An Audi with an S badge has historically had a tough time in the hands of evo testers. The verdict usually borders on the predictable – very accomplished at tackling everyday, mundane drives, but fails to come alive on the right road in the way you’d expect a supposed performance model to.
However, the latest S5 Coupe and Sportback look to have gone against the grain. When we drove the former back in December we were surprised with the pleasing sense of agility and composure Audi had managed to dial in to the new, lighter platform. Which begs the question: can the heavier, less rigid drop-top version pull off the same trick?
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Engines, transmission and 0-62mph time
As with the S5 coupe, the old supercharged 3.0-litre V6 is thrown out in favour of a turbocharged unit of the same capacity, cylinder count and formation. A lighter, cheaper and simpler single turbo is used in place of the usual two, but the S5 uses twin-scroll tech and the turbo itself is mounted within the engine’s ‘vee’ improving the turbo’s spool up response.
Developing 349bhp between 5400 and 6400rpm and 369lb ft of torque from 1370rpm, the latest S5 Cabriolet packs 16bhp more punch than before. Power is distributed via Audi’s quattro four-wheel drive transmission through a ZF-sourced eight-speed single-clutch automatic gearbox, replacing the seven-speed tiptronic unit.
At 5.1 seconds, the new S5 Cab’s 0-62mph time is four-tenths slower than that of the coupe, and like it’s metal roofed cousin the soft-top is limited to 155mph.
The Quattro all-wheel drive system features a locking centre differential – ordinarily 60 per cent of the power is sent to the rear wheels, but power can be shifted via the front or rear axle (up to 80 per cent in the latter) according to traction needs. As with the Coupe, a £1,200 sport differential can be specified that vectors torque between the rear wheels.
The new platform architecture means that the Audi A5 Cabriolet is 40kg lighter than the model it replaces – though still a substantial 225kg more than the new coupe. Despite this, extensive steel strengthening allows Audi to claim a 40 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity over the first-gen car. The roof is a tried-and-tested cloth affair, with new acoustic panels in the headlining aiming to reduce wind noise. It operates up to 31mph, closes in 18 seconds and requires a mere flick of a toggle switch rather than an irritating button hold-down procedure.
Five-link suspension is fitted to all four corners and the setup is taken from the Coupe, with minor changes to introduce a softer edge and counteract any body tremors. Adaptive dampers are optional, although a drive mode selector is standard fit to control throttle and steering weights, while dynamic steering is optional.
What’s it like to drive?
Better than fast Audi convertibles of old, that’s for sure. Gone is the unyielding stiffness in the ride that plagued the previous model, replaced with a controlled and fluid gait that makes the S5 a much more agreeable cruiser. Even in town it rarely feels harsh, at least on this test model specified with adaptive dampers. That, combined with excellent wind and road noise isolation, means this is a convertible that eats up long distances easily.
Unfortunately, and despite Audi’s claims that rigidity has been vastly improved, keen drivers will still spot the telltale signs of scuttle shake. On very rough roads (infrequent on our Spanish test route, but common in the UK) you can detect shimmies through the body, the odd rattle from the side windows and vibrations through the rear-view mirror. Mid-corner bumps can unsettle it, too. While it’s far from overwhelmingly apparent, it’s enough to make us consider forgoing the charms of a folding roof and buying the coupe. Keen drivers who enjoy this site will think the same, too.
That’s a shame, because the new chassis is a well-sorted and athletic one. Turning-in quickly, the front tyres bite with purpose. There’s little understeer, unless a ham-fisted approach is taken, and a neutral and balanced feel remains throughout the turn.
Plant your foot and, thanks to the optional torque-vectoring diff, there’s mobility to the rear end that’s uncommon in fast Audis. This allows impressive cornering speeds and, amazingly, a sense of fun. You won’t achieve anything like the tail-out antics of rear-driven rivals as power is quickly dragged back to the front to spit you out of the bend, but it’s still an effective (if not super-entertaining) way of covering ground. As with its coupe equivalent, the S5 Cabriolet has an unexpected balance and poise to its chassis missing from its predecessor.
Body control is good, though the damping’s additional softness blunts the feel and it’s less responsive than the coupe as a result. The steering, while lacking anything resembling feel, is accurate and linear in its response. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s not an irritant either.
As with the coupe, the powertrain is gutsy and effective but leaves us feeling rather cold. It revs cleaning to the redline, and 369lb ft of torque fires you away with consummate ease in any gear, yet the gearing itself is quite long and downshifts are a bit laboured as they are in other S5 and S4 variants. Similarly, despite a nice low-speed growl and subtle exhaust pops on the overrun, there’s not quite as much aural excitement as you might hope. The engine serves its purpose well, but we were hoping for a little more drama when the powertrain settings are turned up to 11.
Price and rivals
The new Audi S5 Cabriolet starts from £51,835, which is just over £5000 more than the coupe. That’s a considerable difference but roughly on a par with other drop-top rivals. What you need to be wary of, though, is the options list. Everything, from the sports differential (£1200) to the adaptive dampers (£900) and even the Virtual Cockpit (£250), is optional – and there’s plenty more where those tempting add-ons came from.
Having said that, the A5’s rivals take a similar approach in loading up the options list. These include the equally all-wheel drive but more powerful Mercedes C43 AMG Cabriolet (£50,190), and the rear-wheel drive but less powerful BMW 440i Convertible (£47,355). The former is likely to be the most entertaining of the lot, but we’ll have to wait until we try them together in the UK for a full verdict.