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2010 Audi S5 Cabriolet: Heavy head turner with a hefty price

Posted by Bill Griffith  September 15, 2010 06:04 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith for Boston.com)

I'm sitting at the keyboard, waiting for the words to start flowing. And waiting…

The admonition "Don't say anything unless you can say something nice" comes to mind, but that's not quite right because there are plenty of nice things to say about today's test car, the 2010 Audi S5 Quattro Cabriolet.

In fact, "no expense was spared" and "the best of everything" also come to mind. So what's the problem, Griff? 

Well. Let's rate the car step by step, giving a grade of 1 to 5 for each category, and see where that takes us.

Engine: Our convertible S5 is powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 that produces 333 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft of torque. It fits my preference for smaller engines that are built for performance and economy. The S5's V-6 compares favorably with the 4.2-liter V-8 that's available in the S5 coupe, which offers 354 horsepower and the same 325 lb.-ft. of twist. The V-6 gets all 5 of my mythical points.

The S5 has the best of everything, but isn’t the best of everything.

Transmission:  The 7-speed S-Tronic with paddle shifters is about two speeds too many for me. I know the theory is to have close ratios at lower speeds for performance and overdrive ratios at the top end for economy. But it's just too busy with the choreographed sound that gives a blip-blip-blip exhaust note at each shift, and they come fast. The tranny only gets 3 points.

Quattro all-wheel-drive system:  Audi's latest system is refined, sending 40 percent of the power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear. Out test car also had an optional "sports rear differential" that further adjusts power output between the rear wheels (think Positraction). However, does one need all-wheel-drive along with its added weight on a convertible?  A place it might be handy is in California where you can drive from the beach to the ski slopes in a few hours and get some surprise snow. The rear differential salvages a mere 2 points in this category.

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Styling:  5 points. The pictures (inside & out) say it all. Even on my most curmudgeonly day, I'd give this car an admiring glance. From the LED running lights to the LED tail lights, it's a head-turning vehicle.

Interior quality:  Wonderful materials, nice instrument layout, user-friendly navigation system (though Audi calls it an MMI "multimedia interface"), and comfortable seats. 4.5 points.

Interior space:  Front-row passengers will find abundant room, though the driving position is quite low. That was OK for me because I have a long torso, but shorter drivers will be moving the seat as high as it can be adjusted. Rear-seat passengers?  I can't imagine any. I generally test rear-seat comfort when I get in back to take photos of the instrument panel.

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In this case, there was no way so I wound up sitting on the convertible top cover with my feet on the seats. There are rear-seat climate controls (certainly a place to cut some costs). I think even a three-year-old in a car seat would be kicking the back of the front seats. Why pretend the rear seats are usable space? If this were "The Gong Show," I'd be reaching for the hammer. 5 points for the front minus 2 for the rear for 3 points.

Convertible top: An engineering marvel. It goes down (or up) in 15 seconds, a maneuver that can be accomplished at up to 30 mph, something we didn't try. The top is three-layered, weather-proof, insulated, and has a glass rear window. It saves weight over a hardtop convertible and stashes so completely there truly is decent-sized trunk space. 5 points and a tip of the hat to the engineers.

Price: The MSRP is $58,250, plus $825 destination for a pricey luxury-performance convertible. The Prestige option ($5,700) adds a terrific Bang & Olufsen sound system, advanced keyless operation, navigation, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, and seat/mirror memory. Audi Drive ($3,950) adds the sports rear differential and adaptive suspension & steering settings. A Driver Assist package ($900) gives you blind-spot warnings, backup camera, and rear sensors. That totals a mere $69,625. My feeling is that if you want to go cruising in style, the A5 (starting at $42,000) could be nicely outfitted for under $50,000 and give you plenty of pleasure with a bit less performance. No points here.

My point: Marvelous car but the sum is less than the total of the points. I prefer it when it's the other way around.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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