Those looking for a luxury-branded convertible with a low price tag should turn toward Audi's A3 Cabriolet.
With a $36,525 starting retail price, including destination charge, the Audi A3 Cabrio comes with standard leather-covered seats and dual-zone climate control -- not found in other low-priced 2015 model year convertibles, such as the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle. Plus, its base, 170-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder provides strong acceleration, with a full 200 foot-pounds of torque coming on at a low 1,600 rpm and carrying through to 4,400 rpm.
Best of all, the A3 Cabrio ranks third best in fuel mileage among all U.S. convertibles, behind the much smaller Smart Fortwo Passion Cabrio and Mini Cooper convertible. The federal government says it gets 24 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, and judging by the fuel-sipping nature of the test vehicle, those numbers are achievable, averaging just over the 28-mpg combined city/highway rating.
Drivers who aren't interested in the muscle-car look of the Camaro and Ford Mustang will find much to like in the Cabrio, which, true to Audi custom, looks is business-like but with a sense of craftsmanship. The interior gauges and controls are well-placed, the plastic pieces look upscale and the firm seats and right-sized steering wheel help make a driver feel comfortable. Also, it has a power-operated ragtop roof instead of the heavy-feeling metal roofs. It takes 18 seconds for the top to open or close, even if traveling at city speeds of 31 mph or less.
The test car felt lively, as the engine and six-speed transmission worked to deliver power with just a bit of a lag from the turbo engine. Its front-wheel drive takes off with gusto from stoplights and makes swift passes on country roads. Horsepower peaks at 170, so it's not close to the 323 horses found in the Chevy Camaro's V-6.
The test A3 Cabrio Premium Plus moved like a solid piece of metal, even over railroad tracks where lesser convertibles might shake.
The car sits lower to the pavement than SUVs and trucks, so there's not a great view when the Audi is stuck in traffic. But the lower center of gravity and responsive steering made for fun driving when taking curves and turns.
There was wind noise and some road noise in the A3, whether the top was up or down.
The two side doors are longish, which means larger parking spaces are best to avoid banging a door into an adjacent vehicle. The back seat is for two adults only, but 31.9 inches of legroom is better than the Camaro's backseat.
Even with the roof folded down, there's still 7.1 cubic feet of space in the A3 Cabrio trunk. With the top on, the trunk has 9.9 cubic feet of storage area.
The 2015 A3 sedan was rated five out of five stars in passenger protection in federal government crash tests. However, there is no data on crash tests of the 2015 A3 Cabriolet. One U.S. safety recall in April involved defective nickel plating inside the fuel pump, which could cause the pump to fail and thereby stall the car and not allow it to restart.