Fleet News

Audi A4 Cabriolet



The Audi Cabriolet has always been the car of choice for the London 'sloane' set and the new model looks set to follow in its footsteps.

IT has always been one of those little ironies of motoring life that the British love cabriolets.

I suppose it comes down to the fact you appreciate what you have not got.

We do not have much sun, so when it finally comes out, we like to make the most of it, unlike our foreign brethren who get so much they do their utmost to keep out of its way.

And the Audi Cabriolet has been one of the most successful soft-tops of all time in the UK since the version based on the Audi 80 was launched in 1991, not only for its ability to douse the occupants in precious rays of sunlight, but because it had class.

Since its introduction, Audi has sold 6,700 Cabriolets in the UK, making it one of the strongest markets in the world for the car.

The sloanes liked it, Princess Di liked it and the upmarket image rubbed off on the rest of population. It was stylish, understated - a word that now appears in every Audi car review - and solid.

The new A4 Cabriolet does not deviate from this winning combination. It looks like the lovechild of an A4 and a TT, two very handsome cars, and this Cabriolet is no less striking.

Getting one could be a problem though: the UK's allocation of 1,500 is already sold out for this year, although no doubt some will turn up in the Sunday paper classifieds through speculators.

Who buys this car makes interesting reading. Audi's research has found that a Cabriolet driver covers low annual mileage - about 8,000 miles on average - with only 20% company cars. This, of course, may shift upwards in the next couple of years with benefit-in-kind tax rules welcoming perk drivers back to company cars.

Most buyers have also had one or more Cabriolet before, are aged in their thirties, and are concerned with their image.

And before fleet managers baulk at the idea of running convertibles, it is worth thinking about what HSBC's marketing manager Kelvin Collins said in a recent Fleet News contract hire panel feature.

He asked why fleets do not consider them when they command such massively higher residuals over the standard models.

The A4 is no different. CAP Monitor estimates a 2.4 Sport Cabriolet will be worth 46% of its price new, or £11,650, after three-years/60,000-miles.

A similarly-priced tin top A4 3.0 Quattro is worth a full 10 percentage points less after the same period.

The Cabriolet comes with two V6 petrol engines from launch: a 220bhp 3.0-litre and a 170bhp 2.4-litre.

Interestingly, both cars have the same combined fuel economy figure - 28.8mpg. The levels of CO2 are similar for both cars as well, although Audi quotes various figures, ranging from 229 to 235g/km, according to the weight of various options added.

As a guide, a 2.4 Sport, with a P11D price of £25,290 and 235g/km of CO2, will cost a 40% taxpayer £2,934 a year. The 3.0 Sport, at £28,090 and the same CO2 level, for the same driver, would cost £3,258, so the difference is not massive.

At the UK launch, Audi insiders confirmed the UK will get a diesel Cabriolet in the autumn, using the 155bhp 2.5-litre V6, which represents another major leap in the renaissance of the diesel engine.

We've seen diesel catch on in desirable luxury executives, appear in coupes and even sports cars, but in most cases, the inherent rattle has been hidden from the occupants by excellent sound proofing and state-of-the-art installations that reduce vibration through the bulkhead.

With the roof down there will be nowhere to hide. If it works, and Audi expects to sell between 150 and 200 models in the UK next year, the march of the diesel engine towards motoring domination will appear to be unstoppable.

The Cabriolet also gets the option of a multitronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) gearbox which manages to be more adaptable than a standard automatic without the usual CO2 and fuel economy penalties.

The roof glides up and down in just under 30 seconds and the only effort from the driver is to push an index finger against a button for the duration of the performance. The hood slides into the boot and leaves a decent amount of space, down from 315 litres with the roof up, to 246 with it down.

Chopping the roof off obviously has safety implications, and in this case, the Cabriolet has an enlarged and thickened A pillar to cope with roll-over.

Sills and part of the underbody have also been beefed-up to cope with the effect of taking stiffness out of the roof area, and the doors, larger than on the saloon and Avant models, have impact members built in to give it crash protection that matches the saloon.

There are front and side airbags, and protective bars in the rear bulkhead that snap up in milliseconds if sensors detect the car turning over.

The Cabriolet does not come stacked with goodies - the cloth roof is its most obvious and most expensive extra - but it is not utterly bereft of toys, as it features single CD player, electronic brakeforce distribution with Brake Assist, electronic climate control, electronic stability program, leather multi-function steering wheel and trip computer.

Leather seats, a feature necessary for any convertible worth its salt, is at least an extra £950 and for the British market, it costs an extra £350 to stick a heater in them.

Behind the wheel

Grip for the Cabriolet is as impressive as for the saloon. The four link front suspension layout serves to keep the tyre footprint steady on the road, meaning there is a phenomenal amount of grip for a front-wheel drive car.

It has the uber-efficient 'Audi-ness' that means it steers nicely, rides decently, brakes effectively and handles neutrally. For a real driving enthusiast a BMW might be a better option because it has a little more of that indefinable 'soul', but the Cabriolet's clinical composure will be more than enough for the vast majority of drivers.

The larger 3.0-litre engine is noticeably louder when you accelerate hard, with a harsher, more aggressive exhaust note and it is quick. Standstill to 62mph comes up in 7.8 seconds, with a top speed of 151mph.

The 2.4-litre engine is slower and more sedate, reaching 62mph in 9.7 seconds, although it is more than adequate. With the sun shining and the roof down, charging around like a common person really isn't the done thing.

The Cabriolet is 112% stiffer than the old model as a result of all the revisions and it shows. There is no scuttle shake or vibration at all, with the roof up or down, and the steering feels as taught and precise as the saloon.

The new Cabriolet has a 100mm longer wheelbase than the old model, and two-thirds of this has been translated into legroom for rear passengers.

Up front there is as much space as in a tin-top A4, although the view from the seats is not the same, as there are revisions to the dash. Five rather sexy chrome ringed air vents take the place of the square plastic efforts in the saloon, and are not unlike those in the Mercedes-Benz SL.

The instrument binnacle is also slightly more hooded and the dials are recessed more, should the sun intrude too much, and a wind deflector can also be fitted across the rear seats should you not be using rear passengers for the job.

Driving verdict

The A4 Cabriolet is supremely competent in every department. It is trendy, well built, comfortable and makes the world a better place for its occupants.

There are few better cars for under £30,000, and like its predecessor it will still be as desirable in five, or even 10, years' time. Just getting hold of one could be the only stumbling block.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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