2014 AUDI A5 REVIEW
What’s Hot: Wonderful engine, excellent interior, stupendous grip
What’s Not: Lacking torsional rigidity, overly stiff suspension
X-FACTOR: A technological masterpiece and stylish cruiser, but let down by soft architecture.
Vehicle Style: High performance convertible
Engine/trans: 331kW/430Nm 4.2 naturally aspirated petrol 8cyl / 7sp auto
Price: $175,900 (plus on-roads), $196,090 (as tested)
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.7 l/100km
Let’s be honest now: drop-top versions of performance cars aren’t created for enthusiasts.
There are some notable exceptions to this rule like the Porsche Boxster and Mazda MX-5, but odds are that when a car company decides to scalp one of its hi-po two-doors, it’s got drivers who value style and 'wind in the hair' over track-day performance.
And that brings us to the Audi RS 5 Cabriolet. Effectively the replacement for the long-departed RS 4 Cabriolet, the RS 5 Cab has the kind of outward beauty that will have your neighbours green with envy.
And that’s with the roof up or down. Audi’s engineers have crafted a hood that closely follows the roofline of the RS 5 coupe, which is one of the best-proportioned big two-doors out there.
But what price, beauty? In the RS 5 Cabrio’s case its aesthetic appeal has come at the cost of chassis rigidity. In fact, I can’t recall another convertible that I’ve driven in recent times that’s quite so flexible.
We’ll get to that later, but first, let’s venture into the cabin.
Not only are Audi interiors good-looking, but they’re full of pleasing textures, soft-touch materials and finely finished leather upholstery. Case in point: the RS 5 Cabrio.
Quality is everywhere you look - and touch - in the RS 5 Cabrio, and though the design is starting to date it’s still a mighty attractive cabin.
But despite the RS 5’s size, it’s not all that spacious. While front-seaters enjoy commodious leather sports seats (which are also heated and electrically adjustable), the two back-seat passengers have to contend with a shortage of leg and knee-room.
The situation is even worse with the optional RS bucket seats. Their adjustable side-bolsters provide tremendous support, but their hard backrest-shells greatly intrude on the space of those sitting behind.
To be fair, it’s not alone with this particular problem. There’s plenty of other large drop-tops with abysmal rear legroom (we’re looking at you, 6 Series Convertible).
But at least those back-seaters have heated seats and the ability to set rear cabin temperature independently of the front.
The fabric roof folds away in under 17 seconds with a press of a button, and will do so at speeds of up to 50km/h. There’s also a switch to drop all four windows simultaneously.
And for a convertible, boot space is still reasonable. Roof down there's 320 litres of space - enough for two slim suitcases - while roof up you get 380 litres.
The back seats even fold down to give a total of 750 litres of space. Clearly, style need not be at the expense of practicality.
Specification-wise, the RS 5 Cab apes the spec sheet of its hard-topped brother. Heated seats are the only major deviation.
That means you get keyless entry and ignition, bi-xenon headlamps, a 20GB onboard music storage facility, Bluetooth audio and phone integration, sat-nav, tri-zone climate control, parking sensors and a reversing camera.
You also have the option of Audi’s new Audi Connect system, which uses the internet connection of a compatible mobile phone (just Blackberry and Samsung for now, sorry iPhone users) or an in-dash SIM card to provide a wealth of extra information to the driver.
That information includes a satellite imagery overlay on the sat-nav courtesy of Google Maps, as well as the ability to explore a location via Google Street view ahead of your actual arrival there.
Wikipedia data is also available for select buildings and landmarks, and photos in the Panoramio database can also be viewed.
It’s a nifty feature, but costs $800. Then again, it’s one of the more affordable options for the RS 5 Cabriolet - the car we tested carried a whopping $20,190 worth of options.
ON THE ROAD
Having sampled it in the RS 5 Coupe and RS 4 Avant, we’re very familiar with the RS 5 Cabriolet’s 4.2 litre naturally aspirated V8. It ticks all of our proverbial boxes, to say the very least.
Ultra-responsive throttle? Check. Redline starting with the number 8? Check. Wails like a banshee when given the berries? Double-check.
It’s a thoroughly addictive engine and though numbers like 331kW and 430Nm aren’t as drool-inducing as they used to be, they’re enough to get the RS 5 to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds.
That blistering pace is augmented by a 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox, which whips through the gears with satisfying crispness.
In Sport mode the trans downshifts more readily and holds gears right up to redline when the throttle is floored, while manual mode won’t allow automatic upshifts when the rev cut is reached - our preference for a performance car.
The engine/gearbox combo is much more focused when the 'drive select' button is cycled to Dynamic mode, and throttle response becomes almost razor-sharp.
Dynamic also opens up a set of exhaust baffles, which makes the engine sing a much louder, angrier tune.
The rest of the driveline is very highly featured. Unlike foreign market versions, all Australian RS 5 Cabrios get the rear sports-differential as standard, which uses an electro-mechanically adjustable locking mechanism to apportion more torque to the outside wheel when cornering.
The RS 5’s quattro system can also direct as much as 85 percent of torque to the rear axle and 70 percent to the front, the broadest torque split range of any quattro drivetrain. Under normal conditions, the torque split is 40/60 front to rear.
It helps steer the car into a corner when under acceleration, a vital advantage for a car as heavy as the 1920kg RS 5 Cab.
But that technological advantage is undone by one thing: the RS 5 Cabriolet is too flexible.
Removing the roof has compromised the RS 5’s chassis rigidity, giving it the kind of body flex that would make a yoga instructor envious.
Out on the road, that flexibility manifests itself in the form of dramatic scuttle shake and a chassis that shivers heavily when challenged by poor quality pavement.
And it’s not helped by a suspension that’s too brittle to deal with anything but the smoothest of roads, no matter what suspension mode we tried.
Dynamic was too stiff, Comfort lacked body control over rougher bumps and the Auto setting failed to find the sweet spot in-between.
Maybe it’s because the car we drove had the optional Dynamic Ride Control suspension and 20-inch wheels rather than the standard non-adjustable dampers and 19-inch wheels, but the RS 5 Cabriolet simply felt too firm.
Is the RS 5 Cabriolet deserving of the RS moniker? It’s certainly got the right mechanical package, but the driving experience is too compromised by the unyielding suspension and flexy chassis to be truly enjoyable.
Instead, it’s a powerful cruiser for people who want to be noticed by other people.
It serves that function fine, but if you want a fun Audi with an amazing V8 and two doors, you’re better off with the RS 5 Coupe.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Audi RS 5 Cabriolet - $175,900