The Audi S3 Cabriolet is about as niche as you can get in the open daylight of mainstream automaking. Of course, the S3 cab doesn't really need to sell in big volumes; it exists because it's an easy and not too costly bit of flair for the company. In the US, this model would probably base out at around $44,000 if it were to join our fleet, which is problematic, as I'll soon explore.
In what may be a sign that Audi is essentially okay with all this, it had me up to central Sweden to twist around on the snow and ice in the open S3. The grounds ended up offering precious little ice and snow, so I drove the two-door ragtop on dusty, thawing Scandinavian roads. This was a blessing really, since ice driving in a cabrio – even a Quattro one – doesn't really reveal much of anything about such a car in its typical day-to-day life.
- Seeing the bandwidth the Volkswagen Group continues to get out of its 2.0-liter TFSI four-cylinder engine is impressive. (Witness the 420-horsepower TT Quattro Sport showcar from the recent Geneva Motor Show.) Here, we're at 296 brake horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.
- My white test car's optional interior color scheme employs hot red accents that are not only surprisingly cool looking, but also beautifully put together.
- Appropriately, for the folks who typically buy a white four-passenger convertible with pretty silvery mirror housings, the only transmission available is a six-speed dual-clutch S-tronic. The slick-shifting gearbox has been made all the better by including Audi Drive Select (ADS) as a standard feature, with Efficiency, Comfort, Auto or Dynamic modes accessed via the MMI infotainment system.
- The S sports exhaust offers good sound, and with ADS in Dynamic mode, its flaps are left open to increase the thrum of the four tailpipes.
- Audi's default S sport suspension is also a standard feature, so the S3 Cabriolet looks the part, sitting a full inch lower than a standard A3. The stance over its standard 18-inch wheels and tires – Dunlop SP Winter Sport for late winter in Scandinavia – puts on a good show, though optional 19s would look nice on Sunset Boulevard.
- Overall proportions are markedly better than those of its predecessor, yet to my eyes, this new model is still a little off due to its quite truncated front overhang and long rear overhang.
- The S3's all-important cloth roof has a theatrical opening and closing action that takes 18 seconds by my watch. You can have it do the dance while rolling along at 31 miles per hour or less, but I enjoyed watching the convertible's action while stationary.
- Versus other A3/S3 models, the cabrio adds some 450+ pounds in an effort to keep the wide-open configuration from flexing too much. That's quite a penalty, and the extra weight is felt in the car's half-second slower acceleration to 62 mph, which, at 5.4 seconds is still plenty quick for this stylish crowd.
- Cranking the climate, activating the optional heat on the sport seats and wearing cozy clothes while going top down in cold weather is one of my favorite exercises, and the S3 is good fun in this mode, particularly after getting the driver-configurable ADS settings adjusted to Dynamic mode.
Regardless of how good this car is, asking over $40k for this car in the US would make it a tough sell, especially with the larger and more stylish (if less powerful) A5 Cabriolet starting at $44,500 and the smaller, more fashionable TT Roadster at $42,900. Of course, Audi seems newly committed to offering a full range of A3 models here – with diesel and plug-in electrics among them – so it's still possible it will add this S3 as its fourth convertible model in North America. However, we wouldn't bet on it.