The 2018 Audi S5 Cabriolet feels light and balanced as its Quattro all-wheel-drive system digs into the pavement on a twisty mountain road. I glance down at the Virtual Cockpit display and see an upcoming hairpin turn on the map.
I can't figure out what I like better, the S5 Cabriolet's easy handling or its impressive technology.
Then I discover that the seats also include a massage function, perfect for long highway cruises, especially when accompanied by music playing over the 20-speaker Bang and Olufsen stereo.
So many things to like, but as Audi includes them all in the S5 Cabriolet, there's no need to make a choice.
Audi gives the S5 Cabriolet, a compact convertible four-seater, a major and much-needed update for the 2018 model year, improving power, removing weight and juicing up the cabin with its latest impressive suite of technology.
While still running a turbocharged 3-liter V6 engine, horsepower goes up to 354, 21 more than the previous generation, with torque at 369 pound-feet. That power hits all four wheels through an eight speed automatic transmission. Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system defaults to a 40/60 front/rear torque split, and can shift torque as needed or lock its center differential to ensure power.
Efficiency technologies, such as idle-stop, also lead to fuel economy gains over the previous generation. The new S5 Cabriolet comes in at 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, although I only averaged 21.9 mpg due to liberal use of the throttle. That's a 2- to 3-mpg gain over the older S5 Cabriolet.
Along with more power, the S5 Cabriolet receives a styling change similar to that given to other newer Audi models. To the untrained eye, it looks similar to the previous generation, but the grille takes on a more defined style, pushing out from the front of the car. Standard LED headlights deliver bright white coverage at night, while running lights give the car a unique expression.
Diamond-patterned seat stitching gives the interior a luxury look, and I particularly like the svelte design of the sport seats, which surely shaves overall weight. Finding the massage function for the seats while I drove was a pleasant surprise. Even better, I later find out that these seats come standard in the S5 Cabriolet. Although the car comes with two rows, it's a four-seater, with the rear only designed for two passengers.
The real showpiece in the S5 Cabriolet, one of Audi's recent big hits, is the Virtual Cockpit, which comes in the completely worthwhile $2,600 Navigation package. The system makes use of a large LCD in place of a traditional instrument cluster along with a center LCD on the dashboard. I could switch the instrument cluster display between a satellite-view map, large virtual gauges, audio, and trip information. It's a beautiful display and makes it easy to keep my eyes centered on the road.
Virtual Cockpit limits inputs to what I can do through voice or steering wheel-mounted thumb controls. The center screen, with its associated dial and switchgear on the console, lets me enter destinations manually or with a quick online search using the car's own 4G/LTE data connection. It also supports digging into the music collection on my connected iPhone or making hands-free phone calls.
The S5 Cabriolet leverages its data connection not only for online destination search, but also for real-time fuel prices and parking availability.
Audi also manages to build in support for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, despite the lack of a touchscreen. Using the console-mounted dial may not be optimal for this interface, but it works. And switching between Apple CarPlay and the S5 Cabriolet's built-in infotainment requires going through an extra couple of screens.
I'm disappointed this car doesn't have adaptive cruise control, a system which automatically matches speeds with slower traffic ahead. Audi makes this feature available in its $1,800 Driver Assist package. And unlike some competitors, you won't find a head-up display on the option list.
On the road, the sport seats offer comfortable bolstering and, as is typical with Audi's, the steering's light heft makes for easy turning. That feeling of lightness extends to the car itself, which belies its 4,211-pound curb weight. Piloting the S5 Cabriolet down city streets, it moves effortlessly, and I like the ride quality. Low profile tires on 19-inch rims leads to the occasional jolt, but potholes aside, it's smooth.
The powerful engine makes a delightful low thrum under acceleration, a subtle nod towards its sport-oriented nature. However, I notice a little turbo lag when hammering the throttle from a stop.
The S5 Cabriolet includes Audi's Drive Select system, which offers Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual drive modes. As the example I'm driving includes the S Sport package, which adds an adaptive suspension and torque vectoring rear differential, the Individual mode lets me choose five aspects of the car to adjust.
The real fun comes, of course, when I put the S5 Cabriolet in Dynamic mode on a twisty mountain highway. Some people prefer more weight in a steering wheel, but I like this car's point-and-shoot feel. The brake modulates smoothly when I start into a turn, and the steering wheel offers little resistance against my intentions.
Aim across the apex, and the car moves adroitly. Somewhere underneath me, the Quattro all-wheel-drive and torque vectoring enhance the grip and turnability, but all I feel is how light and easily the S5 Cabriolet dances through the turns.
At the same time, the eight speed transmission, shifted to Sport mode, keeps the engine speed up, making for ready power at the throttle. I find the S5 Cabriolet thoroughly enjoyable for a wild ride on a sunny day, its capability well-suited to public roads.
Audi enjoys a solid record of making cars that combine excellent sport performance and innovative in-cabin technologies, and the 2018 Audi S5 Cabriolet is no exception. However, it also commands a premium price, basing at $62,300. The host of options in the example I drove put the total at $70,625.
That said, there is little I would change about the option load-out in this car. The Navigation package, at $2,600, brings in the stellar Virtual Cockpit along with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, integrated into the Audi MMI Navigation system. The $2,500 S Sport package adds the adaptive suspension and torque vectoring, essential for performance driving. Even $950 for the enhanced Bang and Olufsen audio system, with its 20 speakers, seems like a bargain. Maybe drop the 19-inch wheel package and save $800.
For those who don't love a soft-top, such as myself, the S5 Coupe bases at $54,600, knocking eight grand off the top. And, of course, Audi offers the less powerful A5 model in both Cabriolet and Coupe formats, with the same cabin electronic options.