The last time I hopped behind the wheel of a convertible four-seater, I came away with a mild gripe, and one born from a view I hold concerning convertibles: if I was in the market for a sportscar, I asked myself, why would I buy a soft-top version of an already stellar performance coupe when chances are high the weightier convertible will be neither as sporty nor as nimble?
You’d think then that the new Audi A5 Cabriolet – an open top counterpart of the executive A5 saloon, and thus a vehicle more concerned with leisurely cruising than out-and-out performance – would be right up my street.
Before you get the wrong idea, I’ll explain that my three-day weekend with the A5 Cabriolet was a very pleasant one and gave ample opportunity to highlight some of its finest qualities.
The looks for one. So often a retractable roof can spoil a car’s lines, and sometimes make the whole package look plain awkward. Certainly this is not the case with the A5 Cabriolet, which looks even better when the fully automatic roof is stowed: the appropriately named Brilliant Red paint finish; the frowning headlights; the sleek bodylines intermixed with side panel grooves; and the 19” five-spoke alloys. You can’t help but jump in.
And once there, you’ll be rather glad you did. Our test model – boasting fine interior that met crankandpiston’s exacting standards – included the optional Style Package, bringing with it black leather upholstery and sports seats to complement the walnut brown inlays. Then there’s the elegantly slender steering wheel, the sweeping dash, and the uncluttered centre console. Even the gearlever – the extended pinnacle of which is shaped to fit the palm of the hand more comfortably – is a graceful feature.
And did I mention comfort? Rear legroom is admittedly a little snug, though the driver and front passenger should have no concerns. Even with the roof up, there’s still a surprising amount of headroom available. Couple that with good, supportive seating and a fairly sizeable boot, and long journeys can be completed with ease. Visibility over your right shoulder may leave something to be desired on the road, given the extended C-pillars, but no B-pillars at all make for a very different story over your left.
So, did the Cabriolet’s comfort, practicality and looks have me clammering to sign on the dotted line? Not quite. For all my talk of leisurely cruises in a convertible (complete with idyllic landscape and wind rustling my hair), a certain sportiness is still required. And it’s here that the convertible A5 starts to lose points.
Take for example the electromechanical power steering, whereby the steering ratio is adjusted to the vehicle’s speed. For repeated direction change at a slower pace, it’s certainly very clever. But so great is the change between speeds – with heft returning to the steering as the speedometer rises – that it’s difficult not to feel alienated from the driving experience, as if somehow your contribution at the wheel isn’t required. Try as I may, I couldn’t shake this feeling.
There’s a similar story with the brakes. Effective certainly, especially when used to avoid even the latest of late-braking taxis, but with no great feel to them thanks to a stiff pedal.
Flicking the seven-speed S Tronic gearbox to manual and powering back and forth through the box brought some much needed energy back into the equation (even if the paddles themselves felt of slightly lesser quality to the rest of the upstanding interior), but small delays between shifts once again left it difficult to build momentum behind the wheel. That, plus weight over the front axle would cause the front wheels to wash wide every so often.