Variable timing

Clearing the traffic provides a new perspective

JAMES WHITBOURN

MOVING to a new suburb at the same time as getting a new long-termer broke a basic rule of any scientific experiment: I had changed two variables at once. The conclusion? Well, Iíve still got another month in the A3 cabrio, but so far my drive to the office isnít as enjoyable as it used to be.

While this is partly because I have to drive further, some of it in stop-start traffic, it also suggests the A3 is less agreeable than the Mazda 6 it replaced. Of course, no-one cares how a luxury convertible and a family wagon compare, but youíd expect a $52K premium car to be better than a $40K-odd one from a mainstream maker.

In Audiís defence, the cabrio is an exception to the rule that says premo cars usually do justify the price premium by being, well, nicer. I reckon the sedan version of the A3 should go closer, and Iíll find out in a month or so when I swap into the $12K-cheaper booted 1.4 TFSI.

Itís possible (if quite unlikely) the sedan will eradicate the slow, less-than-smooth dual-clutch gearbox behaviour that plagues the drop-top, though the smaller, cylinderon- demand donk will certainly improve economy. Still, I barely remember the last time I filled the ragtop anyway.

The sedan is sure to eliminate the cabrioís small but noticeable twist and creak of the body over bumpy roads. Thereíll be less noise in the cabin and it might even ride with greater low-speed polish, which would be welcome.

But I did enjoy a recent drive in the cabrio.

What was different? Unlike my usual daily grind, it was late at night and there was no one on the road.

While tentatively treading the throttle to creep forward brings snoozy response, and nailing it to safely turn across oncoming traffic brings a frightening pause and then a fit of acceleration, giving the cabrio a clear road and more deliberate control inputs brings it aliveÖ sort of.

Oddly, given the cabrioís positioning, it seems to work better with a commanding driving style. If you really pedal the A3, the gearbox becomes smoother, and using the shift paddles keeps the fizzy 1.8 turbo in the meat of its 250Nm torque band.

The balance of the chassis satisfies once youíve pushed through the inert steering, and the grip level is good, as is power-down, as long as the road is dry.

Under the cover of darkness, I even dropped the top (while I still can) because, as a grass-could-be-greener type, I probably wonít appreciate this feature until itís gone.

APPEARANCE MATTERS

I particularly like the lip spoiler styled into the bootlid. The wheels strike a nice luxo/sport balance, too

Dynamic lifter

AT FIRST the A3 cabrio was locked into Efficiency mode. This is no S3, I thought, so letís save some fuel. Soon, though, the elastic throttle and hunger for 7th gear prompted a new approach. I tried Comfort, but the A3 doesnít have adaptive dampers, so I wasnít surprised when the actual comfort level didnít change. Surely Normal would be best for normal driving, then? Nah, Dynamic is the one. The steering is heavier and the accelerator and gearbox are as lively as theyíre going to get.

OurGarage

AUDI A3 1.8 TFSI CABRIOLET

Date acquired: January 2015 Price as tested: $51,900 month: 963km @ 8.5L/100km Overall 2512km @ 7.8L/100km Pric This Ove