Alistair Weaver, VP of Editorial and Editor-in-Chief
There are certain convertibles in which the sun seems to shine a little brighter, the air seems to smell a little fresher, the road seems to be a little bit more interesting, and your companion seems a little better-looking. The 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet is that convertible.
Beautifully sleek and beautifully detailed, the A5 cabriolet delivers the top-down style you expect from a convertible without compromising the everyday utility you must have from a car that can carry four passengers. And if you want a little more car underneath you for those weekend drives to the country, the 2010 Audi S5 Cabriolet has the supercharged power to deliver.
The Convertible Question
With the 2010 Audi A5 Convertible, we have the answer to the convertible question that has been plaguing car-manufacturers as they face the 21st century. What kind of convertible should you make? A luxurious, full-size parade car, like the forthcoming 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class convertible? A midsize car with a hardtop that delivers practical, secure, weather-tight utility with a dimension of top-down capability, like the BMW 3 Series convertible or the Volvo C70 convertible? An affordable runabout with an affordable fabric top, like the BMW 1 Series convertible? Or a hyper-performance, no expense-spared sport coupe, like the BMW M3 convertible?
No problem, Audi responds. We'll just make them all, only we'll deliver them in just one car. And so, just as it has always done with the A4 cabriolet, Audi has transformed its A5 platform into a convertible that takes on a different personality depending on engine choice.
Here in the United States, we'll have three different alternatives. At the top of the range is the 2010 Audi S5 Cabriolet 3.0 TFSI, available with a supercharged, 333-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 that's presently matched with a six-speed automatic (a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is on the way). The full-service 2010 A5 Cabriolet 3.2 FSI V6 features a normally aspirated 265-hp 3.2-liter V6 with the six-speed automatic. And then the 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet 2.0 TFSI features Audi's turbocharged 211-hp inline-4 with a six-speed automatic in the all-wheel-drive Quattro model or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the front-wheel-drive FrontTrak model.
So Audi pretty well has the whole convertible market covered, doesn't it?
Metal or Fabric? Though Americans developed the hardtop convertible way back in the 1950s, it's only recently become popular in European cars. It's actually a question of security rather than all-weather practicality, because cars parked on the street in Europe have increasingly become targets of break-ins, and there aren't many secure, indoor parking garages in cities where you find buildings that date from the 18th century. And then there's the whole matter of the expense, complication and weight of a metal hardtop.
So Audi has declined to get ensnared in the hardtop trend and instead put its effort into developing a sleek, three-layer fabric top with a glass rear window. If you want even more acoustic insulation, you can order the optional top with a thick 0.6-inch foam layer in place of the standard cushioning pad, and the result is a reduction of wind noise to the relative whisper of a standard A5 coupe, Audi tells us. Of course, we're more impressed by the fact that the fabric top comes in four different exterior colors and three different headliner colors, which is part of the charm of convertible style that no boring, monochromatic hardtop convertible can deliver.
There's also a dimension of practicality to the fabric top, since it steals only 2.1 cubic feet away from the A5 cabriolet's 13.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity when it's retracted into the trunk. A typical hardtop offers 3.5 cubic feet less capacity when the top is retracted, Audi claims.
Of course, what we care about is the fact that the electrically powered hydraulic pump with its four operating cylinders brings down the top and stows it beneath the metal tonneau cover in 17 seconds and then can deploy it again in 15 seconds. You can make your choice at a stoplight easily, and it's no tragedy if traffic starts to move because the top will keep operating up to 30 mph.
Cruise Ship Now that the new-generation A4 platform has been stretched out to a wheelbase of 108.3 inches, Audi's midsize car feels far more spacious than the pocket-size package that came before, and this makes the interior of the A5 cabriolet seem as spacious as a parade car compared to the A4 cabriolet.
This remains a four-passenger car, as the convertible top's mechanism restricts shoulder room in the rear seat too much to permit three-across seating. Yet now there's enough room in the back that you're not riddled with guilt every time you send somebody back there. And there's even room in this car to carry stuff, as the 50/50-split folding rear seat comes down to expand total cargo capacity to 26.5 cubic feet.
Cutting the roof off a car as large as the A5 coupe will inevitably create compromise in structural rigidity, of course. Audi has introduced diagonal struts in the side sills and under the trunk section to compensate for the absence of a roof, but this can only do so much. The A5's structural rigidity doesn't feel as bad as some convertibles — especially the Volvo C70 — but you still sense tremors in the steering column and through the seat that would simply go unnoticed in the A5 coupe.
To cope with the reduced rigidity, the suspension has been softened by 10-15 percent, so it's surprising to find that the ride still feels surprisingly stiff about town. It's not necessarily uncomfortable, but the suspension's ability to absorb bumps at low speed offers scope for improvement.
Choose Your Own Adventure You have a choice of three engines in this car, and doubtless most Americans will choose the A5 cabriolet's normally aspirated 3,197cc V6, which develops 265 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque. It's a pretty relaxed piece of work, so it suits a convertible.
The A5 cabrio also comes with a 211-hp version of Audi's turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4. As we mentioned already, the all-wheel-drive version of the car comes with a six-speed automatic and the front-wheel-drive version comes with a CVT. But in Europe, there's a six-speed manual transmission that effectively turns the car into a mild hybrid. Come to a stop, select Neutral and the engine will turn itself off. Depress the clutch and it starts again in just two-tenths of a second. The bottom line is 35 mpg in everyday driving. It would be interesting in the U.S., no?
Naturally you'll be interested in the S5 cabriolet, which features Audi's new supercharged, 2,995cc V6. Some 11.6 psi of boost produces 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. With a six-speed automatic, 60 mph arrives in 5.6 seconds and you can keep your foot in it all the way to an electronically limited 155 mph. It's a great engine, delivering easy urge at any speed with an appealing supercharged howl. The engine note is more baritone than the old S4's V8, but it's none the worse for that. A new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is on the way for this engine, but not just yet.
The S5 cabrio can also be had with Audi's new sport differential, which electronically varies the torque output between the rear wheels. It serves to counter both under- and oversteer. It's not limited-slip differential that encourages lurid powerslides, however. Everything is all very controlled, all very Audi. In truth, this car might not have been the best tool with which to demonstrate this technology. The S5 cabriolet looks terrific and sounds evocative, but the extra power and the retuned suspension tend to exaggerate the rigidity concerns. It will no doubt prove hugely popular, but don't think that this is a rival to the Porsche Boxster S.
On the Boat Although the A5 and S5 cabriolets will go on sale in Europe this spring, we'll have to wait until late fall to get our hands on the 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet and 2010 Audi S5 Cabriolet.
Naturally there isn't yet any pricing for the U.S. models, although Audi representatives do remind us that the convertible version of Audi's midsize car has always been about $10,000 more expensive than its sedan counterpart. Since you figure that the past A4 2.0T cabriolet started at about $41,000, the A4 3.2 cabriolet at $49,000, and the S4 cabriolet at $57,000, these are probably appropriate calibrations for your wallet when the new car finally arrives here.
Overall, the 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet has a lot more in common with the former A4 cabriolet than the A5 coupe. At speed, you notice the more relaxed gait. It's less eager to turn in than the coupe and it responds best to smooth, laid back inputs. It's not a car to take for a Sunday morning strop, but it would be a great tool for a lunchtime cruise to a favorite restaurant.
But looking good has its own rewards.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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