2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet review
The Audi S3 Cabriolet seems to offer a broad spectrum of abilities, with hot-hatch performance, open-air thrills, and four-seat practicality, but it's got a high price to justify...
You could argue that the new Audi S3 Cabriolet has about the broadest range of abilities of any car.
After all, it’s got a sizeable boot, room for four adults, a folding soft-top, scorching hot-hatch performance, four-wheel drive and even a respectable 39.8mpg official economy figure.
So if you want a car that can serve as a family hatchback, fair-weather convertible and track day weapon, topped off with all-weather stoicism and reasonable running costs, your rather specific prayers seem to have finally been answered.
The problem is, cars that try to fulfil so many roles at once often end up failing to do any one of them brilliantly. Is the S3 Cabriolet one of them, or can it really deliver on all its many promises?
What’s the 2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet like to drive?
The first concern with any Audi S model is always ride comfort; the S3 convertible comes on 19-inch alloys and stiffer springs that are 25mm lower than standard A3 soft-top, which is already quite firm.
However, the S3 benefits from adaptive dampers as standard, and the result is a car that's well-resolved on UK roads, despite the firmer set-up. It’s particularly good at high speed, when the suspension softens bumps and keeps the body tightly in check, although it’s less ideal in town.
In the transition to convertible, the S3 has lost some of the hatchback's rigidity, and gained a substantial amount of weight, which shows in way the Cabriolet shudders over scarred surfaces at low speed. It’s not very uncomfortable, or even crashy, but it does make the car feel unsettled.
Handling is also a bit watered down; while the steering responds keenly, and there's masses of grip to keep the car planted and faithful to driver inputs, even in fast direction changes, the S3 Cabriolet still feels a bit numb.
It doesn’t turn in to corners quite so sharply as the S3 hatch, and feels a touch less poised in hard driving; generally less on its toes than the hard-top, and even the lower-powered but lighter A3 Cabriolet models.
At least the S3 Cabriolet delivers on outright pace. The standard six-speed S tronic auto gearbox flicks through gear ratios almost imperceptibly (although the rasping boom from the exhaust on up-changes is sure to let you know), and it streaks up the road in an exhilarating fashion.
Unfortunately the dual-clutch auto feels like it holds on to gears a touch too long, so you’re tempted to flick the small paddles, which can make the gearbox jump up two gears when you wanted only one.
Ultimately, while it may not suit the relaxed cruiser vibe of the S3 Cabriolet, it’s a shame that a manual gearbox isn’t available for those buyers who want a slightly more involving driver’s car.
Otherwise, all the pedal responses are well judged, making the S3 as ideal for mooching about town as it is for cross-country strops, although the S tronic 'box can be slow to change down when you want it to during more relaxed driving, which can be frustrating.
Put the roof up, and the S3 Cabriolet keeps occupants pretty well isolated from outside noise. The standard 19-inch tyres kick up a bit more road roar than you’ll get in lesser A3 Cabriolet models, and the suspension is also a little boomy when it’s working hard, but it’s never irritatingly noisy.
What’s the 2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet like inside?
The fabric hood takes about 18 seconds to stow and, handily, can be operated at up to 31mph.
With the roof down and windows up, those in the front are well protected from buffeting – as long as you erect the rather inelegant (and optional) £290 wind deflector over the rear seats. Obviously, though, you can’t fit this deflector if there are people in the back, so everyone gets blown about.
Those sitting in the front can warm the backs of their necks using the optional active seat ventilation. This system blows warm air out of the front seats, just below the head restraints.
As with the previous A3 Cabriolet, there isn’t a huge amount of space in the back. Four adults will just about fit if the driver isn’t too tall, but those in the back will find their knees pressing the seats in front.
Headroom isn’t great with the roof closed, either, although the S3 Cabriolet has a bigger boot than the Golf R Cabriolet's (there’s 285 litres of space with the hood up and 240 litres with it down), and split/folding rear seats come as standard to help you carry long items.
The S3 Cabriolet has the same smart cabin as other versions of the A3; every switch feels substantial and nicely damped, and the materials throughout the cabin are wonderfully classy.
Of course, the S3 gets various upgrades over other A3 Cabriolets, including bespoke alloy and grille design, restyled bumpers, S3 badging on the grey dials and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
It's pretty high-tech inside, too, courtesy of the latest version of Audi's MMI infotainment system, which includes a retractable 5.8-inch colour screen and is fitted as standard. This has the central control dial that Audi drivers will be familiar with, but the shortcut buttons have been replaced by toggle switches, which are easier to use, although frustratingly you still have to pay £495 to add nav.
Otherwise, a DAB radio, Bluetooth, automatic lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, nappa leather upholstery and xenon headlights are all included as standard.
Should I buy one?
Probably not. The S3 Cabriolet is an accomplished car in its own way, but it’s a remarkably expensive one.
If you can live with two rather than four seats, the Porsche Boxster is in another league for handling ability and driving excitement, and will also hold on to its value much better in the long term.
Perhaps more of a problem is the rest of the A3 Cabriolet range. If you must have four-wheel drive, the A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI quattro in Sport trim is £7155 less than the S3 and is still well-equipped.
Better still, forego the four-wheel drive. It doesn’t add much to the handling, and the front-wheel drive 1.4 TFSI that is our pick of the A3 Cabriolet range still feels fast and fun. It is also impressively efficient and gets a better seven-speed auto if you don’t want the manual gearbox.
Perhaps inevitably, looking at these other options makes the £38,910 S3 Cabriolet very hard to justify.
What Car? says
Audi S3 2.0 T Cabriolet
Engine size 2.0-litre petrol
Price from £38,910
Torque 280lb ft
0-62mph 5.4 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 39.8mpg