Red is the color of blood, the color of rubies. It’s an evocative color commonly associated with danger, fire, and anger. In China, however, red is associated with happiness. Perfectly, then, my Audi RS 5 Cabriolet has been slathered in a lustrous red paint.
I honestly didn’t expect the RS 5 Cabriolet to enrapture my heart.
The Audi RS 5 is a strikingly handsome car. Its bespoke body is extremely confident looking with its flared fenders and honeycomb, single-frame grille. It’s self-assured without being boorish or overly showy. At first glance, you can tell the RS 5 means business, but you never feel like it’s making up for something. It can never be accused of showing off. At least not when it’s at rest.
Although striking in an understated way, the subdued bodylines of the RS 5 Cabrio lulled me into a false sense of dormancy. When I climbed into the clean, carbon fiber-adorned cabin, I hadn’t expected to be wowed – even with the iconic moniker on the rear deck lid.
I knew it would be quick. I knew it would sound ferocious. But I honestly didn’t expect the RS 5 Cabriolet to enrapture my heart.
Out of the box
I open the door and plop down into the supple leather sports seats of the RS 5. I push the ignition button on the center stack to fire the 4.2-liter normally aspirated V8. It comes to life in a quick rumble but nothing earth shattering or frightening. Then, with the whir of an electric motor, the seat belts are offered forth to both the driver and front passenger, as an arm pushes the belt forward from where the B pillar would be – just as they are in a Bentley.
Once the belts are fastened, the true fun begins. I slide the seven-speed S tronic transmission down into drive. Pull down once again down for Sport, and the RS 5 transforms from a subdued German convertible into an aggressive, vengeful beast bent on reshaping everything I thought I knew about drop-top motoring.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about what it’s like to roll your right foot into the throttle of the RS 5 and I think I’ve sorted it. Think back to the most physically fluid moment of your life: Perhaps on the starting line for the 1,000 meters race in college. Hunkered down in takeoff mode, your heart races, and adrenaline pumps through your veins like ice water.
The gun goes off, and with a burst of hot air and primordial precision you take off. You move as hard and as fast as you can. The wind rips through your hair. Your heart beat rings in your ears. Everything around you becomes a blur. In that moment nothing else is happening in the world. You are one with the tarmac, moving forward for the sake of moving – as fast as you can.
The Audi RS 5 Cabriolet is able to bring out something inside that is more primeval than other cars.
That is driving the RS 5 Cabriolet.
The Audi RS 5 Cabriolet is able to bring out something inside that is more primeval than other cars. Amazingly, though, there’s nothing primitive about the car. It’s a work of modern engineering mastery.
Let’s look at how.
First off, the heart of the thing: a 4.2-liter V8 producing 450 horsepower and 316 pound-feet of torque. Yes, the 4.2 might have origins that reach back to 1991, but it’s been updated time and time again. It is very much a modern V8. In fact, Audi claims it has more in common with the V10 mounted underneath the bodywork of the R8 than previous Audi 4.2 V8s.
If you didn’t know that the high-revving V8 shared design characteristics with a V10, you’d know it from the exhaust note. With the optional Sport exhaust system fitted to the RS 5, the car burbles and crackles on downshifts and screams a throaty V8 anthem at full throttle.
The V8 is also surprisingly miserly on fuel consumption, by comparison. It averages 18 mpg, which means unlike other German V8 performance coupes and convertibles; it’s not slapped with the Gas Guzzler tax.
To the RS 5’s V8, Audi has mated a seven-speed S tronic transmission. Drivers can leave the gearbox in full auto mode, or go manual with paddle shifters mounted behind the flat-bottom steering wheel. You might bemoan the loss of the manual – but don’t. You’ll be glad you can downshift as you head into a corner at 90 mph with both hands firmly gripping the perforated-leather steering wheel.
From the S tronic, power is routed to all four wheels through Audi’s quattro permanent all-wheel drive system, complete with a center locking differential and torque vectoring. Unlike regular Audi quattro models, however, the RS 5 is fitted with sport diff, which actively distributes power between the rear wheels.
When the RS 5 is optioned with adaptive cruise control, that means it can negate lift off over steer, when in Comfort mode. Shift into Dynamic, however, and you’re on your own.
What’s most brilliant about all this tech is that it hides quietly under the bright-red bodywork. All you need to do is put your foot to the floor; it’ll do the rest. The Cabriolet will achieve 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds (4.5 seconds in the coupe), then sail onto an electronically limited top speed of 174 mph.
Stopping is just as good – if not better – than the going. Huge drilled and vented discs sit at all four corners, and ceramics are optional for the front. Look closely and you might recognize the waved rotors, which look surprisingly similar to the brake rotors used by one of Audi’s latest acquisitions, Ducati.
Once I got the hang of Auto mode, I pulled over and played with the Audi drive-select system, which offers four modes: Comfort, Auto, Individual, and Dynamic.
These different settings affect transmission shift characteristics, the weight and responsiveness of the dynamic steering, and the fortitude of the sport differential. I personally preferred Dynamic mode but found few qualms with Comfort for daily driving.
In the past, reviewers have derided Audi RS offerings for their propensity for under steer. While I did find a touch of under steer in sudden, sharp corners, I found torque vectoring virtually wiped away all under-steer woes. Look where you want to go, turn the wheel, and keep the foot planted. Let the computers and hardware do the work.
Intriguingly, the electronic power steering of the RS 5 can be operated in either locked or variable steering ratio. In dynamic mode, the computers tie the steering wheel to the steering gear, giving an old-school steering performance. In Auto or Comfort, the steering ratio is variable, allowing for easier use.
While we’re on the topic of steering, though, I will say it’s the one place where the RS 5 Cabriolet left me wanting. The electric power steering has no real feel. It does a fine job but it doesn’t give you the jittery feedback of the hydraulic steering on previous Audi RS models. Don’t get me wrong, though, the desensitized steering wouldn’t keep me from signing on the dotted line.
And now we get to the spot where I feel most driving enthusiasts have been patiently waiting for. Is the RS 5 Cabriolet better than the BMW M3 Convertible? Yes. Although it will do 0-60 in virtually dead-on the same time as the RS 5 Cabrio, the M3 only has 295 pound-feet of torque. And you can really feel that deficit during full-throttle cornering.
The M3 is impressive, yes – and in some ways it’s better than the RS 5. Throw me the keys to both, though, and I’ll choose the Audi every time. Not only do I feel more in tune with the RS 5, I feel it’s a bit more livable.
The RS 5 rides that thin line between being absolutely mental and being usable and calm. It never makes you worry you’ve sacrificed day-to-day sanity for the chance to go 174 mph at a moment’s notice.
So what does the RS 5 Cabriolet run? It starts at $77,900 but the one I tested had been spec’d out to just shy of $89,000. I won’t get into a value discussion because a car like this is worth whatever you’ll pay for it. Do you want a 400+ horsepower, all-wheel drive, four-seater convertible? Then this is a great one – and for the price one of the best.
- Muscular, subdued looks
- Uproarious exhaust note
- Precise dual-clutch transmission
- Tech savvy
Anesthetized power steering