Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.6 TDI 105 Sport
List price when new £24,260
Price today £10,000
Available from 2008-2013
Smart, practical, fun to drive and endowed with the classiest badge here, the Audi A3 Cabriolet looks like the car to beat
Peugeot 308 CC 1.6 e-HDI 112 Active
List price when new £23,565
Price today £7000
Available from 2009-2014
It might not have the cachet of the other two cars here, but the 308 CC’s low price it makes it the bargain of the bunch
Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet 1.6 TDI 105 SE
List price when new £23,245
Price today £8500
Available from 2011-2016
Older versions of the VW Golf Cabriolet are now cult classics – but does this latest model live up to the hype?
Price today is based on a 2012 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
The clocks have gone forward, the daffodils are out, and the weather is turning – well, if not quite warm, then let’s just say ‘bearable in parts’. Yes, the British spring is finally upon us, and if you’re anything like us, we’ll bet you’ve had those first pangs of longing for a convertible. Go on, admit it. Your secret’s safe with us.
But would it surprise you to learn that convertible ownership isn’t really an impractical proposition any more? It’s true – these days, there are plenty of four-seat drop-tops around, and with some of the latest and best now filtering down onto the used car market (and becoming far more accessible to those of us on a tight budget as a result), a cabriolet doesn’t have to be a proposition reserved exclusively for the wealthy or the child-free.
The three cars we’re testing here today are all available for £10,000 or less, and all are powered by efficient and cheap-to-run diesel engines. What’s more, because they’re based on common-or-garden hatchbacks, the oily gubbins beneath are easy to maintain, and shouldn’t cost the earth fix when they go wrong.
First up, there’s the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet. The archetypal practical cabriolet for generations, this latest Golf Cabrio boasts all the technology and toys you might expect from any modern Golf, but with all the everyday usability that's made the model so popular in the past.
The same can be said of the Audi A3 Cabriolet, which twins the Golf’s proven underpinnings with classy looks and a more upmarket badge, while the Peugeot 308 CC costs far less than either of the other two – and comes with the added bonus of a folding steel roof, which should make it both more secure and quieter at speed. But which makes the best case for itself? Time to drop those tops and find out.
What are they like to drive?
With versions of the same 103bhp 1.6-litre engine under their bonnets, it’s hardly surprising that the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 offer almost identical performance. Each builds speed smoothly – if not especially quickly – once you’re past 1500rpm. However, let the revs drop below this and performance feels distinctly flat.
The 308’s 110bhp 1.6 is slightly perkier at low revs, which is to be expected because its six-speed gearbox gives it the advantage of shorter gearing. However, the 308 is the slowest when you accelerate through the gears because of its higher weight, although its performance is still acceptable.
All three cars offer decent ride comfort, with the Golf proving particularly good at soaking up imperfections on the road surface. The A3 and 308 can be upset by sharper bumps. On the downside, the Golf rolls about quite a bit on twisty roads, whereas the A3 and 308 stay pretty flat and composed.
The 308 feels particularly agile because it responds almost instantly to steering inputs; unfortunately, you don’t get much feedback through the wheel. The A3 and Golf offer more sensation and reassurance, and they are easier to drive smoothly in stop-start traffic because their pedals and gearshifts are better weighted than the 308’s.
Lower their roofs, and the driving manners of the Golf and A3 are largely unaffected. By contrast, the 308 starts to suffer from body flex. This reduced rigidity means the suspension doesn’t work as effectively, so rough roads have a much more unsettling effect.
However, the 308 is the car that ruffles one’s feathers the least with the top down. It’s the only car here that wasn’t offered with a wind deflector as standard, yet even without one it’s almost as good at protecting its occupants from buffeting as the A3 and Golf are with their wind deflectors in place. Remove the deflectors (which you’ll have to do if you want to carry rear passengers) and wind swirls around both cabins, making life noisy and uncomfortable at anything above town speeds.
The 308 is also the most tranquil place to be with the roof up because it has the quietest engine of the three, and is good at shutting out wind and road noise. You have to put up with a bit more of both in the A3 and Golf, and the Golf’s engine gets quite rough at higher revs; the A3’s generally stays smooth.
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