The Audi S5 Cabriolet is not a new car. Oh, the one I drove is new in the sense that it's a 2015 model, and the one I drove had fewer than 1,000 miles on it, but it's not really a new car.
The current S5, like the A5 and A4 sedan it is based on, is getting old. It's had plenty of updates along the way, sure, but it's still a car that's been on the market since 2007.
Does that mean it's a bad car? No, not at all. It looks quite lovely inside and out. It's quick and handles quite well. But it costs, as tested here, nearly $70,000. And I think that's a bit of a problem.
(Full disclosure: Audi needed me to drive an S5 Cabriolet so badly they dropped one off at my house with a full tank of gas. I had the top down quite a bit because Austin is really nice this time of year. Sorry this one isn't more interesting.)
The S5 Cabrio was kind of an early example of the engine downsizing that's so common today. The old S4 sedan and convertible — as well as the first S5s — had a beefy naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8. But then the S5 went with a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 that puts out 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. They call it a "V6T", because you can't spell supercharged without a T. Huh?
Anyway, beyond that, it's typical Audi stuff. Seven-speed S tronic DSG, quattro all-wheel drive, a nice interior, an attractive outside, and premium luxury with slightly less baggage attached to it than a comparable BMW or Mercedes, somehow.
But when I drove this car, I was kind of dogged by all the stuff I didn't get. The blank buttons. The lack of visceral power I was expecting from an Audi with an "S" badge.
It's a lot to ask at $68,025. Maybe too much.
Exterior - 8/10
The true measure of any convertible's design is how it looks with the top up, as well as down. And the S5 Cabriolet looks great no matter the top configuration. It sports a sleek, clean, understated design that looks great from every angle. Highlights for me include the curvature of the hood and the front wheel arches and the subtle rear lip spoiler.
Does the hardtop coupe S5 look better? Maybe, but no one can ever say the convertible is ugly.
Interior - 7/10
On the inside, it's a little too plastic-y, and a bit boring, but it works. It feels premium enough and is kind of minimalist in a way. The small, flat-bottomed steering wheel is a delight to use. The Volkswagen Group's steering wheels seldom disappoint. The seats are comfortable, nicely bolstered, and most switches are easy to figure out.
Normally I'm a fan of red leather interiors, but the "Magma Red" accents on this car were a bit much for me. I don't think they suit the character of the car that much. The RS5, maybe, but not this.
Acceleration - 7/10
Audi says the S5 will do zero to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. That's respectable. Unfortunately, I just wasn't terribly impressed here. Maybe I'm spoiled from the last supercharged 3.0-liter V6 I drove, the one in the Jaguar F-Type Coupe S, which takes you on a trip to crazytown every time you drive it.
It's quick, but it never feels like a truly fast car; you always have to push it, not hold it back. It never feels eager to be a performance engine. When I got on it, I always felt like I was asking it a big favor, if it could try to be fast for me if it wasn't busy, thanks so much.
Only when the transmission is in "sport" mode and the drive mode is set to "dynamic" (I know) is the S5 even remotely engaging to drive quickly. I guess Audi really wants you to pony up for the RS5 if you want true speed.
Braking - 7/10
No complaints here. The brakes are big and strong and pedal feel reflects that. Fade was not something I encountered on a few spirited country drives. I'm sure the RS5 does them better, but I don't think you need that here.
Ride - 7/10
The S5 is pretty good in the ride department. It errs on the side of sporting, so it's not a Bentley or anything, but it doesn't beat you up too badly either. I've heard the RS5 is kind of brutal in this regard, so it's good to see the S5 come out as the more livable of the two.
Handling - 8/10
Okay, this was one area where I was genuinely impressed. The S5 is a pretty superb handler. Sixty percent of the power goes to the rear wheels, so it has a nice dynamic (I'm using the word correctly there!) in the corners. Body roll is pretty minimal overall.
These days the S5 uses an electric steering rack, and it's quite good. Granted, it's a bit artificial in terms of feedback, but it's so plugged into the car, so direct-feeling, that it's very hard to argue with.
For a 15-foot car that weighs a whopping 4,310 pounds, the S5 feels much smaller and much lighter than it is. It's shockingly nimble and agile, like a scalpel on the road.
Gearbox - 8/10
Unlike the coupe, a seven-speed DSG is the only transmission you can get on the S5 Cabriolet. Normally, I don't mind that so much, because the DSG is fantastic; there aren't many paddle-shift gearboxes better than this anywhere. But I do feel like the inclusion of a true manual would help give the S5 some of the liveliness it needs.
Otherwise, it's a damn good gearbox. Crazy fast shifts up and down, smoothness around town. Except in that last regard, it didn't feel quite as good as the six-speed DSG I experienced in the 2015 Audi S3. I felt a little more of that "Give it gas before it moves" quality on the S5.
Come to think of it, the S3 was a lot more fun to drive in most respects. Odd.
Toys - 6/10
Hey Audi, how much more do I need to pay on the S5 to get all the buttons? Can't you just use... fewer buttons? I dunno.
Aside from all the missing stuff, there's all the things you expect on a fancy German cruiser. Lane departure warnings, backup camera, heated seats and automatic climate control, etc.
The top couldn't be easier to use — just hold down the button and it's gone in a few seconds. No drama there whatsoever, just good, open top driving when you want it.
The MMI infotainment system is pretty good, though dialing in addresses with the knob can be a pain. I'm looking forward to the day when the screen can disappear into the dash like the S3's can.
No Bluetooth streaming audio on this $70,000 car, either. That's annoying. (Update: As a few of you pointed out, this car most likely did have Bluetooth streaming audio, you just have to turn it on manually in telephone settings. I didn't know that, and I'll add that it's needlessly overcomplicated.)
Audio - 6/10
In keeping with the S5's "kind of a performance car but not really that hardcore" image, the engine has a nice growl, but it's a bit anonymous. The exhaust gives off a satisfying pop as you work your way through the gears, but it's a bit underwhelming. They must really want you to buy the RS5 instead!
This tester had a Bang & Olufsen sound system. It's just okay. Nothing too impressive. It's an $850 option.
Value - 4/10
I know I've spent much of this review griping about this car's price, but it really kills it for me. The Audi S5 Cabriolet starts at $60,900, an $8,000 premium over the S5 Coupe. With the $2,900 technology package, the $1,100 "layered aluminum inlays," the sound system, the 19-inch wheels and the $550 fancy gray paint, mine hit close to $70,000.
The S5 Cabriolet is a good car. Maybe not a great car, but a good one. But I can't justify spending this much money on a car that's so decidedly meh in the performance department.
Remember, $70,000 will get you an RS5 Coupe or a BMW M4 Convertible (Good luck getting the latter at that price though) or an F-Type or a Porsche Boxster or a Corvette Stingray. I can think of so many other cars at this price that are more satisfying to drive than the S5 is.
If you like the S5 this much, stick to the coupe; it starts at a much more reasonable $52,500. Or get a CPO used one. It's certainly been around long enough now.
Engine: 3.0-liter supercharged V6
Power: 333 HP at 5500 RPM/ 325 LB-FT at 2900 RPM
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic with paddle shifters
0-60 Time: 5.3 seconds
Top Speed: Not listed
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 4,310 Pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 17 city/26 highway/20 combined
MSRP: $68,025 as tested