.

    It's not lightweight: it tips the scales at 1695kg, meaning it's carrying an extra 245kg compared to its saloon brother in S tronic trim. That contributes to it being half-a-second slower to 62mph from standstill than its fixed-roof sibling. Is that a problem? I don't think so.

    Audi, of course, is the master of creating niches, but the S3 Cabrio has a direct rival … and it's a stablemate, the Golf R cabriolet.

    Starting at £33,650, the VW would initially appear to be a better proposition. But closer examination highlights the Golf R is slower, and not as fuel-efficient as the Audi. While the Ingolstadt eye-catcher hits 62mph from standstill in 5.4secs and returns 39.8mpg, the Golf R tales 6.4s and manages just 34.4mpg at the pumps. The Audi also emits 165g/km CO2.

    But be aware, it's easy to get carried away with Audi's option list: the test car had £4555 of extra goodies — including LED headlights (£645), Comfort package (£690), red-painted brake calipers with S3 logo (£325), Bang & Olufsen sound system (£750) and Technology pack at a whopping £1795 — lifting the total to £43,465.

    So, the S3 cabrio: worth checking out? Definitley. If you're in the market for an eye-catching, topless flying machine, this should certainly be on your test list.

    Related: Audi reveals new Q7

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    Jim McGill


    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £39,000
    Engine / Power: turbocharged, petrol, 1984cc, four-cylinder / 296bhp
    How fast?: 5.4sec; / Max 155mph
    How big/heavy?: L4469mm W1551mm (excl mirrors) H1392mm / 1,695kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: 39.8mpg combined / 165g/km CO2
    InsGP/Road tax: n/a / n/a
    Alternatives: BMW 135i M Sport Convertible, VW Golf R 2.0TSI Cabrio

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