The Audi bandwagon moves on and its latest model is the new A5 Cabriolet. At one end of the scale you can have it with a goody-two-shoes 2.0-litre TDI (complete with stop/start technology), and at the other end is the rather rapid S5 tested here.
In the switch from Coupe to Cabriolet, the S5 has ditched the 4.2-litre V8 for a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 – like its S4 saloon sibling. So while the bhp figure might be down (from 349 to 328bhp) and torque figure up by a single digit to 325lb ft, that twisting force is now spread from 2900rpm to 5300rpm, rather than peaking at 3500rpm. The fuel consumption figure is also improved (26.2 to 29.1mpg), and for those of you that care about driving, you’ll be pleased to know that the S5 Cabriolet can be had with an active rear differential to mete out that torque more cleanly.
I quite like the Audi A5 Coupe – how does the A5 Cabriolet look with its chopped top?
Rather good. Yes, to some the front grille will be too fussy, too in-your-face, but overall the A5 is stylish and handsome. The S5’s bigger front and rear bumpers, platinum-effect grille, quad exhausts and aluminium-effect door mirrors manage to remain fairly subtle. And the silver windscreen surround works well, taking your eye off the big black section of fabric at the back.
In the switch from coupe to cab none of the sleekness of the A5 has been lost. But to these eyes it looks best with the roof stowed away, with the same clean, crisp and uncluttered lines that helped make the A4 Cabriolet look so smart to a certain strata of society.
A fabric roof, you say?
We did indeed. Like the next-generation E-class convertible (but unlike BMW’s 3-series drop-top) Audi has stuck with a cloth hood. It features a heated glass rear window, folds away in 15 seconds, and rises up again in just 17 seconds. Audi claims those figures are respectively seven and six seconds faster than BMW’s metal roof on the Three. And the A5 will do this while travelling at speeds up to 31mph – we’ve tested it at speed and can report it’s impressive for such a big roof.
On the road with the lid down, and with the wind deflector in place, your mullet won’t get ruffled, the S5 only allowing the merest hint of a breeze into the cabin. But drop the deflector, so this four-seater can actually seat four, and everyone will be buffeted by the wind – and with a button to raise and lower all four windows you can suddenly wake your slumbering passengers with a sudden blast of improntu air-conditioning.
But while the S5’s cabin composure with the roof down is impressive, what’s even more remarkable is how it behaves with the fabric in place. As standard the S5 gets an Acoustic Hood, with an extra 14mm of foam to suppress the noise. It works, making the Cabriolet almost as refined as the A5 Coupe, but it’s a cheek to charge other A5 Cabriolet drivers £210 for this must-have option.
Okay, now what about this new engine?
Under the blue bonnet of our S5 test car sits Audi’s new supercharged 3.0-litre V6, which already sees service in the S4 and (in detuned form) the facelifted A6. Here, in full S4/S5 spec it produces 328bhp and 324lb ft, the latter produced between 2900rpm and 5300rpm. And once you’re into this rev range the S5 lunges forward like a much bigger-engined car.
It’s far from a perfect engine, though. Full throttle up-shifts equate to a pleasing rasp, but if the seven-speed dual clutch ‘box (the only transmission available on the S5) changes up on part throttle in the middle of the rev range the noise you’ll hear from the back is an unpleasant boom. And you can hear the same deep boom when manoeuvring around town – it’s not particularly pleasant. Nor can the supercharged six match the burble from the S5 Coupe’s V8 – the Coupe gets the V6 in the summer of 2010 inline with a mid-life facelift.
The seven-speed S-tronic transmission itself isn’t bad though, making mid-range changes imperceptible, and with none of the sudden flaring of revs from standstill that afflicted early dual-clutch gearboxes.
But the paddles are attached to the steering wheel, so you can brake hard into a bend, double tap the paddle and upshift to sixth rather than dropping down to second. And once you’re into that corner you won’t be getting any feedback through the steering wheel – with Audi’s Drive Select system it’s either gloopy in Comfort mode, or artificially weighted in Dynamic. In truth steering feel isn’t that good in either…
What about Audi’s infamous ride problems?
The ride is of course firm, as you’d expect from a sports car with lowered and stiffened suspension. But while Porsches can flow with a road, the S5 never quite settles on its springs and is always fidgeting.
Having said that, despite punting the S5 Cabriolet up and over the same demanding roads we used for the Focus RS/Megane R26R twin test in this month’s new April 2009 CAR Magazine, there was no scuttle shake whatsoever, and no knocks or clunks from anything in the interior.
Plus it’ll grip and grip and grip thanks to fat 19-inch rubber. And you’ll find lots of traction coming out of bends because Quattro drive is standard, with 60% of the torque sent rearwards under normal driving conditions. There’s no wheelspin – the S5 just digs in and goes. The new active sport differential (available with Drive Select for around £1500) also makes sure there’s even more grip from behind.
For the average customer it’ll have enough performance to keep them happy, and the hard ride will be overlooked because of the car’s so-called sporting pretensions.
The interior is typically Audi – well finished, with lots of soft-touch plastics and finely textured surfaces. In S5 spec you get plump sports seats (unfortunately not available with Audi’s new neck-warming system), various bits of brushed aluminium trim and a three-spoke leather-trimmed steering wheel with contrasting silver stitching. The wheel feels better than it looks, and overall the S5’s cabin remains distinctive enough from the run-of-the-mill A4s you see everyday.
Audi’s S5 Cabriolet is a very good car. The cabin’s classy, the exterior looks good, and (up to a point) it’s great to drive, with lots of grip and lots of go. Push harder and you’ll find it’s not the perfect sports car, but what big drop-top is? For the 250-300 UK buyers who’ll lay down about £42k for one it’ll be the perfect convertible. But it’s not perfect for us.