Road Test: 2011 Audi S5 Cabriolet

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August 8, 2011

By: Kris Hansen

Here in the northeast, we see a surprising number of convertibles zipping around. As ridiculous as it might seem that people would want to own a soft-top in an area where outside temperatures stay below freezing for whole months at a time, we now know why. Running around this area with unlimited headroom in the summer is truly awesome.

We took the S5 Cabriolet into New Hampshire’s White Mountain region while attending the Climb To The Clouds, and without question, having nothing overhead makes for great touring in such spectacular scenery. Even though it was June, the weather up here in New England can be unpredictable, and un-seasonal (read, cold and rainy). Having the ability to deploy the tightly sealing multi layered insulated top at a moment’s notice is a real benefit, and the S5 makes it easy by allowing this action happen up to 30 mph. Having said this though, our observation was that even in a moderately heavy shower, keeping the speeds over 40mph actually will help you stay dry with the top down, while slowing to allow the top to deploy can get you wet.

Cool temperatures aren’t a problem either. Our S5 Cabrio was fitted with the head level heating system, which blows warm air out of the top of the seatback, just below the headrest. When combined with the heated seats, the S5 Cabriolet is quite comfortable at lower temperatures. As is the nature of most 4 seat convertibles, there is a fair bit of wind swirling from the back seats. The origami like pop in wind deflector really cuts down on the back draft, though obviously it renders the rear seats useless for people. It does however make a nice blind for things you put in the back seat, and it keeps said things from blowing of the car out as speeds increase.

The great thing about the S5 cabriolet is that it lost none of the coupe’s driving manners. Top up or down, the S5 cabrio is a blast to drive. The 3.0TFSI is really snappy in the S5 configuration. Unlike the big 4.2 liter V8 in the coupe, the 3.0TFSI supercharged V6 comes to life earlier in the rev band, yet still manages to keep building power to the rev limit. While never obnoxious, the exhaust note is nicely barky, and the “burps” on upshifs are prominent at full throttle. As with all of the other models fitted with this engine, the supercharger is mostly inaudible. You do hear a very quiet whine from it at low speeds with the top down, and we actually think it sounds pretty cool.

Even though it’s shy almost 20 hp compared to the 4.2, it’s a quick car, partially thanks to the tighter spacing of the 7 speed S-tronic transmission. Audi say the 0-60 time for the S5 Cabriolet is 5.2 seconds, compared to the S5 coupe’s 4.9 second run. We suspect that the 500 lb weight difference has more to do with the slightly slower time than the 20 hp deficit might. Top speed is limited to 155, which quite honestly the car feels like it will easily do, but with the top down, it would be a bit windy to say the least.

Where the S5 really shines though is in handling. Steering feel is excellent, though compared to a fixed roof car, there is a bit of cowl shake. It’s not horrible, but we did notice it immediately. Our car had the optional sports rear differential, which is worth the price. Without it, the S5 is a great corner carver, no question. It craves being tossed into tight bends and coaxing the tires to reach their limit. With the sports differential, the S5 absolutely devours tight twisty roads. As the sports differential works its magic, there is a noticeable change in the car’s behavior. Understeer is completely eliminated, and the car follows the front tires exactly. The more power you apply, the better it feels. The car really is like a full size go-cart.

As great as the S5 cabrio is when pushing the car in the twisties, it’s equally good at long distance cruising, or just mellow touring. We drove this car as much as possible with the top down, and we just loved it. But when the top was up, the S5 didn’t lose any of its charm, just its endless headroom. This is not to say the headroom with the top up is bad, far from it in fact; at no point does the interior feel claustrophobic when the top is up. Thanks to the glass rear window and plentiful insulation within the fully finished softtop, the S5 cabrio is every bit as nice as the coupe during inclement weather.

As we noted during our last visit with the S5 cabriolet, the car can be put into family hauling mode. It’s tight but it can do it. The trunk is really small though, we had to fold the back seat down to load golf clubs. At least there is that option with this car though, and we see no problem with skis or other long items being loaded in as well.

We absolutely love the S5 cabriolet. In our minds, it’s a perfect blend of sport and comfort, with the great look the S5 is known for, the excellent build quality Audi is known for, and the fun in the sun motoring that can only be found in a convertible.


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