By: Kris Hansen
We recently took a trip to Southern California, and needed a car while we were there. Knowing that southern California is the Mecca of cool cars, it couldn’t be just any boring car, it had to be something hip and interesting. Which Audi model was dripping in cool, yet had enough room for 4 (3 of them relatively small) bodies and their belongings and various assorted things for a week?
The S5 Cabriolet happened to fit the bill perfectly as it turns out.
Starting with the already gorgeous S5 coupe, it would seem to be a relatively easy task to derive an equally beautiful drop-top. The cabriolet version retains the coupe’s sexy lines, and aggressive stance. The soft top’s roofline has a slightly more rounded flow as it meets the trunk, but it doesn’t diminish the overall mood of the car appreciably.
Amazingly enough, even in the overly saturated automotive climate of Los Angeles and neighboring cities, the S5 turned heads. Not that we think the S5 doesn’t warrant the extra attention, but when people are leaning out of their sporty coupe or convertible to get a better look at yours, you know you’re driving something pretty special. Certainly details like the LED running lights help grab the eye, but the overall design of the car is very striking, and it’s not a car you see on every corner.
The S5 Cabriolet comes standard with Audi’s 3 liter, 4 valve per cylinder FSI (direct injection) supercharged V6 engine, which produces 333hp, and 325 lb/ft of torque. This mill is sweetly smooth, and willing to rev. It’s perfectly quiet, and there is very little if any detectable whine from the supercharger (we did detect a very slight supercharger whine while driving in a parking structure with the top lowered, but that’s it.). The engine note underway is mellow, with a slightly rapsy bark on acceleration. There is a quiet whistle while coasting off throttle (from the supercharger and bypass system), and no drone at cruising speeds.
Paired by default with Audi’s 7 speed dual clutch sequential transmission, the 3.0 V6TFSI propels the S5 Cabriolet off the line to 60 in 5.1 seconds. On the road, the power delivery is incredibly smooth and linear, with a very solid midrange swell, eventually tapering off on top. There is no great need to rev this engine all the way to the limit though, given the fat midrange power. You can short shift and cruise along if you want, or you can plant the throttle and bang up through the gears, the S5 is willing to play.
The acceleration is brisk, with a nice push in the back. Grip off the line is as expected given the quattro all wheel drive and active rear differential, and it’s nigh on impossible to slip a wheel on dry or even damp pavement, even given a full stomp on the gas pedal. Merging onto the freeway is completely drama free, even from a complete standstill. If you keep your foot planted and work your way up through the gears, triple digits come alarmingly quickly. This car is somewhat deceptively fast too, because it’s so composed.
Each up shift, whether with the selector lever, or the steering wheel mounted paddles, is met with a slight burble from the exhaust as the engine management cuts throttle and ignition timing back, and an immediate gear change. Downshifts are accompanied by a blip of the throttle to match revs, and an instant and firm gear change. It is possible to downshift very rapidly, and while very firm, the downshifts are smooth.
Handling is largely the same as the S5 coupe. The S5 coupe is arguably one of the finest of all modern Audis to drive, becasue it’s so well balanced. This chassis simply loves being tossed into corners, with no understeer. The car just rotates, and rails through turns. It’s incredibly easy to drive quickly, yet it provides sufficient feedback when pushed to its limits. The cabriolet version is no different in this regard; it remains one of the most enjoyable cars we’ve ever driven. It does nothing nasty when you reach its limits of adhesion, it just goes into a nice controlable 4 wheel drift. The chassis doesn’t beat you up by being too stiff either, it just works incredibly well.
We did notice a very slight amount of cowl shake when driving on bumpy roads when only one side of the car hit a bump (causing a twisting force on the chassis), but it was not at all a problem. Most noticeable was the rear view mirror moving around slightly, and a very mild sensation of the steering column moving about. In corners and on smooth roads the car felt very solid. Top up or down, it felt exactly the same. At no point did the chassis feel like it was flexing, even when being pushed hard into corners.
