Audi’s new A3 Cabriolet is based on the sensational hatchback and gets the same classy interior and strong range of engines. It’s off to a good start, then, but here we’re pitting it against another four-seater open-top with a desirable image, the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet.
The Beetle obviously has iconic styling on its side, but it also offers a smart cabin and affordable running costs. It’s much cheaper than the Audi, too, although it does have the smaller engine of the two.
What are they like to drive?
The A3 has more power and torque than the Beetle, so it’s hardly surprising that it accelerates faster when you rev the engine hard. However, both drop-tops pull strongly from below 1500rpm, so the Beetle rarely feels much slower in everyday situations.
Both cars have slick gearshifts and nicely weighted pedals, while the steering in each is consistent and precise. In fact, the Beetle’s steering has the slightly more natural feel.
The A3 compensates by gripping better in corners and having less body lean. What’s more, it remains composed if you lift off the accelerator in the middle of a bend, whereas the Beetle’s rear end can get quite wayward and force the stability control to intervene.
Sport-spec A3s get firmed-up sports suspension as standard, but Audi lets you remove it as a no-cost option (as with our test car). The result is a forgiving ride that smooths out most road lumps and bumps.
The Beetle delivers a comfortable ride at motorway speeds, but it tends to jostle its occupants in town.
Sport-model A3s come with a thicker fabric hood than entry-level models, and this helps them shut out noise much better than the open-top Beetle.
The Audi’s cabin is the calmer place to be with the roof down, too. It’s especially good with its optional (£290) wind deflector in place across the rear seat compartment, but its cabin is also better sheltered from buffeting than the Beetle without it.
If you want a deflector for your Beetle it will cost you £280, but this wasn’t fitted to our test car so its effectiveness couldn’t be judged. There’s no room for anyone in the back of either car when a deflector is fitted.
What are they like inside?
Drivers of all shapes and sizes will be able to get comfortable in both of these cars, because they have plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment, and their seats are supportive enough to prevent aches and pains on long journeys.
When the roof is up, each car offers good rear headroom, but neither has enough rear legroom for an adult to sit behind a tall driver without their knees touching the seat in front.
The Beetle’s rear cabin feels particularly cramped because it has noticeably less shoulder-room than the A3.
The Beetle has the smaller boot, too, but at least its roof doesn’t eat into the space when it’s folded, whereas the A3’s does, leaving you with a very shallow load area that’s difficult to access.
On the other hand, both cars have spring-loaded rear seats that can be folded by pulling handles in the boot, and the A3 has a wider opening through to the cabin, making it easier to slide in bulky items.
While both dashboards look smart, the materials used in the A3 are much classier and its infotainment system is more intuitive, with clear menus that you scroll through using a rotary dial on the centre console.
Instead, the Beetle gets a touch-screen, but this system forces you to look away from the road more often. Both cars are well equipped, with alloy wheels, air-con, Bluetooth and a DAB radio, while the Beetle also has leather upholstery and the A3 gets automatic lights and wipers.
The electric roofs in both cars can be operated at up to 31mph, but the Beetle’s folds up and down in just 10 seconds, compared with the Audi's 18 seconds.
What will they cost you?
The Beetle is priced to undercut the A3 by almost £3700, and that gap grows to more than £5500 when you factor in the discounts available at dealers.
True, the A3’s strong image means it should hold on to more of its value, and it will be cheaper to tax and fuel. However, the A3 is the more expensive car to service and insure, so it will still cost private buyers around £2500 more than the Beetle over a typical three-year ownership period.
These two cars are unlikely to feature on your company car list, but if they do they’ll actually cost a 40% taxpayer around the same amount in tax. The A3’s lower CO2 emissions (140g/km compared with 153g/km for the Beetle) make up for its higher list price, meaning it ends up being just £16 more expensive over one year.
There aren’t many cars as iconic as the Beetle, and in cabriolet form it ramps up the style even further. It’s also well equipped, offers good performance and looks excellent value when discounts are taken into account.
However, aside from its higher list price, the A3 is stronger in just about every area. It’s sharper to drive, more refined and comfortable, and has one of the finest cabins in any drop-top. All of that is what makes it our winner here.
Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI 180 Sport
For Brilliant ride; classy cabin; great refinement
Against Awkward boot; limited rear legroom;
Verdict The best cabriolet on the market
VW Beetle Cabriolet 1.4 TSI 160 50s Edition
For Long equipment list; flexible engine; good value
Against Firm town ride; poor grip; tight in the back
Verdict Has the great looks but isn’t good enough to drive