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Car reviews - Audi - A5 - 2.0 TFSI quattro cabriolet

Our Opinion

We like
Brilliant engine, super-smooth drivetrain, great economy, surefooted performance, quattro grip, lovely cabin, gorgeous styling, impressive quality
Room for improvement
Laggy DSG at low speed, ‘Acoustic’ quiet roof is an option on the 2.0TFSI, somewhat upright rear seat, desirable options will see the entry price soar

18 Feb 2010

AN OPEN letter to the late Diana, Princess of Wales

Dear Diana,

WHAT would you make of the latest Audi convertible – the A5 Cabriolet? Would you buy one of the Volkswagen luxury marque’s offerings, like you did back in the 1990s with the 80 Cabriolet?

Back then the sun-chasing Audi’s social standing scaled the stratospheric heights of class structure when that bane of your life, the paparazzi, snapped you swanning about in that purple Cab.

After the stuffy royal carriages provided by Rolls-Royce, Aston and co, your 80 – a humble B4 series ragtop no less – seemed dangerously independent – subversive even.

And it provided priceless PR for the fledgling BMW-wannabe, whose own sales fortunes flourished as a result.

Now, we think you would certainly find much to like in your old car’s successor.

For starters, the A5 Cab’s design is of the old-school chunky yet elegant variety, and so is in keeping with your old 80 Cab’s style.

Of the six convertibles available in this class, the Audi eclipses all. The BMW 3 Series’ and Lexus IS 250 C’s folding hardtop silhouettes seem especially awkward by comparison.

They say the devil is in the details, but we don’t know whether you would necessarily dig the A5 Cab’s faddish daytime driving lights. They’re a bit too brash for us, but maybe a princess would think them appropriate face jewellery.

And it shakes far less than the old 80 Cabriolet, the result of some thorough work beefing up the A4-based chassis underneath.

Mind you, on bigger wheels than the 17-inch items our test car is wearing, there is a discernible amount of shimmering over certain types of roads, but basically – unless you’re trying to rattle the Audi’s underpinnings – the structure is surprisingly sound.

Those Pirelli 245 45 R17 Cinturatos also provide an agreeable degree of pliancy to the A5 Cabrio’s ride – much more so than in most other cars from the German brand.

Hard suspensions have almost ruined many a good Audi so we’re very glad to see a sensible wheel and tyre choice for a car that we expected to feel brittle and unyielding.

Yet the supple ride is just the beginning, since the A5 Cab glides along the road as if it’s on skis.

The $95,000 2.0TFSI quattro as tested – mated to a new seven-speed dual clutch gearbox you might know as DSG (but like you it was stripped of its more famous title and so now Audi insists on us calling it ‘S-tronic’) – is a mix of mostly good and a bit of bad.

The good stuff is of the blue-chip variety – incredibly fast gear changes, combined with astounding smoothness like you’re skiing down your favourite slope. Seamless doesn’t even begin to describe how slick the A5 Cab feels.

Spunky and sprightly, this four-cylinder turbo powerplant is a gem, pulling very strongly from low revs, but also willing to explore the upper limits of the red line.

On the open road the 155kW and 350Nm is all the respective power and torque you’ll ever need, coming on thick and strong at a moment’s notice, particularly if you are partial to slotting the transmission lever into ‘S’ for sport. The 7.3 second 0-100km/h sprint time is properly quick for a pampering sun lounge on wheels.

Yet the 2.0TFSi quattro’s party trick – besides its impressive parsimony (7.8L/100km) – is just how relaxed it feels on the open road, slipping along quietly but at a turn of speed that is likely to get you in trouble if you don’t keep an eye on the speedo.

Beware, though, of the DSG curse – left in ‘D’ the S-tronic can be an annoyingly jerky companion in stop-start traffic scenarios, mainly because of the delay between pressing down on the go-pedal and actually moving forward.

The nothing-then-everything lunge forward that often follows can be moderated with exposure, but on a hill, for instance, or when reversing, it can get hair-raising since it is so difficult to get a smooth motion.

The brakes are also a tad too snatchy on first impressions, adding to the shunty low-speed motion characteristics of the A5 Cab. This is an issue we are becoming increasingly tired of in Audis, Volkswagens and Skodas. Don’t their engineers test their cars in heavy traffic before foisting them upon an unsuspecting public?

Actually, we’re making a bigger deal of this than normal because there’s really little wrong with the rest of the A5 Cab in 2.0TFSI quattro guise – and if you don’t do the peak hour crawl regularly (certainly not since you gave up the Austin Metro back in ’81) you might never even understand what we’re talking about.

Now if this car was pretending to be something it is not – i.e. a sports coupe of BMW calibre – we’d complain about the steering that’s nicely weighted and quite responsive but quite dead-feeling at the straight ahead.

Happily, the A5 Cab purports to no such claim, so instead we are completely satisfied at just how easy and controllable the car is at the helm.

