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Click to view picture gallery“Audi’s elegant A4
  Cabriolet is high on
  most people’s wish list.
  But you don’t have
  to buy the flagship
  model to enjoy refined
  convertible motoring.
  Because the mid-
  range turboed 2.0-litre
  model is a rewarding
  car in its own right.

AUDI'S WORLD SALES have increased by nearly 10 per cent in the first half of this year and in the UK and, despite the overall market being down by over 4 per cent, they are more or less the same as last year.

In 2005, the A4 range accounted for 42 per cent of all UK Audi sales — highlighting just how popular the cars are with both premium fleet and retail customers. The A4 range consists of Saloons, Avant estates and Cabriolets and currently, thanks in no small part to the hot British summer, it is the Cabriolet models which are high on discerning buyers' must-have lists.

Last year Audi sold 6,051 A4 Cabriolets or 17 per cent of total A4 registrations and, not content to sit on its laurels, Audi has recently refreshed the Cabriolet range. Just in time, as it has turned out, for
the record-breaking summer of 2006.

In the UK there has been a constant growth in coupé-cabriolet sales, fuelled by increasing numbers of new models such as the Astra TwinTop and Volkswagen's excellent Eos. They will be joined, in a few months time, by the Ford Focus Coupé-Cabriolet.

As good as they might be, these are what you might call affordable medium sized models. At the premium end of the same sector you'll find — along with the Audi A4 Cabriolet — the BMW 3 Series Convertible and the Mercedes CLK Cabriolet. Each has its own distinct appeal depending on the customer's brand preference, and there is very little difference in price between them for the main core models.

The new Audi A4 Cabriolet range starts at £25,995 and tops out with the £43,025 340bhp S4 quattro. The most popular model, however, is the 2.0T FSI — priced at £27,605.

This uses a VW family four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged and inter-cooled FSI direct-injection petrol engine, with a six-speed manual transmission — the same engine/transmission combination found in the just-launched Eos. An automatic transmission option is available.

There are four petrol engine options: 1.8T, 2.0T FSI, 3.2 V6 and 4.2-litre V8. In addition there are two diesel units — a 2.0 TDI and 3.0 TDI. As usual with Audis, the standard specification is high but then there are several option packs and a whole series of additional extra cost individual items that can seriously increase the price of your chosen model.

Take my test car. The 2.0T FSI starts off at £27,605, but then it had Audi's S line specification plus the continuously variable 7-speed multi-tronic transmission with sport program and loads more goodies that together brings the final on-the-road price to around £35,000.

Even so, the two-door, full four-seater Audi A4 Cabriolet with its automatic powered fabric soft-top is undoubtedly an elegant premium product.

The revised engineering for the 2006-year A4 Cabriolet provides a very strong and rigid structure, with improvements also to the suspension set-up for better driving qualities. There is no body shake whatsoever with the hood down and the A4 Cabriolet has classic convertible styling. In addition, it is genuinely roomy enough for four adults and offers good rear access. It features an opulent interior and the build quality is absolutely first class.

Subtle styling changes have been made all around the car, from the grille to the lighting units. When it matters, the new multi-layered fabric hood can now be opened or closed electro-hydraulically at the press of a button in just 21 seconds — a full five seconds quicker than before. It can also be operated at speeds up to 18mph. Audi offers a choice of four exterior hood colours and three headlining tones, which make for a good looking car whichever body colour you decide to have.

Fabric hoods require far less space when folded away, so with the soft-top automatically stowed in the load area the A4 Cabriolet can still accommodate four people's luggage or — more likely — two sets
of golf clubs. For the record, the boot space is 315 litres with the
hood up and 246 litres with it stowed away.

Thankfully, the two doors are wide opening with an easy fold forward front seat mechanism that enables rear seat passengers to make a dignified entry and exit. You just need to remember that care, and space, is needed when opening the doors fully in car parks.

Parking sensors are a must when reversing the A4 Cabriolet. The car has a high waistline for maximum side body impact protection, so with the roof up rear visibility from the front seat is not that good and it can be difficult reversing to park the car — even for me, and I'm six-feet tall.

The new turbocharged 1,984cc FSI direct-injection petrol engine with 198bhp of power is one of the best 2.0-litre units around today. It is very responsive and serves up good torque and flexibility at low speeds (207lb ft from just 1,800rpm) and even having the continuously variable automatic transmission didn't dull its performance or harm fuel economy too much. Top speed is 144mph, acceleration from 0-62mph takes 8 seconds and the published combined fuel economy figure is 33.2mpg. My test car returned 28.5mpg. If I were buying one I would probably opt for the 6-speed manual 'box, having recently driven the new Eos with the same engine and gearbox, which is an excellent combination.

The suspension changes have been effective: the Cabriolet handles noticeably sharper than before and provides better feedback to the driver. It also has better agility and, taken as a whole, delivers a much more rewarding drive. The car can occasionally become unsettled on poorer road surfaces and in this respect it loses out overall to the BMW 3 Series Convertible. Competent traction and stability control prog-rammes are, as you would expect, standard.

Overall, the A4 Cabriolet is a classy, high quality package. Beautifully built, if a trifle expensive, but the residual values for the A4 Cabriolet are particularly good. The only real complaint you could make is that it sells for a premium price — but then you're paying for a premium car.

Considering all that you get for your money — unashamed high quality, elegant looks, big enough for four adults to enjoy shake-free soft-top motoring, a fully automatic roof, a great engine and good handling dynamics (if not quite the most refined in its class) — the A4 Cabriolet is still a rewarding convertible to own and to drive. — David Miles

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Audi A4 Cabriolet 2.0T FSI
| £27,605
Maximum speed: 144mph | 0-62mph: 8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 28.5mpg | Power: 198bhp
| Torque: 207lb ft
Visit Audi's website Click to go there now

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