The Audi A5 is a stunningly beautiful coupe with excellent power and performance. Unfortunately, the 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet is not that car. In an effort to please drop-top lovers, Audi cut the roof off of the A5 Coupe, an element that accounted for the majority of this model's looks. The cloth top taking its place has a humdrum style, merely filling the purpose of covering the occupants' heads.
In a further blow, the 3.2-liter V-6, still an option in the hard-top A5 Coupe, isn't available with the 2010 A5 Cabriolet. Instead, Audi uses a turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder. We appreciate the use of turbocharging to get performance out of a small engine, and we wanted to like the high-tech power plant in the A5 Cabriolet. But the engine lacked the kind of thrust needed to push past that big rig on the highway, or make good use of the car's advanced handling technology in the corners.
But as there are few really good-looking convertibles, the A5 Cabriolet's design comes about on par with its open-top compatriots. And while its small engine won't satisfy the speed demons, it is an economical choice. It doesn't hurt that the A5 Cabriolet, with its Quattro all-wheel-drive and suspension technology, digs into corners like a spoon-wielding kid with a gallon of ice cream. Then there's the cabin tech, the navigation system with the best-looking maps in the business, the Bang & Olufsen audio system, and the blind-spot detection system.
Audi refers to the cabin tech suite in the 2010 A5 Cabriolet as its third-generation multimedia interface (MMI). The basic premise of the system is unchanged from earlier generations; four buttons surround a dial, letting you select quadrant items on the car's LCD. For example, when looking at an audio screen, one of the quadrants will open up an audio source menu. There isn't a main onscreen menu interface, as there is in the BMW X5 M. You select different cabin tech functions, such as navigation, telephone, or audio, by pressing buttons on the console. The third-generation MMI adds a small joystick on top of the main dial, making it possible to maneuver crosshairs on the map.
A 40-gigabyte hard drive in the car stores navigation maps and includes space for music. Audi makes good use of this hard drive, loading it with the most graphically beautiful maps we've seen on a navigation system, with a stunning level of resolution made possible by the use of an Nvidia 3D graphics chip. These 3D maps show topographic features well, and delineate different areas, such as park, urban, and airports, with different colors. But more impressive is the city detail, with 3D representations of buildings. This level of detail shows up exceptionally well in San Francisco, and will appear to a greater or lesser degree in other urban areas.
The navigation system's route guidance also works very well, not only providing text-to-speech, but showing lane guidance for exits and junctions on freeways. The system shows traffic conditions, but in a more limited fashion than with other systems we've seen. It will dynamically calculate a route around the worst traffic jams, but won't show a list of nearby traffic incidents. And it does its rerouting automatically, without first prompting whether you actually want a traffic detour. We would prefer a little more information from the system.
Topographical details on the maps may seem extraneous, but they prove helpful when this car is doing what it does best, tearing through tight corners on mountain roads. Audi made its mark long ago with its Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and rather than resting on its laurels, Audi improved the system, adding new suspension and steering technology, resulting in the current Drive Select feature.
An optional feature, Drive Select lets you change the performance of the car from Comfort, Auto, and Dynamic modes at the touch of a button. These modes affect suspension stiffness, steering, throttle response, and transmission shift points. Dynamic mode tightens the electronic power steering ratio for quicker turn-in, raises the engine speed, and makes the transmission downshift aggressively.
Drive Select is very cool, but somewhat wasted on the A5 Cabriolet, as the engine doesn't provide the power to fully make use of it. On paper, the engine looks pretty good. A direct injected 2-liter four-cylinder with a turbocharger, it produces 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. But the power feels light, whether attempting a quick launch or hitting the gas in a turn. Turbo lag is part of the issue here, as is the car's weight, at just over 2 tons.