All convertibles suffer when compared to their coupe sibling in a few areas. They tend to be heaver, have less structural rigidity, less luggage capacity, and so on. The S5 is no different in most of these categories, though it doesn’t suffer as badly as some other convertibles.
With a curb weight of 4310lbs (the S5 coupe with Tiptronic weighs in at 3924 lbs while the 6 speed manual version even lighter at 3858 lbs). Luckily the extra weight does not dampen the driving experience noticeably, especially when you lower the top.
Speaking of the convertible top, it’s a fine piece of engineering indeed. Simply by holding a switch either up or down, and in less than half a minute, and at speeds up to 30mph, the top can be lowered or raised. When the button is lifted to lower the top, the 4 side windows automatically lower about half way (there is a separate switch that can lower or raise all 4 windows simultaneously located directly next to the convertible top’s switch), the top detaches from the windshield header, the back part of the top lifts off of the bulkhead cover which then lifts up and back to allow the top to fold away, which it then does, and the bulkhead cover slides back into place.
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When the top is up, at speed we had zero wind noise from anywhere around the top. There was also no noticeable fluttering, ballooning or anything else from the multi-layer top. The inside of the top is a perforated fabric that is nice to the touch. The top itself is as meticulously finished as the rest of the car. Rear seat passengers get their own map lights overhead. The back window is glass, and it’s got a de-mister. We did notice that even with the top up, other environmental sounds around the car are much more audible than we might have expected, but eventually we got used to it. We also had the luck to experience some wet weather, and had zero leaking.
With the top down, front seat passengers might feel a bit of breeze coming at the backs of their heads and arms, and Audi provides a wind blocker that installs over the back seats to limit this. Unfortunately, there is nothing to help the back seat passengers, who get a very windy ride. This is a bit of a bummer, we didn’t really expect that the back seat would be so badly affected by the wind, which swirls around and is enough to mess up even the most ambitiously secured hairdo. If you have the side windows down, it’s even worse. If you have passengers who don’t like wind, they’ll want to sit up front.
Obviously the top has to go somewhere when it folds down, and that place is in the trunk. Audi built in a special soft fabric barrier between the top and the rest of the trunk, as well as a hard curved leading edge that acts as a good gauge when loading the trunk. This hard curved piece can also be folded up manually if maximum capacity is required. When this piece is folded up however, the top can not be lowered. The car is smart enough to know when the trunk is too full to safely stow the top, which is critical given the glass window. We found that the smaller carry on size suitcases fit perfectly fine under the top’s stowage area, with a sufficiently large area left aft of the top for larger bags. The back seats also fold down, regardless of the top’s position. We had plenty of room for all of our stuff in the trunk, even with the top down.
The S5 Cabriolet has the latest version of Audis MMI system, which interfaces with multiple functions of the car, such as navigation, audio, telephone, car functions (service timers, languages, etc). With the navigation system, the main control dial also has a small joystick on the top that allows you to scroll about the map to look for streets or restaurants or gas stations, where such places are reported to the map service. Our car also had the real time traffic monitoring, which was helpful in Los Angeles traffic, though the reports seemed to be nice to know rather than a trigger for the navigation to route us around the traffic. The navigation in our car was also very good at depicting tricky interchanges and off ramps, which came in helpful more than a few times.
Historically, Audi’s seats tend to be excellent, supportive and supremely comfortable, and the S5 Cabriolet’s seats are certainly no exception. Our car had the Silk Nappa Leather upholstery with Black and Magma Red Interior trim, which was not only great looking, matching well with the red soft top and Ice silver paint, but very pleasing to the touch. The heated seats were nice when we took some early morning runs for coffee, with the top down, to take the edge off of the chill. Even on longer drives, the seats remained supremely comfortable, and they did well to eliminate fatigue.
All in all, the S5 cabriolet was the ideal car for our Southern California visit. It was cool enough so we felt like we fit in, it was fast enough and comfortable enough for longer trips, and it was great for touring the various hotspots that make a convertible really fun.
If you’re looking for all of the above, the S5 Cabriolet is the car for you.