/ 29 September 2008

Carving out a niche

On the face of it Audi bringing its A3 Cabriolet to South African shores makes as much sense as sunscreen on a summer’s day. But if you look closer, is there really anything there?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States has a branch called the Centre for Engineering Systems Fundamentals. And one of its concerns is “queue theory” — understanding how queues work is big business and big money for ­corporations.

From these studies has come the understanding that “unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time”. Snaking queues feel shorter than straight ones. Supermarkets crowd the queue with magazines and small purchase items we don’t have to think too hard about popping into our shopping baskets.

So, while you are in said queue you might be leafing through a glossy lifestyle magazine. And on the inside front cover you will probably come across an Audi A3 Cabriolet advert. Being interested in a lifestyle magazine, you probably rate yourself as something of a style aficionado. So, you’ll be pulled in by the cabriolet’s overall no-fuss, handsome looks —

Soon you’ll be intrigued by the subtle contrast the daytime running lights give the A3 on the front end. Then you’ll be bowled over by the sexiness of the tubular aluminium roll-over bars. They almost look like the ones from a Shelby Cobra — and retro is very cool. And if you catch a glimpse of that optional red cloth roof, well, you might just collapse on the spot.

Then you think to yourself, I’ve never really wanted a drop-top car before, but what are the others? The Peugeot 307 CC, maybe even the BMW 1 series convertible, VW Eos, Opel Tigra and Astra Twintop? But from the ads you’ve seen, none seem comparable to the A3’s honest charm and boulevard appeal.

So, the A3 Cabriolet begins to occupy an aspirational space in your mind. It’s the kind of car you think you can wow your friends or spouse with by saying you want one.

You find yourself looking at the stats at the bottom of the ad and although not understanding all the acronyms you know the important bits sound right. There is a less powerful 1,8-litre TFSI engine, but the good one is the 2,0-litre TFSI engine from the Golf GTI that makes 147kW and 280Nm. That’s good for 0-100kph in 7,4 seconds and a top speed of 231kph — speed is definitely cool. You read about the “Z-fold” cloth roof, which is only one decibel louder than a regular hardtop. The A3 folds away in nine seconds. You’re impressed by this because its competitors take about 20 seconds.

Then you look at the price. R303 500 for the 1,8-litre TFSI and R342 500 for the 2,0-litre TFSI. Doesn’t sound bad: you could budget for that. After all, when you’re making a style statement, you can’t cut corners. Then you remember that friend with the Mercedes who ended up paying so much because German manufacturers have a reputation for offering lots of optional extras.

Your queue has slowed so you have time to call the Audi dealership. The man on the other side tells you what’s optional on the ad you have before you. You’ll need to pay extra for the red “acoustic roof”, the “xenon plus” headlamps, the “aluminium look” roll-over bars, the sporty “s-line” body kit and even the 17-inch five-arm wheels in the ad.

Basically everything that drew you to the A3 Cabriolet in the first place doesn’t come as standard. When you look closer, you realise there isn’t really anything there.

“Next customer please —” and you proceed to the counter. Your time in the queue is done, you may or may not still buy the magazine but the urge to spoil yourself with an impulse A3 Cabriolet has passed. Which is a shame, because the A3 Cabriolet is a study in contemporary car design; it’s a riotous drive in 2,0-litre TFSI guise, with a beautifully stiff and balanced ­chassis. But if you’re thinking of getting one remember that you will need more than R400 000 to make your A3 Cabriolet all that you want it to be.

Fast facts
Audi A3 Cabriolet 1,8TFSI
Price: R303 500
Engine: 1,8-litre TFSI
Tech: 118kW and 250Nm
Top speed: 218kph, 0 to 100kph in 8,3 seconds
Consumption: 7,3-litres/100km (combined)
Tank: 55 litres
Service intervals: 20 000km

Audi A3 Cabriolet 2,0TFSI
Price: R342 500
Engine: 2,0-litre TFSI
Tech: 147kW and 280Nm
Top speed: 231kph, 0 to 100kph in 7,4 seconds
Consumption: 7,6-litres/100km (combined)
Tank: 55 litres
Service intervals: 20 000km