Audi A5 Convertible — An award winning wind-in-the-hair ride

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We predict that soon you will see more and more manufacturers downsizing engines — including the makers of luxury vehicles — to help meet the upcoming fuel economy requirements. For instance, Mercedes has announced that the C-Class will again get a 4-cylinder engine.

Ford has developed and is starting to extensively use twin turbocharging technology allowing it to replace V-8 engines with V-6 powerplants and V-6 engines with 4-cylinder variants in its entire fleet including its high-end Lincoln products.

General Motors has just started selling a 4-cylinder version of the highly acclaimed 2010 Buick LaCrosse. And the new Regal will feature 4-cylinders as well.

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata and the Kia Optima will arrive this year minus a V-6 engine, a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder or a 4-cylinder turbo the only powerplant choices.

The goal here is to increase the average fleet mileage while squeezing more power out of smaller, but more fuel-efficient engines and the possibilities appear endless, but the industry is in the very early stages of reaching a high measure of efficiency while eliciting great gobs of performance from internal combustion engines.

Perhaps no luxury-car maker stands out more than Audi with its award-winning 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. It is the only engine now offered in the company’s best-selling A4, and for 2010 it becomes the base engine in the A5 coupe and all-new soft-top convertible.

 The engine is so good Audi discontinued the larger 3.2-liter V-6 previously available in the brand’s entry-level A3 5-door sedan for the 2.0-liter. And although it isn’t the class leader in horsepower the little turbo is still one of the sweetest and smoothest engines it its segment. In fact the engine was honored as one of Ward’s Automotive’s “10 Best Engines” for the fifth straight year.

In announcing the engine as a winner once again, Ward’s noted: “Seat time is all that is necessary to appreciate our infatuation with this magnificent example of German engineering. It oozes with practical, yet elegant, technology, including the optimized variable turbocharger that debuted last year, along with Audi’s new valve-lift system….”

If you are a “performance enthusiast” you may be saying, forget it, there’s just no place for a 4-banger in a luxury car. Nonsense, before you make this statement, we advise a test drive in the A5. Your mind might be changed. The engine in our view is the perfect mix of sports-car feel and luxury-car sensibility.

By the numbers the engine makes 211 horsepower and a whopping 258 pound-feet of torque that peaks at 1,500 rpm and holds steady all the way to 4,000 rpm. Using our seat-of-the-pants “expertise” and after scouring various magazines and on-line sites, we have determined a 0-to-60 time of around 7.0 seconds and a quarter-mile time of about 15 seconds for the front-drive convertible, which comes mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Perhaps the icing on the cake — in front-wheel drive the A5 convertible is rated at 23 mpg in city driving and 30 highway with a combined rating of 26 mpg on premium fuel. Opt for quattro (all-wheel drive) — which comes with a standard six-speed automatic — and the mileage is still a reasonably respectable 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

For the power hungry — who may not be so power hungry when gas prices inevitably work its way back up in the future — Audi offers two options. The company’s very good 3.2-liter V-6 making 265 horsepower is available. Gas mileage is 18/27 with a combined 21. Also available is the S5 Cabriolet with a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 churning out 333 horsepower. Gas mileage isn’t bad considering the horsepower at 17/26, but be aware of the $59,000 base price.

Forget the cutting-edge performance. We could live quite nicely with the delightful new A5 2.0-liter droptop. It’s one of the most comfortable open-air machines we’ve driven in recent times with good road manners and very adequate performance as noted above.

While the A5 acquitted itself nicely in our seven days behind the wheel, we must note that it is not a road carver in the likeness of a BMW 335i. The ride and handling are turned more for comfort and cruising.

Beyond that, the A5 comes with a stunning interior. Audi’s reputation for high-quality and impeccable fit and finish is enhanced with the new cabriolet. Surfaces have a low-gloss luster, and the cockpit shows the company’s mastery of mixing plastic, leather, and wood in the right proportions.

The A5 can be purchased with extremely comfortable sports seats, reminding us of some Saabs of the long-ago past. The $2,400 Comfort Package in out test vehicle added the ventilated and heated seats, upholstered in stunning milano “Cinnamon Brown” leather. The package also includes head-level heating elements built into the front seats for cold-weather top-down driving.

Audi is bound to encounter criticism for continuing with a soft top when most luxury convertibles have gone to a retractable hard-top design. But the soft top saves weight and we found its triple-lined construction keeps the interior as quiet as a steel-top vehicle. And it will open — and close — in an amazing 15 seconds at speeds up to 30 mph.

Passenger space is an issue. Leg room is at a premium in back, but we found three can ride comfortably if the front passenger powers the seat up a bit over half way. Trunk space is a decent 11 cubic feet, and the rear seat folds flat for extra cargo space.

Safety includes antilock brakes, stability control, front airbags and driver and passenger seat-mounted head and thorax side airbags, and pop-up bars in case of a rollover.

Optional safety features include a lane-departure warning system, blind-spot warning, radar-based cruise control, adaptive headlamps and rear parking sensors. Opt for navigation, and a very useable backup camera is included.

The A5 2.0-liter cabriolet starts at $42,825 including destination. While standard equipment abounds, there are numerous attractive options that can run the price skyward.

Our test car with the aforementioned comfort package, a $3,500 premium package, and a $2,400 navigation package brought the bottom line to $51,525.

Base price on the quattro with the 6-speed auto is $44,925 including destination.

The new A5 is just what we would be looking for if shopping for a compact luxury convertible. And the 4-cylinder engine makes great sense with few compromises.
And one other thing — Kelly Blue Book has bestowed the A5 with the “Best Resale Value” award in the luxury car category.

Base price: $42,825; as driven, 51,525
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 211 @ 4,300 rpm
Torque: 258 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: continuously variable
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 182.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,880 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 11.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.2 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 30 mpg highway, 23 mpg city
0-60: 7.0 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Lexus IS 250C, Infiniti G37, Volvo C70

The Good:
• Great fuel economy
• Rich, well-fashioned interior
• A5 styling works well in convertible format

The Bad:
• No manual shifter for the convertible

The Ugly:
• A rear seat that only a puppy or a package can love