Looking for a drop top that'll get the drop on almost anything? Audi's RS5 answers that particular call rather well. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The latest Audi RS5 Cabriolet might be a controversial choice for an RS model but it certainly doesn't want for power. There's a massive 450PS on tap from its 4.2-litre V8 powerplant. It's fitted with a fabric roof and will get to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds.
There are those who feel that the Audi RS5 was a retrograde step for the RS line after the rather wonderful RS4, launched in 2006. I put that to Stephan Reil, head of engineering at quattro GmbH, Audi's go-faster division and he noticeably bristled. It was as if I'd just told him one of his children had been clouted with the ugly stick. He intimated that the car had improved a great deal over its relatively short lifetime, but I was still minded of the unenthusiastic press the car had received on launch. Still, it gave me the opportunity to pester Audi for a car to see how effective these changes have been. Reil and his team will have had their hands full with the RS5 as the latest model in that particular line is the RS5 Cabriolet. The A5 family's cabriolet bodyshape might seem a bit of an odd choice for the RS treatment, but the old RS4 Cabriolet sold in respectable numbers and now this bigger, sleeker car takes up the baton and runs with it. Really runs with it.
The RS5 coupe surprised some observers by sticking with Audi's older 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 rather than moving to cleaner, more efficiently V6 3.0-litre supercharged power, as has the lesser S5 model. Audi's justification then was that nothing else sounds quite like a V8, an attitude with some validity. As you would expect, the RS5 in this Cabriolet guise also uses the 4.2-litre V8 powerplant - and thank goodness it does for with the roof down, there's all the aural enjoyment on offer that Ingolstadt promised. As in the Coupe, the high-revving, hand-built 450PS V8 makes peak power at a heady 8,250 rpm and peak torque of 430Nm at between 4,000 and 6,000 rpm. It punts this all-wheel drive Cabriolet from rest to 62mph in 4.9 seconds and where possible, can take it to an electronically-limited 155mph top speed, which at extra cost can be elevated to 174mph. A seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission is fitted as standard with its lightning-fast shifts and steering wheel paddle control. Permanent quattro all-wheel-drive promises outstanding traction in all weather conditions and is backed up here by torque vectoring. Up to 70 per cent of the available torque can flow to the front or as much as 85 per cent to the rear, as necessary. The default 40:60 ratio of the rear-biased configuration ensures sporty handling should give great step-off when accelerating from a standstill. The body rides 20mm lower than that of an ordinary Audi A5 Cabriolet; its mounts are stiffer, and its anti-roll bars are beefier. Most of the suspension parts are aluminium for light weight and you also get big, internally-ventilated wave brake discs with eight-piston calipers. A sports exhaust system, identifiable by its black-coloured tailpipes, can be specified at extra cost to deliver even richer sound. You will want this once you've heard it.
Design and Build
The RS 5 Cabriolet looks slightly less aggressive than the Coupe but there's still quite a degree of purpose to its styling. Big air intakes and a matt aluminium splitter define the front end, there are muscular wheel arch blisters and two rather large oval exhaust pipes, mounted either side of a large diffuser. The car looks good with the lightweight acoustic hood up or down. This opens and closes fully automatically in 15 seconds and 17 seconds respectively and can be deployed at speeds of up to 31mph. When stowed, the hood eats 60-litres of the boot's 380-litre total capacity. The RS5 Cabriolet's split rear seatbacks can be folded down individually and a through-load facility from the boot to the rear seating area helps versatility. Not surprisingly, the body benefits from the same subtle revisions that refreshed the RS5 Coupe and include a slight revision to the single frame grille design, sharper and more pronounced bonnet contours, 'solid band' wraparound LED daytime running lights and LED rear lights, sleeker front and rear bumpers and 19-inch wheels in a 10-spoke design. A subtle matt carbon fixed spoiler lip on the boot lid boosts downforce and this can be painted in body colour if preferred.
Market and Model
Most RS5 Cabriolets will roll out of dealerships somewhere north of £70,000, which might well generate a sharp intake of breath. Still, this really is one well finished vehicle with a monster of an engine. Standard features include automatic front seatbelt feeders, a wind deflector, the lighting package including LED interior lamps and a rollover protection system incorporating aluminium plates which deploy upwards behind the rear head restraints. Options include three-stage head-level heating and front seat heating for top-down comfort on slightly cooler days. There are also ceramic brakes, Dynamic Ride Control and Dynamic Steering options available. I'd possibly go for the ride control function but leave the other two. Inside, the cabin also features the latest RS5 detail enhancements, including a flat-bottomed RS three-spoke steering wheel, along with Bluetooth mobile phone preparation, cruise control, satellite navigation and Audi Music Interface iPod connection. It's easy to get very carried away with the options and end up with an £90,000 drop-top RS 5 but it's best to be a little more selective in order to retain some semblance of residual value.
Cost of Ownership
By almost any measure you care to choose, the Audi RS5 Cabriolet is going to be an expensive car to run. That's just something you need to get comfortable with. You can't expect to be able to run a petrol-powered V8 that makes 450PS and not have to shell out for the privilege. The quoted 25.9mpg combined fuel economy figure seems a bit optimistic, but then car manufacturers have for years been beating EU test procedures. In normal use, it would probably average somewhere in the region of 20-21mpg in the hands of the average driver. Depreciation has tended to be stronger on RS5 models than RS4 cars and the RS5 Coupe stands at around 38 per cent after three years and 30,000 miles. Remember, that this is in stock showroom trim. Add £10,000 worth of options and that figure would likely slip to 35 per cent. I can't see the Cabriolet model doing a whole lot better.
The Audi RS5 Cabriolet is a car that butts up against bigger and more prestigious tackle like the BMW 6 Series and the Mercedes SL in terms of price. What it has up its sleeve is one of the finest engines available at any price. You'd need a BMW M6 or a Mercedes SL63 AMG to rival it and then we're talking very serious money indeed. So is it worth the cash? That's a tougher question to answer. If you want an extremely rapid drop-top that's beautifully built and has an exhaust note to die for, there aren't many that can touch the RS5. The shortcomings in terms of ultimate handling that niggled at the RS5 Coupe are not so much of an issue if you're shopping for an open car, so this one might well be the best of the RS5s currently for sale. Give it a try. It might be a hard car to lose your heart to, but its exhaust and engine note will never fail to raise a huge smile.