BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The Audi Cabriolet was one of those rare cars that found its second wind after a few years on sale, just like the Mazda MX5 did more recently. It arrived to a small audience of admirers, but its sales skyrocketed when a certain Princess (Diana) made one her personal transport. She and the car were filmed arriving at her gym, seemingly every night, on the evening news a few years back. For Audi, the publicity was worth a million TV commercials. It was a car that didn't really fit in with Audi's familiar Vorsprung durch Technik image. It had a relatively low count of technology (no quattro versions, for example) but what it did have was style with a capital 'S'. The mid-Nineties Diana-follower sales boom now means that well maintained examples are around in good numbers. For the used buyer, the choice has never been better.
Models Covered: Audi Cabriolet - 1992-to date (1.8 Cabriolet, 2.0 cabriolet [2.0E] / 2.3 5cy Cabriolet [2.3E] / 2.6 6cy Cabriolet [2.6E] / 2.8 6cy Cabriolet [2.8E])
The Cabriolet was released in May 1992 as a 2.3-litre five-cylinder manual-only car. It sold well and was joined a year later by a cheaper 2.0-litre four-cylinder version, the 2.0E. The '2.6E' arrived in December 1993 and replaced the 2.3E. The only update was the standard fitment of a driver's airbag across the range in July 1994. In May 1996, a new 2.8-litre V6 arrived and this car was called '2.8E'. A 1.8-litre version replaced the 2.0-litre in March 1997. This is the excellent 20-valve unit used in the A6 of the day, as well as other Audi models. There was also an equipment upgrade, with new alloy wheels, a 'Delta' radio unit, leather upholstery and a driver's airbag all being added. The bigger-engined cars also received new alloys (16-inch on the 2.6 and 17-inch for the 2.8-litre cabrio) as well as a computerised 'autocheck' system for both six-cylinder cars. 'Final Edition' cars were announced late in 1999, heralding the eventual end of the line for Audi's old-shape drop-top. Equipment worth up to £3,450 was added for a price increase of no more than £350. All these cars have a power-operated hood and the V6 has Nappa leather upholstery. Final examples of this model can be found on late 1999 plates.
What You Get
A great-looking and very well built cruise-mobile. With the roof down, the Cabrio cuts quite a dash and the way the soft-top folds away out of sight adds to the elegant stance. Performance is good too, especially if you go for the 2.6 or 2.8-litre versions.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
There are no particular problem areas with any of the cabriolets. Audi's extensive corrosion proofing and excellent build quality ensure that all its cars are long lasting. Check any car for a full service history, of course, and don't forget to make sure the fabric hood is without slash-repairs, is waterproof and fits as it should. The interior may be slightly sun-damaged, especially models with leather trim, so have a good look around the top of the dashboard and seats.
(Based on an M-reg Cabriolet 2.6E and exclusive of VAT) A clutch is roughly £200 and the full exhaust system including the catalyst is just about £400. A replacement alternator is a steep £200, though you may able to find an exchange item cheaper. A starter motor will cost you around £200, replacement front and rear brake pads are around £50 each, £250 for a radiator and for a headlamp it would set you back £110.
On the Road
The Cabriolet is no boy-racer, despite the go-faster looks, but neither will it disgrace itself when thrown into a corner. Body roll is noticeable but the trade-off is supple ride and the road-holding is good too. The 2.8-litre cars are quick; just don't expect the handling of the younger chassis-ed saloons.
This is a car designed for posing and there's nothing wrong with that. As a stylish convertible, it can mix it with Mercedes and Jaguars of the same era but show it a winding road and you may be wishing you'd thought about an MGF or BMW Z3. For wafting about on a sunny day, rather than blasting from bend to bend, this is the car to have.