Spain is a perfect country for convertibles thanks to its brilliant and predictable weather. But global warming and El Nino’s antics have riled up the weather gods who bowl a googly every now and then. It’s supposed to be dry and sunny with blue skies here in Jerez at the southern tip of Spain but instead, it’s cloudy, grey and a rather chilly 14deg C with an occasional drizzle. Not quite the perfect conditions to enjoy a convertible, but then again, the dismal weather couldn’t quite spoil the party as I feared.
Modern convertibles have come of age, an age of unpredictable weather and greater pampering demanded by their owners. They are no longer cars for cheery, sunny occasions but adept at all-weather, everyday use just like their hard-top counterparts. And that’s exactly what the all-new Audi A5 Cabriolet has been designed to be.
The A5 Cabriolet’s heated seats and unique neck warmer allowed me to enjoy top-down driving in everyday clothes. I’m further protected from the icy wind with the wind deflector in place and all four windows powered up. This neatly flicks the breeze just above my head but I still catch a small draught, which gives me that wonderful, tingling, wind-in-your-hair experience that makes convertibles so desirable. And in case a dark, heavy cloud does decide to take a dump on me, all I have to do is slow down to below 50kph and a one-touch button (you don’t even have to hold it down) folds the roof up in 18 seconds flat. This is particularly useful in unpredictable weather where sudden thundershowers catch you and there’s no place to stop. The days of stopping under a bridge or a tree to frantically fold the roof are long gone. Today’s convertible buyer will simply not accept such concessions.
Open and Shut case
The A5 Cabriolet is as modern as convertibles come, honed by 25 years of soft-top experience since the B3 Cabriolet, Audi’s first four-seat convertible to burst into the mainstream. Like the first-generation A5 (which never made it to India), the latest model is also available in coupé, five-door Sportback and Cabriolet body styles. There’s also the sporty S5 with an even more potent RS5 set to join the range later. Spun off the latest iteration of Audi’s MLB platform, the A5 is now 40kg lighter and stiffer than its predecessor, which should give it improved dynamics.
Coming back to the A5 Cabriolet we are testing, it’s a particularly handsome car with clean lines and superb proportions. No doubt, it’s an Audi through and through – which makes it similar to some of its brethren – but what makes it refreshingly modern is some of the detailing in the design. The finely contoured headlights, a more three-dimensional grille and the sharp, wave-shaped shoulder line (synonymous with the A5 family) give a truly contemporary look.
The A5 Cabriolet looks great even in side profile, with the soft-top up and down.
The stubby boot gets a distinctive spoiler lip and the slender rear lights get LEDs. Another nice bit of detailing are the reflectors tucked into the rear skirt, which breaks the bulky rear.
The cabin is again typically Audi with a logical and functional layout and similar to the A4 sedan. The straightforward design may not be as imaginative as some of its rivals but where the A5 Cabriolet takes the game forward is with the quality of materials used. The mix of plastics, switchgear brushed with metal finishes and leather upholstery (Alcantara on the S-line) of an exceptionally high standard give the cabin a truly special ambience.
A 7.0-inch dashboard-mounted display with the latest high-res graphics interfaces with Audi’s MMI infotainment system. It’s not a touchscreen, but is controlled by the usual rotary dial on the centre console. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit – a 12.3-inch multifunctional instrument screen – which replaces the standard analogue dials, is a big hit amongst Audi owners but comes as an extra, which I am sure most buyers will happily pay for. Other bits of kit that will call for a costly tick on the options list are xenon lights and a Bang & Olufsen speaker system boosted by a 16-channel amplifier.
A5 Cabriolet’s dash similar to A4. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit a big hit with buyers.
Space and practicality aren’t reasons to buy the A5 Cabriolet, but for a convertible it scores surprisingly well on both these fronts. With the front seats carefully adjusted, it’s easy to squeeze four adults inside, the rear two even get dedicated air vents. But it’s with the top down that rear passengers will feel most comfortable as they won’t have to slouch under the fabric roof. Speaking of which, the roof neatly folds into the boot without eating too much luggage space – a generous 320 litres that expands to 380 litres with the roof up.
Easy does it
The engine line-up for the A5 Cabriolet comprises three options at launch. You get a base 2.0 TFSI (252hp) petrol and a 2.0 TDI (190hp) diesel, whilst a 3.0 TDI (218hp) sits at the top. After its global market introduction this year, an additional pair of engines – a lower powered 190hp 2.0 TFSI and a stonking 286hp 3.0 TDI – will bookend the range.
It’s the A5 with the 2.0 TDI engine that I spend most of the day in. Incidentally, this 190hp, four-cylinder (EA288) diesel will also be locally assembled in India and is set to become the de facto diesel engine for all VW Group cars in India. Besides, when Audi finally decides to bring the A5 to India, it will zero in on the 2.0 TDI for its mix of practicality and affordability.
But it’s the refinement of the 2.0 TDI that is truly outstanding, even with the hood down. Audi has worked hard to suppress noise levels with a thicker windscreen and front windows, thicker insulation in the firewall and new engine mounts. Yes, there’s a touch of that four-cylinder diesel rattle when you fire up but on the move the A5 Cabriolet is astonishingly hushed. Cruising at the motorway limit of 120kph, there’s the windblast that obviously overpowers everything else, but you never have to raise your voice to chat with your passengers. And if you’re talking on the phone via Bluetooth, you don’t have to shout either; Audi has stitched a microphone into the seatbelt for better clarity – a really neat touch.
With the roof up, the A5 Cabriolet feels as refined as a hard-top with minimal wind and tyre noise. Though it’s a traditional soft-top, the fabric roof is beefed up with sound deadening insulation and, as a result, noise levels with the roof closed are remarkably low.
The 2.0 TDI doesn’t feel short on power either and the engine’s meaty mid-range whisks you to some pretty serious speeds without you even trying. The seven-speed S tronic gearbox does hesitate a bit when you give a sudden throttle input but once it responds, there’s a seamless, uninterrupted tug forward. I did briefly drive the 3.0 V6 TDI, which had a lustier power delivery, and felt even quieter but with a more appealing exhaust note. You can’t deny the positive effects of two extra cylinders and cubic capacity, which also translate to significantly better performance. The 3.0 TDI is also a second quicker to 100kph (6.8sec) than the 2.0 TDI (7.8sec). But keeping the relaxed character and the cruising ability of the A5 in mind, the 2.0 TDI has all the power you’ll need.
Chopping off the roof of any car can have a dramatic effect on its torsional rigidity, and to combat this, the A5’s chassis has been stiffened considerably with thicker sills, beefed-up suspension strut domes and extra cross bracing throughout the car. All these reinforcements have pushed the weight up to a not-so-light 1,690kg for the base 2.0 TDI but the result is a car that feels suitably taut and responsive.
The A5 Cabriolet’s handling can best be described as predictable and fail-safe with the quattro all-wheel-drive on the S-line version being an added safety net. Bumpy Spanish roads do little to unsettle the A5 which tracks obediently without stepping out of line. The ride quality is brilliant and playing around with the adaptive dampers lets you find the right setup for any condition.
The steering is precise but feels numb with little feel and there’s a natural tendency to understeer which isn’t great for tackling the switchbacks up in the rolling hills of Andalucia.
The A5 Cabriolet is clearly no sportscar but a classy and supremely comfortable tourer that would find sufficient takers in India. In fact, spurred by the success of the A3 Cabriolet, Audi will most likely launch the A5 Cabriolet in India later this year. Its seductive looks, top-notch quality and practical character make it a very tempting proposition for the small tribe of convertible lovers in India.