First Drive: Audi RS 5 Cabriolet

AUDI has of late prided itself on pouring technology into its cars, but not all of it has been to the benefit of the driving experience. Surely, then, the new RS 5 Cabriolet is a chance to put things right.

An electric folding soft-top roof separates it from its coupe brother, bringing the open sky to bear in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph. It’s the defining difference but it’s far from the most defining feature of the car.

You could argue that that honour should go to its rev-hungry and magnificent V8 powerplant; a drum that beats on your senses like few others. It never fails to leave you sitting there like a raving lunatic, making all kinds of odd noises with every huge WHUMP from the exhausts on upshifts.

This is one of the last large-capacity normally-aspirated engines you can buy. Turbocharging helps lower emissions and that’s the way things are going, so the advice here is to enjoy this experience while you can. Chasing 8,500rpm in an old-school 450-horsepower V8 is a very, very addictive thing and we’ll miss it when it’s gone.

But then you could argue that the most defining feature of the new RS 5 Cabriolet is the torque vectoring system, which uses a set of mechanical clutches on the rear axle either side of the central differential to push bags more torque to the outer rear wheel through corners. The effect is amazing; it’s like having a giant hand tweaking the back end of the car to quicken turn-in, eliminate understeer and make possible corner speeds that few would even dare to try for. The car seems to shrink, turning on a much tighter axis than it otherwise would and that makes it amusingly chuckable for its size.

It works hardest in Dynamic driving mode, selectable via the Drive Select menu within the MMI interface. With the optional hydraulic Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) countering body roll, at times the RS 5 genuinely feels active; alive even. It’s stable but you can feel things happening beneath you, and if the road surface is on the smooth side things get even better when the tyres start to slip just a touch. That final element of movement when approaching the limit adds a double measure of dynamism to the way the car drives, helped by the quattro four-wheel drive system’s ability to shift up to 85% of the power to the rear wheels when powering hard out of corners.

Or you might want to argue that the RS 5’s defining feature is its ride quality even on the optional 20-inch wheels, and the way it switches from raging bull to docile cow at the twiddle of a dial. Admittedly not all the systems involved in making it so good are standard, which is an annoying trait of Audi’s, but they work a treat. Cycling through the Drive Select menu to Comfort mode gives a soft, easy-going and compliant ride, with a quiet and conservative engine map that makes it hard to distinguish any V8 rumble at all. Call it the ‘driving mother to the garden centre’ mode. The contrast between it and Dynamic mode is huge, although a simple selector button would be a neater and considerably more convenient solution than using the MMI interface.

Seven gears are on hand through an S tronic double-clutch gearbox, which in manual mode works brilliantly thanks to paddles that are attached to the steering wheel rather than the column, allowing you to change gears mid-corner if you need to. Downshifts are instant, accompanied by a cacophony of only mildly damped bangs and pops from the exhaust. Under light acceleration upshifts are a sedate affair, but put your foot down and they’re speeding bullet fast. In Comfort and Auto driving modes revs are kept to a minimum to help save fuel, but the ‘box is never short of silky smooth.

Materials quality is outstanding as you’d expect, with fine leather everywhere it needs to be and a smattering of textured and tasteful plastics. A couple of the test cars did have a squeaky release button on the gear selector, but that’s nothing a bit of WD-40 couldn’t cure.

Among the glut of options the chassis upgrades are the ones to go for. The standard seats are more comfortable and not really any less supporting in practice than the optional sports ones. The brakes upgrade, six-piston callipers at the front mated to carbon ceramic discs as opposed to eight-piston callipers and steel ‘wave’ design discs as standard, does deliver more immediate bite but the standard ones are as powerful as you’d ever need unless you spend a lot of time at track days.

There really isn’t a lot to criticise with the RS 5. Okay, the glove box isn’t very big but who cares? It’s stunning to look at, a revelation to drive and more comfortable that most family hatchbacks. If this car is on your shortlist, make sure you drive it.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Audi RS 5 Cabriolet, from £68,960 on the road (£TBC as tested).Engine: 4.2-litre petrol V8 producing 444bhp and 317lb.ft.Transmission: 7-speed S tronic double-clutch automatic driving all four wheels.Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited, can be raised), 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds.Fuel economy: 25.9mpg.CO2 emissions: 254g/km.

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