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Audi A5 Cabriolet 2.0 TFSI SE

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“Audi’s reputation
  for producing
  striking and stylish
  convertibles is well-
  known. So no real
  surprise that their
  new A5 Cabriolet is
  smart enough to pip
  BMW and Mercedes
  at the post when
  it comes to sheer
  good looks...

AND WITH PRICES ranging from 29,800 through to 42,245, buying one won't deter drivers who would otherwise have had to choose between a BMW 3-Series Convertible and a CLK Cabriolet from Mercedes. Actually, 30K is not an unreasonable amount to pay for a premium convertible, particularly one with an elegant body that genuinely seats four adults.

And, unlike most of today's convertibles, the A5 stands out from the crowd thanks to its roof — not another folding metal roof, but a real fabric soft-top that electronically magics itself away quicker than showman Derren Brown can say 'abracadabra'. Against the clock, the A5's fabric hood takes 15 seconds to fully open and fold-away. That's deceptively quick, especially if you're watching it happen. Going back the other way takes just two seconds longer. The soft-top even opens and closes at speeds of up to 31mph — good news if you're in the cabin and the skies open while you're stopped at a red light.

After you've looked at a number of metal-roofed cabriolets you will probably agree with Audi that a fabric roof is undeniably more distinctive. Looks aside, practical reasons for using canvas include the fact that the supporting roof structure is lighter, mechanically less complicated and faster-operating and, perhaps most important of all, steals less room from the boot when folded away.

It's undeniably a handsome beast, this new A5 Cabriolet. The distinctive family 'nose' makes it instantly recognisable as an Audi and the flowing waistline runs smoothly to a skilfully executed tail that looks sleek with the roof up or folded away. And Yes, Audi is right: the fabric hood really does make it look a prestigious and fetching car.

As outside, so inside: the A5 Cabrio's cabin is as swish as the outside leads you to expect. Beautifully built, it's a very inviting and satisfying place to be. We tested the 2.0 TFSI SE which, apart from some extra SE spec kit, is the entry model. Even so, it's still very well equipped and is delivered as standard with items such as 17-inch alloys, a decent 10-speaker sound system (with CD and MP3 compatibility, colour centre console screen, SD memory card reader and AUX-IN socket), leather upholstery, auto lights and wipers, rear acoustic parking system, 3-spoke leather multi-function steering wheel, 3-Zone climate control and a driver's information system.

The A5 really does do
what it says on the tin —
seat four adults easily
and in comfort
In addition you also get a wind blocker (without doubt the easiest to use of any we've come across), Halogen daytime-running lights, automatic seat-belt feeder, one-touch operation split/folding rear seat, four one-shot up/down power windows, electromechanical parking brake, electrically-operated and heated door mirrors and a fully automatic powered soft-top.

Fit and finish throughout the cabin is excellent, as are the Alcantara leather-upholstered optional sports seats — as accommodating and nice to the touch as they appear. Manually-operated they may be but they still come with powered lumbar support, are height adjustable and have tilt adjustment for the seat bases with extending under-thigh support. Add in six-stage heating and the shapely, suede-faced seats are genuinely comfortable.

Well chosen two-tone trim with a sprinkling of satin chrome highlights (including finely-cut bezels and filleting to various knobs and switchgear surrounds) contribute to the pleasing overall effect — that of well-tempered elegance. And there's typical Audi attention to detail, beginning with the automatic 'arm' that presents front seat occupants with their belt on start-up so they don't have to reach too far back!

Neither do you need to stretch for the multi-function, three-spoke steering wheel, whose leather-wrapped rim (with perforated 'work' areas) adjusts extensively for both height and reach.

Many of today's convertibles boast four seats but the A5 really does do what it says on the tin — seat four adults easily and in comfort for real-life journeys. Access in and out of the back through either front door is easy. During our week-long test our A5 made a number of trips with four adults, including several passengers over six feet tall. Even with a near-six-foot driver and front passenger, there is ample head and legroom for those travelling in the rear seats. And not a single murmur of complaint — not even about the lack of a centre rear armrest although there are built-in outer rear armrests and a useful lidded storage section with cup-holders between the individual rear seats.

“The A5 Cabriolet also
has room for some
real-world luggage
Particularly welcome is the degree to which you can personalise the displayed driver's information, especially the parking system's warnings and, most useful of all, the digital mph readout that can be displayed on the secondary screen between the speedometer and rev-counter — it's crystal clear at all times and perfect for ensuring you know your exact speed at any given moment. Another useful touch is the 'gear recommendation' that indicates when you can change up (and to what specific gear) without labouring the engine to maximise your fuel economy. What's nice is that unlike similar 'green/eco prompt' features on other cars — that can be irritatingly in-your-face — the A5's is very subtle and can be ignored if you prefer.

