More than just a pretty face

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As a rule, tin tops do not make pretty convertibles. Witness, over the last decade, the plethora of hatchback-derived cabriolets that have borne closer resemblance to designer perambulators than automobiles.

How invigorating, then, is the breath of air brought by Peugeot’s elegant 306 convertible (MOTOR SPORT, August 1994) and Audi’s ruggedly handsome Cabriolet.

Based on the two-door coupe’s floorpan, the Audi Cabriolet shares with its saloon cousin many galvanised steel panels as well as the two-litre, four-cylinder power unit tested here (a 2.6 V6 is soon to replace the 2.3 engine). Equipment levels are comprehensive, but not excessive.

Performance wise, the Audi Cabriolet suffers the same handicap as just about every other cabrio. Its massive weight penalty, 3859 lb in this case, is a consequence of the strengthening required to aid torsional rigidity and the number of electrical motors required to actuate the power hood. As a result, and with just 115 bhp, the 2.0E is seriously underpowered. Don’t expect more than a piffling 116 mph and don’t bother making standing start or mid-range acceleration comparisons. It will lose.

However, certain recognised Audi benefits are carried over to the Cabriolet: unbeatable build quality and finish; neat interior design and sound ergonomics (with the exception of the minor gauges set out of sight at the base of the centre console); and, of course, occupant safety with the Procon-Ten seat-belt tensioning system and roll-over protection built into the front windscreen.

Neatness has become an Audi hallmark, the Cabrio’s hood being particularly tidy one button will lower all four windows simultaneously and one handle manually releases the hood catch before the motors take over to lift, lower and store the roof into its flat-lidded compartment in a matter of 30 seconds or so.

On the move, there are commendably low levels of the dreaded scuttle-shake that that plagues so many cabrios, and, even with windows down at motorway speeds on hot, sunny days, the wind will not take your head off. Obviously, buffeting is less noticeable with the windows raised but in any cabrio this looks silly, and you’d be telling porkies if you claimed that attracting attention wasn’t at least part of this Audi’s appeal.

Hood up, the Cabrio still looks great, and there’s no more than a faint ‘whoosh’ audible above ambient sounds. On a practical note, boot space has been sacrificed to accommodate the folded hood, though not significantly, and the internal dimensions are similar to the coupé’s, thereby accomodating four adults in reasonable comfort.

If you’ve driven an Audi coupé, the Cabrio will be familiar. The car squats, dives and yaws, has the same rubbery yet notchy gearchange, high clutch action and vague powersteering though the latter is an improvement over early coupes. Handling isn’t compromised too much the coupé was never quick to turn-in anyway and, as expected, understeer predominates.

At £19,862 the Audi Cabrio 2.0E may seem expensive, but when compared with the Peugeot 306 Cabriolet at £17,295, it doesn’t fare too badly. It is superior in most departments, even if it lacks the Peugeot’s performance and handling finesse. If such qualities are of importance to you, BMW’s 320i convertible is a better driver’s car and, with 150 bhp, is again significantly quicker. It costs £23,980 though, so the charismatic Audi looks a positive bargain by comparison. R R B

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