What is it?
Well, it’s got four seats, four-wheel drive, 444bhp and a fabric roof. Only quattro GmbH could possibly assemble that kind of heavyweight concoction: that’s right, it’s the RS5 cabriolet, the new £68,960 A5 range-topper.
With BMW’s 4-series line-up destined to land next year, it’s probably appropriate that Audi has offered up a musclebound reminder as to why its major rival decided the differentiated badging was necessary in the first place.
The three-door A5 has proved a major coup, and even if the alfresco RS5 is unlikely to add much to the overall sales volume, it’s a potent halo to have in the showroom.
Inevitably it shares much with the coupé variant. The high-revving 4.2-litre V8 engine remains up front, still shackled to the seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The union, in conjunction with a launch control program and the familiar, highly sophisticated quattro all-wheel-drive system, delivers a brusque 0-62mph time of 4.9sec.
Up top the roof has made way for a lightweight, triple-layered soft top that, up to 31mph, can be shed in 15 seconds or almost as swiftly lowered in 17. Impressively, the hood only requires 60 litres of boot space to stow, meaning there’s a class-leading 320 litres left to brim with clutter.
What is it like?
Not quite all you would want it to be. While there may be space in buyers’ minds for a savage four-seat drop-top, the RS5 too often fails to resonate in the real world on the multiple levels required to justify its lofty price tag.
Perhaps that’s a criticism too frequently leveled at quattro GmbH’s output, so lets consider the strengths first. Make no mistake, this is a classy piece of kit. The interior, handed down from the A4, may be just starting to fray with age, but its constructed like a Swiss bank vault. Close the lid and it’s also quiet enough to convince you that you might just be sealed in one.
Styling-wise, it’s pretty much spot on. RS-branded cars, with their big-boned axle spread and dilated air intakes, are intended to be recognized before you encounter the badge, but the RS5 is just the right mix of pushy brawn and statuesque stance.
That visual mindset transfers well to a flat-out, apex-to-apex blitz. Shod with winter tyres, our test car didn’t actually keep the French asphalt in a vice-like grip but, like driving an RS4 in the wet, the slight loss of traction actually endears the machine to its driver as it increases an awareness of the mechanical complexities occurring underneath.
The quattro system’s constant torque juggle– front and back via the self-locking centre differential, and then side-to-side courtesy of the standard rear sports diff and torque vectoring – is quite something to experience, and eventually even savour when snow starts falling diagonally onto the windscreen.
It’s disappointing (and somewhat surprising), then, that the first issue to address occurs when these moments of genuine appreciation are undercut by the suspicion that you aren’t traveling quite quickly enough. No, obviously the RS5 is not slow: peak torque comes on at 4000rpm and remains nailed to 317lb ft until 6000rpm, which still leaves a further 2250rpm before the V8 taps out at 444bhp. The motor is eight cylinders of yowling blattery, and its gearbox scalpel-sharp; the problem is that there’s an unladen 1920kg of reinforced cabrio to haul around, and it shows.
The coupé’s fierce turn of speed has had the venom milked from it. That, if previously encountered, will be missed. Inevitably some of that model’s rigidity has gone, too. Flex is only felt intermittently and not seriously; it’s the way the ramped-up, spiky ride, even on the most congenial setting afforded by the optional DRC system, is liable to impact on comfort that rankles.
Too often the RS5 seems like an intransigent steamroller, especially when you just want to loll around and enjoy the fresh air. The dynamic steering doesn’t help. In its most aggressive mode, however, its foibles are forgotten chiefly because it’s quick and direct, and driving a quattro fast does not really dependon deciphering fingertip feel.
But at slower speeds or when clicked back into Comfort mode, the rack either pushes the assistance to city-shopper supermini levels or butches it up when it registers just a few degrees of turn. The result, when taken along with the ponderous kerb weight, is a vague suspicion of clumsiness when poise is desired.
Should I buy one?
Much will depend on what, precisely, you think a four-seat drop-top should be doing for you. If your intention is to occasionally carry four people in class and comfort and at speed then Audi’s own S5 cabriolet or even an A5 3.0-litre TDI would likely prove a more convenient, economical and cosseting choice.
If you’re really hungering for proper hair-raising pace to go with the intermittent hairdryer treatment, then the BMW M3 cabrio, while hardly perfect, is a more fluid, flavoursome and athletic option. And if you’re comfortable with jettisoning the rear passengers and luggage capacity entirely, a Porsche Boxster S is considerably cheaper and, as a thrill seeker, several thousand miles more fun.
Granted, neither of these options is capable of replicating the all-weather adhesiveness and raw grunt of the RS5 (save a GT-R being severed from its roof, nothing else is likely to, either) but they feel like better-rounded products. Serious fans of the four rings will doubtless ignore that observation in favour of the usual quattro brand appeal, but for all its desirable qualities, the latest model’s flaws might just be in danger of getting very lonely in its already minuscule niche.
Audi RS5 Cabriolet
Price: £68,960; 0-62mph: 4.9secs; Top speed: 155mph; Economy: 26.4mpg; CO2: 249g/km; Kerb weight: 1920kg; Engine type, cc: V8, 4163cc, petrol; Installation: Front, longitudinal, 4WD; Power: 444bhp; Torque: 317lb ft; Gearbox: 7-spd dual-clutch automatic