Few cars appeal to both logic and emotion in the manner of Audi's new RS 5 Cabriolet. With seating for four and the foul weather-taming capability of Quattro all-wheel-drive, the convertible represents a sensible daily driver, yet its 450-horsepower V8 and lust-inducing sheetmetal mean it looks and feels special on spirited weekend drives.
While many modern performance cars have adopted forced induction motors, the RS 5 Cabriolet makes use of a mellifluous naturally aspirated 4.2-liter that produces 450 horsepower and revs all the way up to a lofty 8,300 rpm. Torque is rated at 317 lb-ft, and shifting duties are handled by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fuel economy is rated at 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, and Audi quotes a 4.9-second zero-to-60 mph sprint.
Much of the car's alacrity can be attributed to its Quattro system, which features an advanced "crown gear" self-locking center differential that can vary the distribution of torque between the front and rear axles in less than the blink of an eye to suit driving conditions. The default 40:60 front/rear torque split provides a sporty, rear-wheel-drive-like feel, and the system can send up to 70 percent of engine power to the front wheels or 85 percent to the rear when needed.
The crown gear diff works in conjunction with a stability control system that can apply brake pressure to the inside wheels in turns to minimize understeer, which otherwise could be a defining dynamic trait given the car's 56:44 front/rear weight distribution. An available active rear differential can transfer power between the rear wheels to help achieve the same end.
The RS 5 Cabriolet rides on an aluminum-intensive suspension that is lowered 20mm in comparison to that of the A5 Cabriolet. An available dynamic damping system varies damping characteristics through diagonally opposed pairs of shock absorbers linked by hydraulic lines and a central valve.
Accelerator response, transmission shift points and steering effort can be tailored to suit the driver's fancy through Audi Drive Select, which offers a choice of Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes. With the optional navigation system, all of the aforementioned characteristics can be individually configured. An optional dynamic steering system works through Drive Select and uses a superposition gear to vary the steering ratio by nearly 100 percent as a function of speed. The system also countersteers slightly at the cornering limit.
Audi packs all of that technology under sheetmetal that combines elegance and aggression in equal measures. A unique front fascia with deep air intakes is framed by a sharp-edged hood, flared aluminum front fenders and a splitter. Out back, the RS 5 Cabriolet features the large, oval dual exhaust tips that have become a staple on the RS line. These exhaust tips are surrounded by a highly stylized lower rear fascia, complete with aerodynamic channels for added stability at high speeds. Audi also worked in an automated rear spoiler that deploys as the coupe reaches high speeds, and then retracts back into the decklid at lower velocities.
The interior is essentially the same as the stylish cockpit of the S5 Cabriolet, although it does offer a unique flat-bottom steering wheel, available sports seats and a choice of exclusive stainless-steel mesh, black piano or brushed aluminum inlays.
The RS 5 Cabriolet's top can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 31 mph, and a head-level heating system enables passengers to drive with the top down in less-than-ideal weather.
Standard and Optional Features
Standard features for the RS 5 Cabriolet include Nappa leather upholstery, heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, a 10-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with SiruisXM radio and full iPod integration, Bluetooth smartphone integration, a proximity key, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive Xenon headlights, LED running lamps, LED taillights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Five optional equipment packages are available.
The Audi MMI Navigation Plus Package includes a navigation system with voice command functionality, a 12-speaker, 505-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system, HD Radio, SiriusXM Traffic, Bluetooth streaming audio, Audi side assist and a rear parking camera. Also included is Audi Connect, which brings in-car internet connectivity and industry-first Google Earth integration - complete with panoramic views and high-resolution 3D satellite and aerial imagery.
The Driver Assistance Package includes Dynamic Steering (which varies the steering ratio based on speed), adaptive cruise control and Audi Side Assist (a blind-spot monitoring system).
The Black Optics Package brings body-color exterior mirror housings, 20-inch titanium-finish wheels and a black-optic exterior appearance - including a gloss black grille surround and matte black window trim.
The Matte Aluminum Package lets buyers spec the RS 5 Cabriolet's front spoiler lip and rear diffuser in Matte Aluminum trim.
The Comfort Package adds full perforated Milano leather upholstery, comfort-design heated and ventilated front seats and a head-level heating system.
For extra stopping power, carbon ceramic brakes are available as a stand-alone option.
All RS 5 Cabriolet models come standard with dual front, front side and front knee airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
As a high-performance convertible with all-wheel-drive and seating for four, the RS 5 Cabriolet doesn't quite have any true rivals; the BMW 650i xDrive Convertible possesses all of the aforementioned attributes, but is larger, softer and significantly more expensive than the Audi. Should buyers be willing to settle for rear-wheel-drive, there's also the BMW M3 Convertible, which is often regarded as one of the finest-handling drop-tops on the market, and the Mercedes-Benz E550 Convertible, which prioritizes luxury over sportiness.