What is it?
The Audi RS5 Cabriolet, currently the only open-top RS model you can buy. Prices start at £68,985, though get even mildly flamboyant with the options and this will quickly swell; bigger wheels, a Bang & Olufsen stereo, Dynamic Ride Control and a gamut of safety tech helped our test car touch £78,000. Well-specced year-old examples can now be bought for around £55,000, however.
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The most notable highlight over an RS5 coupe is the roof. The heavy hard-top seems to be going out of fashion in some quarters, but it’s an option Audi has never offered, and the RS5 cabrio follows suit with a three-layered, electrically folding fabric hood that opens in 15sec and closes in 17sec, at speeds below 31mph. It feels a bit slow and archaic compared to some modern roofs, and those 17 seconds feel very slow when the weather suddenly turns and you want speedy protection for you and the lovely Nappa leather.
At the RS5 Cabriolet’s heart is the same naturally aspirated, high-revving 4.2-litre V8 engine as the RS5 coupe and RS4 Avant – no turbocharging here. Power is metered out via Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive, with a crown-gear centre differential and torque vectoring. The top speed is limited to 155mph, while 0-62 takes 4.9sec.
Audi’s sport differential – which continually varies the torque spread between the rear wheels to benefit agility – is standard equipment, as are the firm’s new weight-saving ‘wavy’ brake discs (now an RS staple) with a ceramic set-up a pricey option.
What’s it like to drive?
Early Audi RS5 coupes never really lit our fire. In fact, the car twice finished dead last in group tests, beaten on one occasion by an uncouth and heavyweight Ford Mustang. On first impressions, though, this new car feels better, the RS5 Cabriolet displaying dynamic changes that have also been made to the facelifted coupe, too. The bad news is that electromechanical power steering replaces the old hydraulic rack; it’s quick and keen enough, there’s just no natural feel, and it reveals too little about the state of front-end grip. The optional Dynamic Steering also serves up some strange weighting that you’re better off without.
Better news comes in the shape of software tweaks, from the dampers to the Drive Select modes, also exhibited on the latest RS4 Avant. The RS5 feels more natural and composed than before, and follows your inputs more precisely. It’s still very much a fast Audi – quattro all-wheel-drive making it easy to drive unfeasibly fast (often in less than ideal conditions) but harder to engage with. But its engine sounds fantastic (especially with the optional sports exhaust) and has a bigger swell of torque than an M3’s.
So much so you might naturally short-shift through its seven-speed S-tronic gearbox a little, when in fact the biggest fireworks – and the most sonorous noises – live north of 8000rpm, at which point the RS5 is wonderful place to be, especially if the roof is folded away. Weighing a bulky 205kg more than the coupe, though (topping 1930kg), the RS5 Cabriolet inevitably feels heavy under braking and when subjected to repeat direction changes. It’s not a natural car to hustle quickly, despite how well it grips when you do.
Our first experience of the RS5 Cabriolet was on the Col de Vence in France, a wonderful road that highlighted its best facets very well. In the UK, on our much less cared for tarmac, the story is slightly different, the large alloy wheels thumping around in the arches and the ride feeling unsettled over the worst roads, or if you select Dynamic mode for the suspension. Better to tweak Drive Select’s Individual mode to ramp up the engine’s responses but put the steering and suspension in a more comfort-minded mode. There’s also a little scuttle shake, especially once the roof is down, but overall the RS5 does feel a solidly hewn item and is leagues above the jelly-like RS4 Cabriolet.
How does it compare?
When the RS5 cabrio launched its most direct rival was the £7000-cheaper BMW M3 Convertible. It’s rear-wheel drive compared to the quattro-driven Audi and gets a folding metal roof rather than the RS5’s soft-top. It’s more fun to drive, but its limits are less accessible than the Audi’s. It is now off sale as a new car, but the M4 Convertible - which continues with the folding hard-top formula but heads in the direction of turbocharging - will launch in summer 2014.
Other rivals at this price include the Porsche 911 Cabriolet – a 345bhp Carrera is considerably down on power and much more expensive than the RS5, priced at £82,072, but is a far more satisfying drivers’ car – and if practicality isn’t a huge concern, the Jaguar F-type, which serves up 375bhp in £67,520 V6 S form and 488bhp in £79,985 V8 S form. It’s a cool and exciting car, though its boot space renders it suitable only to a weekend away, and there are no back seats.Anything else I need to know?
Whereas Audi’s RS models used to be known for exclusivity, with just one model rolling off the production line at a time, the range is now ever-increasing. There are now six Audi RSs available, with an overall annual sales target of 15,000. The most recent addition to the range is the somewhat opinion-splitting RS Q3 SUV, though we were surprised at its talents and it is potentially the most fun and involving RS currently on sale.
And gorgeous as the howl of this V8 engine is, it might be reasonable to predict the RS5 Cabriolet to is one of its final appearances in a saloon-shaped performance Audi, with turbocharging increasingly infiltrating ranges like this as fuel economy and CO2 emissions become more important to buying decisions. While Audi claims 26.4mpg combined for the RS5, you’ll be lucky to hit this in day-to-day driving unless you drive with a very light foot. And doing so would suggest you’ve bought the wrong car…
|Max power||444bhp @ 8250rpm|
|Max torque||317lb ft @ 4000-6000rpm|
|0-60||4.9sec (claimed 0-62)|
|Top speed||155mph (limited)|