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For sunnier times. Image by Audi.

For sunnier times
The Audi S5 cabriolet is the latest in a line of expensive Ingolstadt ubercars. It's good - but is it also a bit incongruous?

   



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Over the last ten years Audi's model count has very nearly doubled from 15 to 29 - and it shows no signs of abating; if there's an untapped niche, Audi will promptly find it and fill it. This one comes as no surprise, though - Audi has been making A4 based cabriolets since 1990, and it's not about to stop now. The moniker number has been increased by one this time around, but this A5 Cabriolet is effectively the A4 Cabriolet's replacement. The thing is, we've just come out of a post-winter snow storm, new car sales have fallen off a cliff and we're all supposed to be deeply concerned about the environment - so just how sensible is a £42,000 convertible with 328bhp?

In the Metal

Surprise surprise, it looks great. The S5 spearheads the new A5 Cabriolet range and although it looks the best of the bunch with its trademark silver mirrors, big double-spoke rims and pimped checkerboard grille, there's nothing to dislike about even the most basic versions. Whereas the A4 Cabriolet looked a little flat and characterless without its roof, the A5 coupé's low, wide stance and graceful creases aren't lost in the transition to cloth-top.

The S5 follows the aesthetic road often travelled by Audi in being completely unsurprising, yet impressive regardless. The maker has done a cracking job with the roof mechanism - which folds up or down electrically in around 17 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph - and Audi has made sure that the cabriolet's expected scuttle shake and wind buffeting scourges are all-but eliminated. It's also got a useful boot - a significant 370-litres with the roof up or 750-litres with the split-folding rear seats down.

The cabin is standard S5 fare and thus a sumptuous feast of top-notch leather and plastics, all glued together with a bonding agent so strong that if it were floor cleaner, it'd be called Cillit Bang. Not exciting, but subtle, classy and reliable nonetheless. The leather sports seats are both comfy and supportive, and although they're missing the (optional) neck heating vents of the standard car, they look great.

What you get for your Money

Not a V8, if that's what you were expecting. The S5 coupé's big eight-cylinder engine has been dropped in favour of a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 TFSI unit, which is cleaner, quicker and more economical - despite losing a few horses. The V6 wasn't available when the coupé was launched, and though Audi actually toyed with the idea of putting the V8 in the convertible anyway, prototypes revealed it just didn't work as well with the seven-speed S tronic (nee DSG) dual clutch gearbox that comes standard on the S5 - a brilliantly sharp piece of kit, by the way. The V6 won't see the underside of the coupé's bonnet until the facelift in a couple of years' time. It doesn't have the burbly character of the V8, but the new engine is torquey, smooth and quick and the stats justify its inclusion: 324lb.ft of torque is virtually identical to the V8's output, but it all arrives lower down the rev range. The V8's 288g/km of CO2 is bettered with 224g/km and 26.2mpg becomes 29.1mpg.

Back to the roof: the S5 Cabriolet comes as standard with an eerily quiet acoustic roof (a £210 option on lowlier A5s), which eliminates the outside world pretty much as completely as the coupé, allowing you to waft in the comfort of a typically solid and hushed Audi cabin ambience. It also features an interior light; not usually something to scream about, but this is a folding cloth roof, remember.

What you don't get as standard, perplexingly, is Audi Drive Select, a system that allows dash-buttoned switching between comfort and dynamic (sport) modes - or anything in between if you're that way inclined and can be bothered to programme it. The system alters the steering weight and response, the throttle calibration, the damping and the rear differential to provide a more or less sporty experience with a single prod. It's a good feature and although sport mode makes the ride a little fidgety and the steering artificially heavy, there's something useful about being able to dial down the S5 for more comfortable cruising. Apparently, cars without this £1,500-ish option are set up 'somewhere between comfort and dynamic', although Audi didn't give us the chance to try one.

Driving it

The engine and gearbox are brutally well engineered. With the roof up it behaves like the coupé - meaning it has oodles of grip, enough mechanical safety assistance to make fast cornering almost entirely risk-free (aided by a fancy electric rear differential), and it's rapid. But it's an Audi, is it not? So...

...it has a propensity for inexplicable dullness. It's not without its little foibles either. The engine note is better enjoyed with the roof up, in which case you'll be bathing in the high rev thrum of the V6 instead of the sun - or, at lower revs, very little aural intrusion in the cabin. However, drop the top and it's bizarrely boomy in the mid range and cog shifts result in a faintly unpleasant muted pop from the quad tailpipes.

But, whether you're in full auto or paddle-shift mode (they're mounted on the back of the steering wheel), the engine, gearbox and quattro four-wheel drive system combine to make very rapid movement very easy. Sadly, you're always fighting a battle with the S5's porky 1,875kg kerb weight and even an engine of this magnitude feels blunted by it. Proficient and composed, yes; but nimble? No. The steering has a weird, soulless, artificially weighted feel in your palms, despite turning in sharply, and the ride is a bit firm: jittery, in fact.

Worth Noting

In answer to our musings as to whether this is the most pertinent time to unveil a massively fast and expensive convertible, Audi claims that in carrying on launching mega cars regardless ('mega' as in fast and/or expensive), it's signalling both its confidence in its products and a swift end to the economic crisis. In fact, although the maker thinks that a mere 300 or so S5 Cabriolets will leave UK showrooms this year, up to 7,000 standard A5 Cabs will do so - all at well over £30k. It seems optimistic to us, but then we've no reason to doubt it given Great Britain's justifiable love for anything wearing the four rings.

In fact, the A5 Cab is the second of four new models that will be launched before we're even into April this year, following the R8 V10 supercar and prior to the Geneva unveiling of the A4 allroad and the flagship TT RS. If Audi is struggling as much as everyone else is, it's certainly not showing it.

Summary

You've got to applaud Audi's grasp of what people actually want from the cars they buy. It's easy to criticise the S5 Cabriolet for being profligate and compromised: the epitome of the automotive fop. Pragmatically, however, it's plain to see why people flock to Audi dealerships for cars just like this: the S5 Cabriolet looks great and drives with composure; it's quick, will hold its value well, has lots of street kudos and should remain rattle free until the day you trade it in. If you've got the loot, we can't help but recommend it.

Mark Nichol - 27 Feb 2009



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2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.



2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 

2009 Audi S5 Cabriolet. Image by Audi.
 






 

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