Hearing all eight cylinders of the 2014 Audi RS5 Cabriolet erupt in a choreographed mechanical symphony, I am amazed at the sound. We live in a golden age for performance but, with tightening fuel economy regulations, brands that don’t have truck lineups to borrow mpgs from will eventually draw down on the availability of V8, V10, and V12 engines. Thus, the RS4 is a perfect intersection in the history of automotive trends—fitted with the latest in-car technology and propelled by an engine that will one day be spoken of as merely mechanical lore.
The RS5 sits atop Audi’s coupe lineup, above the 4-cylinder A5 and the supercharged, V6-powered S5. All are attractive executive coupes, but the RS5 separates itself from the rest of the lineup with available 20-inch, 5-spoke wheels, flared fenders, a massive front grille, lower air intakes, and silver front and rear valences.
We drove the convertible model, but deciding between the drop-top and the coupe presents a challenge. The RS5 Cabriolet can drop its top in a mere 17 seconds, and can do so at speeds up to 31 mph, making for a perfect performance convertible. But the lines of the coupe appear to be far more muscular. The A5/S5/RS5 coupe is the only modern car to boast the coke-bottle body style made famous by cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac GTO Judge. It is this painfully seductive silhouette that makes deciding between the coupe and convertible so difficult; do you want the curves or the sun? It’s up to you.
Thankfully, such decisions are not necessary inside the RS5; all models are fitted with an interior that is one of the most refined and easy to use on the market. The starter button and volume control both sit right where the driver’s right hand would rest, and Audi’s Multimedia Interface, or MMI, combines several vehicle functions in one simple menu layout.
Rear seats are fine for small children, but adults would be better suited following in a separate vehicle. If only used for tossing a gym bag into, the seats provide quick access, via a handle on the side. Additionally, when entering the RS5, the seatbelt holster automatically extends from behind your shoulder, so you are not turning to reach for it. When you buckle up, the holster then retracts.
But these various frills are mere garnishes and side dishes to the T-bone steak of the 4.2-liter V8 under the hood of the RS5. There have been V8 engines with a displacement of 4.2-liters in Audis of the past, but this one is unique. It is actually a derivative of the 5.2-liter V10 from the R8 V10, but with two cylinders removed.
The result is a high-revving, precision, eight-cylinder unit that produces 450 horsepower at a blistering 8,250 rpm. For those keeping score at home, that’s double the peak rpm of some truck-based V8s. As a result, you are only feeding the RS5 with premium.
Power is routed through a 7-speed, S Tronic, dual clutch gearbox, which can be operated via a tap-shift function on the shift knob, or via steering wheel-mounted paddles. When in Drive, the RS5 feels somewhat subdued, but pull back once on the shifter and Sport driving mode is selected. Sport raises shift points and quickens throttle response. All of this is great for straight-line performance, but if you’d like to tighten up handling, you’ll need to dig into the car’s Vehicle Dynamics settings, which are selectable by pressing “CAR’’ in the center console. It will bring up Comfort, Automatic, Dynamic, or Individual settings. Dynamic firms up the steering response and tightens the car’s handling, allowing you to explore just how much the RS5 defies the laws of physics when executing a turn.
If you were to open the hood of the RS5 and stand beside it, you’d notice two things. One, the engine is actually visible, which is unheard of in an age when most automakers try to shield owners from actually seeing the mechanical bits. When you want to show off your new V8 muscle car, you want to open the hood and see all of its high-powered glory, not plastic cladding.
Second, the engine hangs way off the front of the car. Ideally, you want all the heavy parts of a sports car within the four wheels. Instead, the front overhang of the V8 should cause the RS5 to under steer. Audi has brushed off Sir Isaac Newton with the Quattro all-wheel-drive system and two fascinating engineering tricks.
One trick is the active rear differential, which can send power to each rear wheel individually. The second is the stability control, which applies braking to the inside wheels of the turn, effectively pulling the car into the turn. So when you are taking a high-speed off-ramp to the right, the traction control applies the brakes on the right wheels while the differential sends a little extra power to the left. The result is a car that does in practice what it should by all rights not be able to do on paper.
So what does that mean for an RS5 Cabriolet driver? Not much, at least not much that they have to worry about. The V8 takes care of the straight line dominance, Quattro handles the turns. All you have to do is put the top down, lay on the accelerator, and try to hold onto your hat.
2014 Audi RS5 Cabriolet
Price: $77,900. As tested: $90,200. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 16/22 (18 combined). Fuel economy, Globe observed: 17.6 mpg. 4.2L V8, 7-speed S Tronic dual-clutch, all-wheel drive. Body: Four-passenger, two-door, convertible.
Horsepower: 450. Overall length: 183.0 in. Wheelbase: 180.3 in. Height: 54.2 in. Width: 79.5 in. Curb weight: 4,420 lbs.
Neck-snapping acceleration, head-turning looks.
Scant rear seating space. Basic A/C and radio controls more difficult than should be to access.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Power and refinement, like a windmill kick in a tuxedo.
BMW M6 Convertible, Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet, Jaguar XK Convertible.