BATD ON Mar 17, 2014 AT 10:57 am

by Liz Turner.

Audi A3 Cabriolet.

Audi A3 Cabriolet.

Getting your skincare and headgear right are essential when setting off in a convertible car. Arriving with a red beacon of a nose and dry lips takes the edge off your cool entrance.

A sunglasses mark is acceptable, of course (people may think you’ve been skiing) and a bottle of serious sunscreen should live in the glovebox, but keeping your hair from whipping into your eyes (agony, and actually dangerous) is more of a challenge.

A headscarf always looks marvellous in a photo, but I can never keep them on over 40mph. They end up round my throat. Hats simple fly off, or threaten to. As we set off on a test drive of the new Audi A3 Cabriolet, my fellow scribbler Alyson Marlow reckoned a hairband was best. But in the end I went for the simplest solution, I just had a serious 1960s’ Mia Farrow haircut.

We’d spent the night in the very smart Chewton Glen Hotel, where my suite had twin sofas so over-stuffed and covered in cushions they dared me to try and sit on them. A run-up and a firm landing did the trick.
The house elves had been all over the hotel adding Audi touches; the coasters, candles and even the ornamental hedges wore Audi four-ring logos. I was quite surprised not to see them shaved into the shaggy rumps of the New Forest ponies wandering around our driving route.

Audi A3 Cambriolet Interior.

Audi A3 Cambriolet Interior.

The choice of venue is to remind us how far up the premium ladder Audi has climbed since it was the German make that wasn’t BMW or Mercedes. These days celebs such as Darcey Bussell and Gwyneth Paltrow have Audi keys in the handbags, and they’re in a few royal pockets, too.

A delightful rump…
This all-new third-generation Cabriolet is based on the new A3 saloon rather than the hatchback, so it has a lovely, slightly plump body with a muscular slash along the side. The rump has a delightful little kick-up like the swirl of a flirty skirt.

The boot under there offers decent luggage space, but the mouth doesn’t open very wide, so squashy bags are required. The back seats are a pretty decent size for an open-top car, kids would definitely be fine, and friends who get a lift in a convertible are not allowed to complain.

The hood is very deliberately fabric; while so many cars lift off a metal lid and stash it; this car looks like a convertible even when the roof is down. I would only have it down in a monsoon, however. The first button Aly and I found was the one that folds the fabric in 18 seconds up to 30mph.

The dash is classy, with tasteful touches of bling. Rather than a mass of scattered buttons and switches, the Audi has a screen that pops up to display sat-nav, audio etc, operated with a twist-and-click tooled metal wheel. To save space, the handbrake is a neat switch rather than a lever. Even though this is a medium-sized car, the trim and options are premium, matching those offered in larger vehicles such as the A8.

Around 40% of buyers will go for S line trim, which lowers the suspension and adds LED lights and 18in bigger wheels on the outside, plus posher fabric and leather trim and a multi-function steering wheel inside.

Still nowhere to put our bags, or an iPad though. How about a drawer under the seat, guys? Or make the bin between the seats big enough for a clutch bag? Putting our bags in the boot would have been sensible, but we chucked them on the back seat. A mesh tonneau would keep delving arms out at traffic lights, and it has a vertical section to stop cold air swirling around your neck and messing up your hair (if it’s longer than mine).

Audi A3 Cabriolet.

Audi A3 Cabriolet.

More power; but less thirst…
It’s no shame to say that most women (and a lot of men) want to know as much about the engine as they do about what’s in the back of the TV or dishwasher. PR ringmaster Jon Zammett knew it, and just went as far as to say that the engineering team were magicians, having achieved more performance for less fuel and emissions. One clever trick is that a couple of cylinders shut down when they are not needed. Plus, the engine turns off when you’re stationary. I’m used to that in my Mini, but the A3 can stop rather suddenly, making both us of think we’d stalled the car on different occasions.

We drove three versions of the car around a twisty route through open New Forest roads, with blue sky overhead and yellow gorse glowing all around us. I loved all three, the ride is excellent, and the handling great fun. My favourite engine was the turbocharged 1.4 TFSI; five years ago I would have chuckled at the idea of such a tiny motor shifting a car of this size, but as JZ said – magicians have been at work. It felt light and responsive, with quite enough power for me. Next we drove the 1.8 TFSI with the amazing DSG automatic gearbox. It swaps gear quicker than I can decide whether or not I want cake. (A foregone conclusion), but I do like a manual gearbox, it makes me feel connected to the car.
Finally, we drove the 2-litre diesel. It has a good thump of pull and is extremely frugal, but didn’t respond with the immediacy of the smaller petrol.

As we headed back towards Chewton Glen, I found I was driving slower and slower. I just didn’t want to give it back…

Audi A3 Cabriolet

1.4 TFSI
Engine 1395cc
Max power 140 PS at 5000rpm
Top speed 135mph
0-62mph 9.2 seconds
Fuel economy 56.5mpg (combined)
CO2 114g/km

1.8 TFSI
Engine 1798cc
Max power 180 PS at 5100-6200rpm
Top speed 150mph
0-62mph 7.8 seconds
Fuel economy 48.7mpg (combined)
CO2 133g/km

2.0 TDI
Engine 1968cc
Max power 150 at 3500-4000rpm
Top speed 139mph
0-62mph 8.9 seconds
Fuel economy 67.3mpg
CO2 110g/km.

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