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Click for pictures“Audi A4 Cabriolet:
  So cool, it’s a blast!”


WHEN AUDI ANNOUNCED THE NEW CABRIOLET, everybody knew it would be good.
The reality, though, is even better — the new Cabriolet is
a real gem.

Based on the competent new A4, with which it shares most of its mechanical parts, Audi's new four-seat Cabriolet looks absolutely fabulous. It's one of those rare cars to which photographs simply don't do justice, and needs to be seen firsthand, in the metal. A slow walk around the car confirms that everything about the Cabriolet’s beautiful body is superbly finished. Suffice to say that few cars we’ve tested over the years have attracted quite so much admiration.

The Cabriolet comes with a choice of a 2.4 or 3.0-litre petrol or a 2.5-litre TDi diesel engine — all V6s — mated to either a five-speed manual gearbox or Audi’s clever 6-speed Multitronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). We tested the 2.4-litre V6 Sport fitted with the standard five-speed manual 'box.

A double grille nose, smartly raked aluminium framed windscreen, and distinct, smooth geometric lines, with subtle echoes of A4 and TT design influences, mark out the Cabriolet from all other convertibles. Beneath the body beautiful, the A4's much-praised lightweight aluminium suspension set-up had been lowered and tuned to give an even more sporting bias. Every exterior panel is new, and the cabin is unique to the Cabriolet.

Audi DNA permeates every facet of the new Cabriolet. Materials and build quality are absolutely first class. The triple-layer hood is one of the best, providing the same levels of refinement and insulation — even at motorway speeds — you'd take for granted in a regular A4 saloon. Despite the stampede towards fashionable folding metal tops (à la Mercedes SLK), they don't flatter all body styles — the Cabriolet's raised soft-top is perfect.

The elegant interior could only be Audi. Trim quality and materials are impressive, with grey Birch fascia and door inserts and soft Nappa leather upholstery. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, and the supportive front seats for height. There's a folding centre front armrest, loads of useful cubbies throughout the car — including drawers under the front seats — and the extendable front under-thigh support on the driver’s seat is a bonus.

Headroom is generous, even with the beautifully lined hood in place. The inside of the hood is completely smooth, its high quality appearance matching the soft-touch materials used elsewhere in the cabin. The dash is smart to look at; the chrome-ringed instruments easy to read. All windows are electric and have one-touch operation, and there is a leather 4-spoke multifunction steering wheel, a nine-speaker Concert stereo with single CD player, on-board multi-function computer, electric mirrors, remote central locking (that also locks the glovebox) with interior microwave protection, digital dual-zone climate control, and even a place for your sunglasses.

Our test car was fitted with the optional (£750) Sport pack, which adds smart 5-spoke 17-inch alloys with 235/45 tyres, sport seats with electric lumbar adjustment, sports suspension, sports leather steering wheel, and a leather gear knob and gaiter.

An excellent driving position with a clear view of each of the 'corners' and a good steering lock makes placing the car easy. Visibility through the scratchproof, heated glass rear window is also satisfactory.

With the top up, access to the rear is good, thanks to large, wide-opening doors and buttons that move the front seats forward and well out of the way. The Cabriolet is a genuine four-seater, providing ample leg, knee and shoulder room.

The boot — also home to a space-saver spare, first aid kit and warning triangle — takes 246 litres of luggage with the top lowered, and can swallow two golf bags. And, courtesy of a clever lever in the boot can expand its load space to take more with the top raised: 315 litres, to be precise. A useful load-through hatch takes skis or even two snowboards.

Letting the sunshine in takes less than 30 seconds and requires absolutely minimal effort. A one-touch switch drops all four windows while electro-hydraulic motors fold the hood out of sight beneath a flush-fitting polished aluminium cover in a dedicated compartment between the rear seats and the boot. When it’s down the side windows are raised again automatically.

Alternatively you can 'park' the soft-top from outside the car using the key in the lock. With the wind breaker in place (the work of seconds) motorway cruising is virtually turbulence free for the driver and front seat passenger, and conversation remains easy well beyond 70mph — all thanks to the Cabriolet’s best-in-class aerodynamics.

Although with the wind blocker raised you won't be able to carry two passengers in the rear, we didn't get any complaints from back seat passengers when cruising with the top and the four side windows all down. It's par for the course in a convertible!

Which is particularly welcome news, because this graceful lady is not just for high days and holidays. This is a car you’ll yearn to drive every day, sunny or overcast. The real magic of top-down driving is the panoramic view and the sense of freedom: it's the closest you’ll ever get to flying like a bird.

Almost as much fun is cruising hood-up but with the four frameless windows fully lowered as another one-shot operation transforms the Cabriolet into an equally stylish and airy pillarless coupé.

With 170bhp under the bonnet the drophead 2.4 is a refined cruiser. Zero to 62mph is accomplished in a smooth 9.7 seconds, and the 2.4 will run to 139mph, which is, to be honest, faster than you'd ever want to drive in any convertible. At close to 100mph with the optional wind deflector in place you remain unruffled. Fuel consumption won't sour your pleasure either — we saw 28mpg overall. Long runs boosted that to 36mpg.

The Cabriolet makes no pretence of being a hell-for-leather sports car. Nor would you want it to: this convertible is all about elegance, and easy living. Anyway, had Audi wanted to go down the hard-edged performance route they would have no doubt designed it to use their own sure-footed quattro all-wheel drive system. Instead they chose, quite deliberately, to give it neutral-handling front-wheel drive.

Drive it, and you'll immediately appreciate their wisdom. Despite losing its roof, the Cabriolet weighs in at some 385lb heavier than an A4 saloon. This is due in part to making the convertible bodyshell much stronger, and also to the mechanics for the complex electro-hydraulic roof. In fact, the new Cabriolet's body is more than twice as rigid as it predecessor, with knock-on benefits for handling, ride quality and comfort.

The composed ride and predictable handling allied to accurate steering and a flat cornering stance together ensure the Cabriolet always feels confident, and able to maintain its composure through tight bends on snaking back roads as easily as it does on plain blacktop.

Shift quality is as clean and precise as the clutch — making it perfect for palming smooth changes. The front-wheel drive and lowered sports suspension provide safe, predictable handling. ABS brakes have good bite and, backed up by Electronic Brake-force Distribution with hydraulic Brake Assist, deliver foolproof stopping.

Safety has been of paramount importance to Audi and crash safety matches the exceptionally high standards set by the A4 saloon —
4-star Euro NCAP — even in a side pole impact. In addition to two front airbags, there are side airbags to protect the head and thorax plus twin roll-over bars that automatically pop up behind the rear head restraints if the electronic system senses the car is about to roll. Together with the substantially reinforced windscreen, they form a protective cage over all four occupants. To help avoid accidents in the first place, an Electronic Stability Program is fitted as standard.

Confirmation, if any were needed, of the new Cabriolet's appeal is that Audi's first year's allocation (2002) sold out almost before the first car turned a wheel on UK roads. But the good news is that it doesn't matter what time of the year your Cabriolet turns up — top-down motoring is an undiluted pleasure any time you care to press that one-shot al fresco button. It's a blast!

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Audi A4 Cabriolet 2.4 V6 Sport
| £25,420
Maximum speed: 139mph | 0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 28mpg | Power: 170bhp | Torque: 170lb ft
Visit Audi's website Click to go there now

----------------------------------------------------------------- Audi A4 Cabriolet