Audi A5 Cabriolet review
by Mike Grundon (4 May 2009)
As they say on May Day in the Cornish fishing village of Padstow, "summer is a come unto day", and whose soul could fail to fly at the thought of some open-topped motoring in the hills?
This is the thought that put a wide grin on my face as I howled the Audi A5 Cabriolet up the road that looked on approach like a jagged crack up the face of the mountain. Dicing between gears two and three and between directions north and south, I ran the nearside wheels just inbound of the white edging line as the road climbed higher and higher. You can keep your motorway thrashes, your runway sprints and your "official" test circuits; out here where the raptors circle in the clear air is where cars get a chance to come alive.
In the true spirit of quiet confidence we've come to expect from Audi, the company's latest open-top is a masterpiece of understated elegance. The A5 coupé on which it's based is, of course, a great place to start aesthetically and the new car does an excellent job of taking the theme on.
Understated elegance isn't necessarily what everyone wants in an open-topped, car of course. If you want to turn heads and attract the admiring glances of the opposite sex, you want a statement on wheels, a gaze-grabber, a conversation piece. What Audi does is quietly turn its face away from the fatuous conversation and look out along the road to the wider world. It's a mature view, one to be respected for all the right reasons, one born of experience.
When you first see the car, even with the roof up, it looks purposeful and clean. The lines of the fabric roof sit well with the subtly sculpted block of the bodywork. You can get the roof in black or red. It's up to you to decide if you think a red roof is a good-looking thing, but if you do, you're wrong.
The A5 Cabriolet is replacing the A4 open-top and from launch there'll be three engines, three spec levels and prices between £29,795 and £40,385. In a bit more detail, the range starts with the two-litre petrol engine with 208bhp on tap which, when twinned with the manual gearbox, will run to 62mph in 7.5 seconds and yet is still capable of giving an official average of 41.5mpg. The bigger petrol model is a 3.2-litre FSI turning out a maximum of 261bhp and turning in an average 32.8 mpg. The sprint time is down, but not down far to 6.9 seconds.
There's only one diesel option at the moment - a three-litre TDI which pumps out 236bhp, dashes to 62 in 6.4 seconds and has exactly the same average fuel consumption as the 2.0 petrol. In case you're interested, the petrol engine turns out less CO2 than the diesel.
The diesel engine is fabulous. It's responsive, quiet, powerful and torquey. The automatic gearbox it gets as standard, however, I didn't think did it any favours. In fully automatic mode there's a lag to the pick-up which is un-nerving when you're pulling out into traffic. Using the sequential gear selector through the stubby stick tightened things up a bit though.
The big diesel also gets the quattro system as a matter of course, which is nice, and there's a new "sport differential" system available for extra cost that, when cornering hard, pushes torque to the outside wheels that carry most weight and therefore get most grip.
The petrol engine was also fabulous and I thought suited the car perfectly. Climbing into the high-hills through switchback after switchback, snapping up and down through the gears was not only easy, it was fun. The two-wheel drive squirmed a little through the steering when under stress but it was nothing alarming. Quattro is available for extra cost.
The whole thing felt very well-balanced and, pushing on with vigour, I felt that even when there was a little sideways drift in the corners, I was never going to lose confidence, never mind control.
In both cars, with the roof back and the windows down at motorway speeds, there is a bit of wind buffeting even in the front seats. A simple, folding wind baffle that sits over the back seats and puts up a mesh barrier behind the front headrests is an effective addition if you're going to do lots of outdoor work with no more than one companion. I'd want to try out several cabrios from different manufacturers, preferably on the same route and same day, before I could confidently say one was better than the other, but today the Audi felt a bit more exposed than others I've tried.
Adults will find plenty of room in the front seats and about adequate in the back. The boot has a small entrance but it is deep, even with the cloth roof concertinaed back into the same space.
In late summer 2009 Audi will add two smaller diesel engines, a two-litre with 168bhp on tap and a 2.7-litre with 187bhp. There'll also be a high-performance range-topping S5 Cabriolet available for order only in June 2009. It will be powered by a supercharged three-litre TFSI engine milling out 324bhp, whipping through the 62mph mark just 5.6 seconds after take-off and allegedly almost achieving a 30mpg combined fuel economy figure. It'll cost £42,000.