Miami International Airport, September 2016:
Standing at the Sixt rental car counter at Miami International Airport, I was given a choice between a Ford Mustang Convertible and an Audi A3 Cabriolet. As a budding automotive writer trying to drive and review the greatest number of cars possible, the decision was easy: I’d driven the Mustang Convertible already, so the Audi was the obvious choice. I’ve also owned 3 Audis, so getting one as a rental seemed particularly novel.
Out on the lot, the attendant handed me the keys and said “It’s the white one right over there.” And in that moment, I was gripped by a pang of regret: “I’ve made a huge mistake! It’s a…chick car!” I don’t have some chauvinistic aversion to white cars; seven of the fourteen cars that I’ve owned have been white. But the conditioning is strong: a voice inside tells me that a small white convertible is not a car to be driven by a man. As a gay man who’s spent years policing his mannerisms, trying not to be too faggy, a quiet panic sets in.
I thought a lot about this reaction as I maneuvered the little A3 through Miami’s crippling rush-hour traffic. Here we were, three big dudes in tank tops riding around in this adorable Hungarian-made fruit cup for the world to see. I was self conscious at first, but the feeling subsided as I realized we were having way more fun than anyone else in that traffic jam. With an 80’s playlist from Spotify piped through the MMI Bluetooth connection, and the drive down US-1, famous for the 42 bridges that connect the Florida Keys to the Mainland, our enjoyment would only multiply.
The spiritual predecessor of the A3 Cabriolet is the Audi 90-based droptop, known as the Audi Cabriolet, sold in North America from 1994-1998. It was small, cute, and expensive; an upscale alternative to the MK3 Golf-Based Volkswagen Cabrio. With a sticker price of $35,900 (the equivalent of $56,700 in 2016 dollars), it sold in pretty small numbers. The sweet polished aluminum windshield frame on this A3 is a detail that first appeared on the Cabriolet and has become an iconic feature of Audi convertibles.
Kudos, then, to Audi for bringing us the A3 Cabriolet with a starting price of $37,525 in 2016. My test car was a basic, bare-bones US-market “Premium” model in Ibis White, with Chestnut leatherette upholstery, 17” Alloy Wheels, and Audi’s basic MMI entertainment interface. Under the hood lives VW’s plucky 1.8 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder 16-valve engine producing 170hp and 200lb-ft of torque. The optional-in-2016, 220-horsepower 2.0T engine has been made standard equipment for 2017, while the ticket price has been held at $37,600.
The 1.8T engine motivates the 3,384lb Cabriolet to 60mph in a respectable 7.2 seconds. VW’s excellent 6-speed dual clutch automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, and as with most such gearboxes, is intelligent enough to make the manual shift mode a nice thought, but totally unnecessary. The EPA says you should expect 24mpg in the city and 35 on the highway; I averaged 33mpg in mixed driving.
The A3’s MQB-platform structure is remarkably solid for a car missing the structural robustness provided by a permanent roof. bumps and imperfections in the road are well isolated, and there’s none of the cowl shake often associated with convertibles. The ride is firm, but not harsh. Hurl it into a corner, and you’ll get predicable understeer and good communication from the front wheels. Think about it like a GTI that’s come to the party dressed to kill, not to fight.
The interior is comfortable up front, but essentially uninhabitable in back except for very short trips. The seats are firm and supportive, good for road tripping. Audi’s MMI infotainment system is standard equipment. I’d stop short of calling it intuitive, but you can get the hang of it pretty quickly. The console-mounted rotary control operates in the exact opposite direction from what you’d naturally expect, meaning that when you rotate clockwise, the display scrolls up. It’s a minor annoyance in an otherwise very functional system. The LCD screen motors up from the top of the dashboard, which has the benefit of keeping the dash design simple and clean; as well as eliminating the distraction of the screen when it’s not being used, especially at night. The mix of physical buttons and MMI-controlled features is sensible and the most important functions are close at hand.
The exterior is a successful variation on Audi’s corporate design language, with sharp creases, a large single frame grille, and mean-looking LED signatures at both ends. The base model appears to sit a tad high over its 17” wheels, but the available sport suspension lowers the ride height by 15mm for a mere $250. It looks particularly handsome in white, if not particularly manly.
Which brings me back to the A3’s “chick car” image. By the end of the trip, I had zero regrets about choosing the A3 over a Mustang or Camaro; partly because everyone else in Key West had rented a Mustang or Camaro. The very notion of the chick car is dripping with intrinsic misogyny; implying that there’s weakness, inadequacy, and shame in femininity. The biggest problem with driving a chick car, some say, is that women don’t respect guys who don’t drive manly cars—a chick car won’t get you laid. Gentlemen, if you’re relying on your car to get you laid, your car is not your problem. Better take a look at, well, everything else about yourself.
As with everything else in life, if you’re confident and don’t feed the trolls, you’re sure to enjoy the ride. Especially if it's in an A3 Cabriolet.