All A5 engines now come with automatic start/stop. Not only does this operate so smoothly that you're never aware of it but this too can easily be switched off at any time (by pressing the button to the left of the gear lever) if you don't want to use it — either for the entire journey or just for a particular section of your journey. If you do use it — the default setting every start-up — then a clear warning is displayed when it switches the engine off.

Another usefully driver-controlled piece of kit is the auto-dimming rear-view mirror that can be switched off, for instance, when you need to reverse at night. For the record, you will need to rely on the parking sensors as rearward visibility is a tad restricted by the rear head restraints. But with both visual and audio signals, that's never a problem.

Adding to the convenience equipment is a switch-operated electronic parking brake — the good news is that you can drive away without releasing it manually; it does it for you. Just the thing for perfect hill starts.

The A5 Cabriolet also has room for some real-world luggage: with the roof stored away, there's 320 litres of boot space available (380 litres with the roof closed). If you don't need all four seats you can, with a quick pull of the release levers each side of the boot, tumble the spring-loaded, easy-to-fold rear seatbacks forward to create a flat 750-litre load bay.

The boot is also fitted out with a 12-volt power outlet, a side pocket, bag hooks and sturdy chrome lashing eyes. And should you decide to keep the rear seatbacks in place there's a load-through flap. For the record, the 3-Series Convertible only offers a restrictive 90 litres of boot space and even the Mercedes CLK can only muster 276.

Audi has yet another
cabriolet on its hands
When it comes to powerplants there's a wide choice, stepping off with three petrol engines: a 208bhp 2.0-litre, a 3.2 with 261bhp and a 328bhp 3.0-litre for the S5 version. On the diesel front are 2.0, 2.7 and 3.0 units with, respectively, 168, 187 and 237bhp outputs. So, relaxing or rapid, there's an A5 for every driving style.

The 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engine fitted to our test car is more than up to the task of providing ample 'go' to match the A5's fast looks: top speed is 150mph, and it will get you to the benchmark 62mph in 7.5 seconds from standstill. Officially, you can travel, on average, 42.2 miles on a single gallon of petrol although out test average came out just shy of this figure, at 37.3mpg. Audi's fuel-saving and CO2-reducing start/stop system is, as mentioned, a standard feature and works unobtrusively while improving your fuel consumption.

We must admit that we were working our A5 fairly hard but blame the turbocharged 2.0-litre TFSI engine — it's a keen team player. Floor the accelerator and its 258lb ft of torque (available from a low 1,500 through to 4,200rpm) quickly wakes things up. And a very nice powerplant it is, to be sure: happy to pull you along fairly effortlessly, even lazily, yet always flexible and unflustered in city traffic; and with ample mid-range oomph on tap to press on eagerly — and with an agreeable, hard-edged sound — on the open road.

However, comfort and style take priority over outright speed. As indeed they should. Even running on 18-inch alloy wheels the ride is really comfortable, soft enough to smooth out all but the worst bumps and road imperfections. Consequently the A5 makes an unruffled cruiser — something most owners buying this model will be more than pleased about.

Particularly as there is no penalty for driving top-down: in full convertible mode, even without the wind blocker in place, there's barely a puff of wind buffeting at sensible speeds. If you're only carrying a single front passenger then the wind blocker can be left in place with the roof up for added privacy; to cut the glare of lights from following traffic at night; or folded to cover any luggage you may have on the rear seats.

Along with sure-footed
handling you also get
safe and predictable...”
With the roof raised, the cabin is relaxed and well insulated from the outside world; virtually as quiet as a fixed-head A5 Coupe, in fact. More convenience: all four windows feature one-shot up/down operation and in addition there's a master switch close to the roof button that opens or closes all four together. And to make journeys as straightforward as possible, the excellent 3D SatNav system, with its clear and well-timed instructions, will tell you exactly where to go.

It's no criticism to state that along with sure-footed handling you also get safe and predictable. The A5's grip is reassuringly consistent — helped by wide 245/40 Pirellis — and, of course, ABS, traction and stability control, etc, are all standard. So chuck it around if you really must — although that sort of driving really defeats the point of owning such a civilised convertible.

The good driving position and decent visibility, both to the front and sides, is complemented by steering with decent weighting and accurate turn-in, and makes the A5 Cabriolet a pleasant and easy car to drive smoothly — and it's further improved by the slick action of the six-speed manual 'box. The brakes — discs all round and ventilated up front — are very strong and in use you'll find them reassuringly dependable.

After a hectic but enjoyable week spent behind the A5's leather-bound wheel driving up and down motorways, across country and negotiating edgy town traffic — for most of that time with the top down — there's little doubt that Audi has yet another highly-competitive cabriolet on its hands. Cool Cab! —

Audi A5 Cabriolet 2.0 TFSI SE | 31,650
Maximum speed: 150mph | 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds | Overall test MPG: 37.3mpg
Power: 208bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 156g/km | Insurance group 17