Here on the The National Motoring desk, we like to test the cars properly. When I tested a big white VW van, for example, I didn't just drive it to the mall and back. I took it on a four-emirate jaunt, got caught in the rain and a shamal, and used it to move a fridge. A hulking great Kia Mohave, meanwhile, had all back seats folded down flat so a friend and I could fill it with furnishings for our apartments. I recklessly took a Mercedes G-Wagen over the rocky terrain of a US Army rifle range on an island off the coast of Oman. In 2008, a huge black Audi A8 passed the impress-the-parents-at-the-airport test as well as the enough-boot-space-for-Mum's-coffin-sized-suitcase test. And speaking of Audis, the latest to be subjected to the Motoring desk's rigorous testing was the 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet. It is a rare sporty convertible in that it has a reasonably generous back seat, and I was eager to find out if it could accommodate two adults in the back in comfort. Just as well then that my friends Charlie and Russell were in town. They are both reasonably tall and it was the first time in the UAE for both of them, so what better way to test out the comfort levels of the back seat, as well as the car's capabilities, than on a drive from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain with the tourist drive up the winding road of Jebel Hafeet. The black body with a deep red roof impressed my guests, with Charlie commenting on the classy minimalist exterior design. He was dead right. There is not a hint of extra tizz, fuss or nonsense with the A5's clean lines. The red roof would have been too much if the car was festooned with pinstripes, silly hubcaps, superfluous metal or anything gold-plated. But against the simple black body and restrained hubcaps, it was just the right amount of flashiness. Once inside, Charlie was more impressed by the red leather seats than Russell, but both agreed there was plenty of legroom and just enough headroom for the tops of their heads to not graze the ceiling. Like any two-door, there was some body contorting required to get in and out, but once my back-seat drivers were safely strapped in, it was a merry trip to Jebel Hafeet. We noted, with amusement, the arm that pokes out from behind the front seats when the engine is started to offer the driver and passenger their seatbelts. It is a cheeky way to try and ensure the front seat passengers belt up as it is hard to ignore. At the foot of the mountain, we put the roof down to enjoy the perfect weather. It was on Jebel Hafeet that the A5 proved itself to be a driver's car. The car is equipped with an eight-speed sequential manual gearbox, which might seem like an absurd indulgence, but is amazingly versatile. Using the gearbox in manual mode up and down Jebel Hafeet was a tremendously engaging experience. On the way down, I hardly needed to touch the brakes as I used the gears to control the speed. You can manually change gears using either the gear selector or paddle shifters. I preferred the gear selector but those blessed with larger hands than mine might prefer the paddles.
It is an automatic with a manual mode that lets the driver take charge rather than making annoying suggestions as to what gear you should be in, as per other quasi-manual systems. In the automatic mode, it'll hit eighth gear at around 120kph. That's just silly. Knock it into the manual mode and you'll have a lot of fun at high speeds, with some lovely sounds coming from the engine as you shift up and down, engine-braking as you approach speed cameras or when you want to avoid rear-ending a plodder in the overtaking lane.
There's also a sports mode that gives you an extra boost on the motorways but frankly, it's far more fun to start the overtaking move in sixth or seventh gear and rip it up to top gear as you fly past. It has the hot-hatch fun factor, but with a bit more luxury.
From the driver's seat, you also have a comfortable, supportive, multi-adjustable seat and a centre console control system that makes it pretty easy to control the music, temperature and operate Bluetooth without taking too much attention away from the road. Once we had been up Jebel Hafeet, taken the tourist photos and enjoyed an al fresco lunch at the Mercure Grand, we made our way back to Abu Dhabi, with the roof still down. Our back-seat passengers said their ears started to pop once I hit about 110kph, so I pulled over and closed the roof for the drive back to the capital. When I reluctantly returned the car to Audi head office, I again dropped the roof for one last burst of sunny driving among the cut and thrust of Dubai traffic. As I drove through the tunnel on my way to the Airport Free Zone, I turned up the radio. It was Diana Ross singing Chain Reaction - so I wasn't going to win any cool points - but I could hear both songs clearly with the top down.
The only real negative, apart from the inevitable loss of some boot space, which is always a trade-off with a convertible, was the headliner. The car is, inside and out, a triumph of subtle yet sexy design, but I have no idea what possessed Audi to cover the ceiling in a dull white fabric vented with little holes. It looked like it was made from an old man's underwear. The holey fabric would have worked much better in black. But that style misstep aside, the A5 Cabriolet is a true joy to drive. email@example.com