Road Test: 2012 Audi A5 is well built, if unspectacular

Though far from perfect, Kevin Hackett finds the new Audi A5 to be well equipped.

The Audi A5 is a canvas-roofed convertible that comes with a four-wheel-drive powertrain. Sammy Dallal / The National
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Detractors of convertible cars (and there are many of them) often point out that the looks of a model are usually ruined when the roof is removed. In the pursuit of open-air motoring, they argue, along with the original lines of a car vanishing, the structural integrity of it suffers because the metal roof plays a vital role in keeping everything nice and tight. They also point out that the extra metalwork that goes into a convertible in order to claw back some of that stiffness ups the weight and dents performance. And as much as I love driving with the roof down, I have to admit that a lot of the time they're absolutely right. You need only experience an Alfa Romeo Spider for five minutes to see and feel what they're talking about.

Yet manufacturers are constantly finding ways around these problems and today's drop tops are better than they've ever been. They're strong, safe, fast and refined even at speed with the roof down. So is there still a compelling argument for buying a tin-topped coupé instead of its convertible counterpart these days? It depends, of course, on what company and what model we're talking about because, to my eyes at least, Audi's A5 is one of the best-looking cars in production, and I'm finding it rather difficult to fall for the cabrio like I did the original coupé. It's not a bad car, don't get me wrong. In fact it's a positively brilliant car in so many respects, but without that metal roof it's just not the same.

Having driven a previous iteration of the A5 Cabriolet whilst in the UK, and been properly disappointed at how badly it rode over British roads and how wooly the steering was, my hopes weren't exactly high for the mid-life refresh model we have here. Grip was never a problem and neither was the range of engines available. Those strengths remain but the improvements over the outgoing model are significant - it's just that they're subtle, under-the-skin refinements. And it doesn't take more than a few kilometers for me to realise that the steering has come in for some attention.

It's an electromechanical setup, controlled by a microprocessor and, depending on which of the various driving modes you choose, the steering wheel feels more or less weighty and heaps more communicative. From the fingertip ease of maneuvering into a tight parking spot, to the macho stiffness felt through the wheel when cornering hard, it's a massive improvement.

My A5 has the 3.0L, 272hp V6 engine under its bonnet and it's as smooth as pouring warm honey. With 400Nm of torque, mid-range punch is plentiful but you really have to stomp on the gas to make it feel properly quick. Once you've achieved kickdown, the cab really shifts and it's only then you can enjoy any of that V6's aural delights. Sometimes I think it's just too refined for its own good, this car.

The full-time four-wheel-drive powertrain is mated to a seven-speed S-tronic gearbox, which seems perfectly suited to the driving style most will display when behind its lovely thick wheel. It's a cruiser, the A5 Cabriolet, not a sports car. With the summer heat making top-down motoring a bit of an irrelevant nonsense in the UAE at the moment, I nevertheless thought it would be stupid to drive my A5 everywhere with the canvas roof in situ. So down it comes.

Those stunning lines and creases displayed by the coupe are, indeed, sullied by Audi's insistence on fitting a canvas hood as opposed to a folding metal item. But it still looks incredibly desirable, especially with this version's S Line exterior appointments, which include some beefy, dark painted alloy wheels.

Unfortunately, the A5 Cabrio's ride isn't as refined as its carefully honed image. The sports suspension is unreasonably, pointlessly stiff and, with the first encounter of uneven Dubai tarmac, I feel the chassis flexing left and right. To the uninitiated it might not even be noticeable, but it's definitely there and, as much as I hate to say it, it's this sort of failing that gives so much ammunition to those convertible detractors.

It isn't the woeful state that the Alfa Spider is but it's not very Audi, either. There's a fair bit of buffeting when the roof is down and, in midday temperatures that means a furnace blast in your face, as well as a fair bit of dust and sand coating the sombre black leather interior.

So it's a mixed bag, this car. It's good looking, well built, well equipped, has improved steering and is still desirable. But it does have some serious flaws and these need to be addressed when the A5 as a whole is replaced. Vorsprung durch technik (progress through technology) - Audi's tagline for decades - isn't readily apparent but the company does have a habit of knocking our socks off when we least expect it. I live in hope.

Base price / as tested Dh238,000 / Dh259,300

Engine 3.0L turbo V6

Gearbox Seven-speed automatic with paddle shift

Power 272hp @ 4,780rpm

Torque 400Nm @ 2,150rpm

Fuel economy 8.5L/100km