Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TDI 150 Sport
This diesel version of our 2015 Convertible of the Year will be tough to beat.
BMW 2 Series Convertible 220d Sport
Replaces the 1 Series Convertible, and promises more space and better refinement.
The Audi A3 Cabriolet has enjoyed two straight years of success at the What Car? Awards, picking up the Convertible prize in 2014 and 2015 thanks to its superb blend of quality, refinement and fine driving manners.
However, those winning ways could be about to come to an end because arch-rival BMW has just launched its new 2 Series Convertible. It replaces the 1 Series equivalent and aims to offer more space, better refinement and a more comfortable ride.
Our Award-winning Audi has a 1.4 petrol engine, but here we’re testing both cars in big-selling 2.0-litre diesel form. The BMW has more power than the Audi but costs more to buy and emits more CO2.
Reduced practicality is a given over their hatchback counterparts, but no modern open-top can get away with being a one-trick pony suitable only for the summer months. The Audi A3 Cabriolet has proved it’s up to the task, so how does the BMW compare?
What are they like to drive?
The BMW’s 2.0-litre diesel engine is quite a bit more powerful than the Audi’s. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the 2 Series is a second quicker to 60mph from a standstill, and generally pulls harder when accelerating from low revs in the higher gears.
Even so, the Audi never feels short of puff and is more refined when you work its engine hard.
The BMW’s engine is noisier as the revs rise and you can also feel lots of vibration through its gear lever. The gearshift itself also feels a little stiff and notchy.
The 2 Series handles well, though. Its steering feels more naturally weighted than its rival’s and the front end is always more eager to turn in to corners. Being rear-wheel drive helps to make it feel more alive through bends. The Audi impresses too, mind. In fact, its taut body control and a decent amount of grip and stability are commendable. However, its front wheels will run wide of your intended line sooner when you push hard in corners.
Despite our A3 test car riding on lower and stiffer sport suspension, it was more composed than the 2 Series over rutted roads. Our BMW test car was fitted with optional adaptive M Sport suspension (£750) but even in its Comfort setting it was sharper and less forgiving than the A3 over broken road surfaces. In truth, both cars aren’t as good at dealing with mid-corner bumps as their solid-roofed equivalents, but by soft-top standards they’re very impressive.
The Audi is slightly faster to fold its roof away; it’s done and dusted in 18.0sec and can do it while on the move, up to 31mph, compared with the BMW’s 19.0sec below 30mph. Audi and BMW charge extra for a wind deflector (£290 and £260 respectively) but with them in place, front-seat passengers are equally well sheltered from buffeting. However, since the deflectors sit in the rear cabin, you can only use them with people sitting up front; with four people on board things become a bit blowy.
The BMW does the best job of keeping its cabin quiet at low speeds but increase the pace and its noisy engine lets it down.
What are they like inside?
Roof up, there isn’t much to separate these two for space up front. The BMW has slightly more head and legroom while the Audi has the broader cabin, but six-footers will be comfortable in both.
The difference in rear space between the cars is much greater, however. The Audi is the clear winner here with more head, leg and shoulder room, and the fact its rear seats are sculpted and less upright than the BMW’s makes them more comfortable to sit in. You still won’t relish a long journey back there, though.
The Audi also has the better boot. The official figures suggest the opposite (the BMW’s has 15 litres more with the roof up, and five litres extra with it down) but, really, this is a minute advantage and the Audi’s wider opening makes its load bay far more practical.
Audi also includes 50:50 split-folding rear seats as standard, whereas BMW offers them only as a £170 option. Otherwise, its rear seatbacks fold as one big piece, rather than splitting. Once down, the passageway through to the boot is widest and tallest in the A3, making it the best choice for those rare occasions when you need to carry long, bulky items.
There’s plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment in both cars, although the BMW’s offset pedals make it less comfortable on long journeys. Both the Audi and BMW suffer from poor rearward visibility because of their small rear screens and large rear pillars. Forward visibility is better in the Audi because it has thinner windscreen pillars, however.
Both cars have a big colour screen – 5.8in in the Audi and 6.5in in the BMW – mounted in the centre of their dashboards. Each system is controlled using a rotary dial and a selection of shortcut buttons between the front seats; they’re both very user-friendly. BMW’s system (iDrive) just has the edge, though, because its menus are slightly easier to navigate.
Cabin quality is a close-run thing, too. Perceived quality in both is good but start to push and prod surfaces and you’ll find denser, softer-touch plastics in the Audi. The overall fit and finish is better in the A3, too, thanks to tighter-fitting interior panels.
What will they cost?
The BMW costs around £1000 more to start with and that gap grows to more than £2300 after dealer discounts have been factored in. There’s more good news for the A3 when it comes to long-term ownership costs because it’s predicted to depreciate more slowly than its rival and is also slightly cheaper to insure and tax. As a private cash buyer, the A3 will work out to be around £2100 cheaper to own, assuming you buy now and sell after three years.
Put down £5000 on a three-year PCP deal and Audi will contribute a further £750 to your deposit. It’ll then charge you £350 a month, whereas BMW won’t contribute to your deposit and asks £414 per month. Both deals are subject to hefty final balloon payments and limit you to 10,000 miles a year.
Company car buyers will be better off with the Audi, too; its lower CO2 emissions place it two benefit-in-kind tax bands lower than the BMW. Over three years, as a 40% rate taxpayer, you’ll sacrifice almost £1000 less of your salary to run the A3.
Both cars come with alloy wheels, climate control, automatic lights and wipers, a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a USB socket. However, only the BMW has rear parking sensors.
Regarding safety, neither car has been tested by Euro NCAP, but the Audi has one more airbag than the BMW (seven versus six) and while automatic emergency braking is available on both, it’s £240 cheaper on the A3. Both cars have tyre pressure-monitoring systems.
Security firm Thatcham scored both cars four out of a possible five stars for their resistance to being broken into and driven away.
The Audi just edges it. It’s more spacious, more comfortable and more refined, and the fact that it’s cheaper for private buyers and company car drivers also counts in its favour.
The BMW is still worthy of four stars, though. It’s faster, better equipped and has a better infotainment system. It’s just a shame its engine isn’t smoother and quieter.
Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TDI 150 Sport
For **All-round refinement; interior quality; comfortable ride
Against Numb steering; not quite as much fun to drive
Verdict The best four-seat diesel convertible you can buy
BMW 2 Series Convertible 220d Sport
For** Good to drive; lots of kit; iDrive infotainment system
Against Noisy engine; notchy gearshift; higher CO2 output
Verdict Not far behind the class-leading A3
Audi A3 Cabriolet
BMW 2 Series Conv.