The subject for this conundrum is the Audi RS5 Cabriolet. It has a stunning to look at two door, four seater body with a luxury fabric roof. It is powered by a monster 4.2-litre, V8, 450PS high revving direct injection petrol engine, seven speed twin-clutch auto transmission and it has quattro all wheel drive.
All these elements add up to £69,505 for the on-the-road cost. But do all these elements combine together in a harmonious marriage? Decidedly not in my opinion and that is not just because of the price.
The RS5 version is the top of the range model from the A5 Cabriolet line-up which in turn is a family extension of Audi’s A4 Saloon, Avant estate and Allroad models. The A5 is also available in two door Coupe and five door Sportback body forms. The A5 Coupe is fine with its metal roof configuration but a bit skimpy for rear passenger leg and headroom but with good up-front space and premium brand ambience. But replacing the metal roof with a fabric one does create great styling but at the expense of torsional stiffness. This in turn affects ride comfort and worst of all the handling is significantly compromised, especially with the RS flagship version. The RS5 Coupe is used for Audi’s DTM touring car racing programme.
In practical terms the A5 Cabriolet with any of the other wide range of lesser powered engines is a better buy. These range from the 1.8-litre 170PS petrol to the 3.0-litre 245PS turbodiesel and to be honest in this country of uncertain weather conditions looks and interior specification matter more than performance.
Prices start from £32,320 for the 1.8 TFSI 170PS petrol SE and most of my motoring colleagues reckon this is the best version to go for. You get all the looks, it’s not too shabby for pace either given our congested poorly surfaced roads and the handling is well balanced even though it doesn’t have the extra grip of quattro all wheel drive.
My own particular Audi Cabriolet choice would not be the from the A5 range, it would be the new S3 Cabriolet. Like its brilliant S3 Saloon stablemate its performance, balance, handling is stunning and it has acceptable ride compliance. From its 2.0-litre turbo powered 300PS petrol engine, auto twin clutch gearbox and quattro drive, top speed is 155mph and zero to 62mph takes 5.4 seconds, just 0.5 of a second slower than the RS5 Cabrio. Both models have the same 155mph top speed. Yes it might be slightly smaller but it costs a little over half the price of the £69,505 RS5 model – a very reasonable £38,085. Sometimes less is actually more pleasing.
On paper, despite its huge price, the RS5 Cabriolet looks impressive and in-the-skin it looks stunning but on the road it’s a handful. The Cabriolet bodyshell, despite strengthening to regain some torsional stiffness, constantly has a ‘shimmy’ and vibrations going through it probably not helped by having 19-inch, 9J alloy wheels shod with wide profile 265/35 tyres and lowered sports suspension. Impacts from potholes send a shudder throughout the bodyshell and in particular the front suspension struts. You can feel the shake and vibrations though the steering wheel. Driving at night you can see the headlight beams vibrating as the suspension tries to cope with even lightly rippled road surfaces. With the roof locked in place or folded away the handling and ride quality doesn’t vary that much, it’s compromised and is just too firm and quite unpleasant most of the time. There is the option of Dynamic Ride Control which could improve ride and handling comfort but probably not enough to warrant the added expense. The Cabriolet has the usual Audi Drive Select function which in reality is of no great use in this vehicle as the Comfort setting couldn’t override the flawed handling and the Sport/Sport+ settings made it worse although they of course sharpened up the engine and transmission responses.
The quattro all wheel drive system handles the distribution of power quickly and in a well balanced way between the front and rear wheels but the front end grip and steering during high speed cornering is unsettled if a pothole or broken tarmac is encountered. The body feels heavy because of the extra strengthening within the shell. The Cabriolet weighs 1,920kg – 205kg more than the RS5 Coupe so it is not as agile.
In most other respects the RS5 Cabriolet is pleasing being beautifully styled with great road presence. Inside there is the usual Audi design premium brand quality with luxury leather upholstery and trim. The three-layer fabric hood operates at the push of a button at speeds up to 31mph. It takes 15-seconds to lower and 17-seconds to fully close. Other styling upgrades that set it apart from other A5 Cabriolet versions include larger air intakes, large rounded bumpers and flared wheelarches which all add up to its powerful visual stance in keeping with its RS status.
The high revving power unit is a hand-built 4.2-litre, V8, direct injection petrol, naturally aspirated which is unusual in these days of turbocharging and produces 450PS (444bhp) at 8,250rpm with a monster 430Nm (317lb ft) of torque from 4,000rpm. Drive to the quattro all wheel drive system is via a seven-speed, twin clutch automatic gearbox with fully automatic or tiptronic sports manual functions. Two of the great joys of this engine are its acceleration and the bellow of its exhaust system, hair-raising stuff especially in a Cabriolet.
Top speed is restricted to 155mph but this can be derestricted to reach 174mph. The zero to 62mph acceleration time is 4.9-seconds. Officially this unit will return 26.4mpg in the Combined Cycle and my test driving average figure was 21mpg. The CO2 emission figures are a high 249g/km which means VED road tax hits the red line cost of £860 for the First Year rate but slackens off to £485 for the Second Year onwards rate. Business user execs will pay 34% Benefit-in-Kind tax and the insurance is another costly aspect being rated at Group 47.
The engine is strong, muscular and very responsive, the drive-train well known for its grip the Cabriolet styling impressive but the components did not gel together for me. Cabriolets fall into two distinct user-groups in the UK. Those used for normal everyday low to mid speed use and those used for longer higher cruising speeds on motorway journeys but both requirements can be adequately covered by lesser power petrol and diesel engine options.
With the speed restrictions in the UK, the high motoring taxation levels, the state of our roads and the uncertain weather, mean the reasons to own the compromised RS version of the A5 Cabriolet are minimal – but our freedom-of-choice is still a great thing.
MILESTONES: Audi RS5 Cabriolet 4.2 FSI quattro S tronic. Price £69,505. Engine/transmission: 4.2-litre, V8, normally aspirated direct injection petrol, 450PS (444bhp), 430Nm (317lb ft) from 4,000rpm, 7-speed twin clutch S tronic automatic with quattro all wheel drive. Performance: 155mph (174mph derestricted), 0-62mph 4.9 seconds, 26.4mpg Combined Cycle (21mpg on test), CO2 249g/km, VED road tax £860 First Year rate then £485 Year Two onwards, BIK company car tax 34%. Insurance group: 47. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,649mm, W 1,860mm, H 1,380mm, 2-doors, 4-seats, boot 320-litres roof open, 380-litres roof closed, 750-litres rear seats folded down. For: Great style, big muscular high torque responsive engine, high spec, fast straight-line speed, low wind bluster intrusion with roof down motoring. Against: Disappointing driving experience due to the compromised ride comfort and handling qualities, body shake and shimmy, suspension and wheel vibrations feedback through the steering column, bodyshell strengthening has made the car overweight so it has limited handling agility. Miles better news agency