That little ‘quattro’ badge on the grille helps keep the Cab securely planted over a variety of surfaces. During our tenure with the ragtop the remnants of Cyclone Olga dumped plenty of rain on our eastern seaboard’s roads, and – ironically enough – this sun-seeking convertible shone most brightly as others were slippin’ and a slidin’ all over the shop.

On dry bitumen the Audi felt equally composed, with a balance and alacrity that seems to have eluded the bigger-engine versions of the A5 Cab that we have had previously sampled. That ‘lead arrow’ feel of the V6 diesel, for instance, simply isn’t present in the lowlier models.

But their salubrious interiors – a true Audi strength over the last decade or so –carry through to this base-model 2.0TFSI quattro.

Audi’s decision to change the nomenclature from A4 to A5 for its four-seater convertible makes sense when you realise how much larger this car is from the car it replaced.

And, naturally enough, the pleasant upshot of a bigger body is wider door apertures for easier entry and egress. Stepping inside the A5 Cab, you might also be immediately impressed by just how spacious it all seems, even with the cloth roof in situ.

Now we reckon the company’s decision to charge $700 for a bit of extra sound deadening in its $90,000 ragtop is a bit bolshie, especially when many potential buyers would rather go for the BMW’s and Lexus’ folding hardtop. Audi ought to put its best foot forward as far as the soft cloth is concerned.

A robotised arm (how very Mercedes 380SEC circa 1981!) passes your seatbelt to you the moment you press the fiddly start engine button, saving you the strain of having to reach behind you for it.

Side vision is good thanks to refreshingly thin ‘pillars’ (really just the extremities of the side windows), that retract at a touch of a button, giving the A5 Cab a cool pillarless hardtop feel.

Of course, for that full convertible experience, all it takes is a tug of another toggle, with the roof falling away rapidly (15 seconds is the official time) even when travelling up to 50km/h. Tidy.

Erecting the roof is almost as fast, and also do-able on the go. It’s a seamless and graceful operation that really raises questions over the need for heavy clunky retractable hard tops such as the BMW’s (which happens to be the best of the bunch anyway).

We can’t vouch for anybody else, but we personally enjoy the patter of rain on the fabric ceiling above us, giving occupants of the A5 Cab another sensory sign that they’re in something different and special.

Your touch senses, too, are well treated by the smooth and classy perforated ceiling material. Amazingly Audi has managed to include a couple of LED reading lights within the structure, giving the A5 Cab sufficient night time cabin illumination.

Being an Audi, you ought to prepare for a wave of superlatives regarding build quality and presentation, ranging from the sharp instrumentation to the lovely steering wheel.

There’s heaps of space for the people up front, on chairs that are fine examples of comfort and support.

So let’s point out some negatives instead: Our car was optioned with a fine satellite navigation system, necessitating Audi’s functional (if fiddly) MMI interface system option that allows the occupants to access the (also optional) GPS, car set-up, audio, telephone and media facilities integrated within the A5 Cab. So far so good then.

But why is there a great slab of prime centre console real estate devoted to the mysterious ‘Audi Multimedia’ thingo? It contains slots for SD1 and SD2 cards – but we doubt a Rover 3500 would fit inside, no matter how roomy the A5 is compared to the A4 Cab!

The rather small glass rear window and thick C pillars don’t do much for reverse vision, and a camera ought to be standard with the sat nav set-up, but the parking beepers at least help take the guess work out of going backwards.

Speaking of things aft of the driver, the rear backrest is a tad too upright for our tastes, but there is quite sufficient space for legs and heads, while getting there is facilitated by the electrified front seats that move swiftly from and to whence they originally were.

We wouldn’t recommend extended trips back there, but for short journeys and smaller kids it’s just fine. Built in cupholders, places to store stuff in and not too much buffeting even with all windows down in convertible mode are further plus points.

In fact, the A5 Cab is a civilised drop top with little interference of any sort intruding into the cabin. Audi provides a wind deflector that fits over the rear seat section for even quieter open-top touring at speed, but even when ‘naked’ the German car is remarkably refined. Well done, Ingolstadt engineers.

And then there’s the BMW 3 Series Convertible/Lexus IS 250 C’s Achilles Heel, the boot.

Roof in or out, in the Audi, there is enough boot space for a trip away without having to resort to shrink wrapping clothes or raiding Ken and Barbie’s wardrobe. Additionally those backrests split fold down to reveal a sizeable aperture in which to load through long flat items, like a flat-pack IKEA Billy wardrobe. By the way, 320 litres grows to 750L.

This alone makes the A5 Cab a far more usable everyday proposition than the rest of the retractable hard top convertibles out there. We applaud Audi’s decision to stick with the fine-fitting soft-top option. Only the obvious security drawbacks (knife crime is on the up you know) count against this very pretty convertible.

So there you have it, Diana. You’re likely to love how secure and agile the designer Audi feels from behind the wheel. Yes, the BMW is more likely to thrill the keener driver in you, but other than the laggy DSG take-off, you won’t feel letdown by the A5 Cab’s dynamic capabilities – in 2.0TFSI quattro guise at least.

As the most complete car in its class, this is yet another Audi that’s fit for a princess.

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