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Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy The 2018 Audi S5 Cabrio is perfect for fun in the sun.
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Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy Red leather seats accent the sporty interior of the 2018 Audi S5.

We are always on the lookout for vehicles that have the versatility of a Swiss Army knife, and the redesigned 2018 Audi S5 Cabriolet is a case in point — pardon the pun.

The checklist for the Audi S5 convertible is vast.

Sports-car handling: check.

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Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy It takes about 20 seconds to raise or lower the convertible top of the 2018 Audi S5.

Convertible top for summer trips to Chickamauga Lake: check.

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2018 Audi S5 Cabriolet

* Exterior color: Ibis White

* Interior color: Magma Red

* Engine: 3.0-liter, V-6 turbocharged

* Horsepower: 354

* Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 29 mpg highway, 20 mpg city

* Local Dealer: Audi Chattanooga

* Price (as tested): $70,625

All-wheel drive for our mountain roads: check.


View other Test Drive stories by Mark Kennedy



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World-class styling for cruising the North Shore: check.

Wrap all that in an automotive package that's brimming with whiz-bang technology — such as Audi's cool virtual cockpit — and you've got a car that exceeds expectations in almost every way.

At the moment, Audi S-series sedans and coupes are the "it" cars for tech-minded drivers, who see them as embodying both German engineering and cutting- edge technology.

The S5 Cabriolet is one of the most athletic, fun-to-drive cars in the four-seat luxury convertible segment, although its price — $70,625 for our tester — stretches affordability. For affluent buyers, the choice to buy an S5 Cabriolet may be complicated by the option of purchasing the slightly-less powerful A5 Cabriolet for about $12,000-to-$14,000 less.

We checked, and Audi Chattanooga, on International Drive, has an 2018 Audi S5 Cabriolet in stock this week.

STYLING AND FEATURES

The Audi S5 Cabriolet, the performance version of Audi's A5 drop-top, has new sheet metal for 2018. The changes, though, are evolutionary not revolutionary.

It's as if Audi designers sucked a little air out of the S5's shrink-wrapped sheet metal to sharpen the exterior lines. Listen, if you've got six-pack abs, chances are you'll wear tight T-shirts, right?

All the character lines in the hood gather at the S5's signature six-bar grille, which uses the overlapping four-ring Audi emblem as a focal point. The horizontal flow of the car is defined by a crease that stretches from the swept headlights to the LED tail-lights.

To get the full effect of the S5 Cabriolet design you'll want to lower the top, a process that takes about 18-20 seconds and can be done on the fly at speeds up to about 30 mph. If you really want to attract eyeballs, the lowering and raising of the top is a mesmerizing sight.

Top-down driving (with the windows up) is comfortable even on days when the mercury doesn't top 60 degrees. Just turn on the seat heaters and enjoy the cool wind in your hair.

Our S5 Cabriolet tester is shown in Ibis White with diamond stitched Magma Red leather seats. The combination of colors is striking. Audis wear white well, as it accentuates their clean lines.

Our tester, like all S5s, features a 3.0-liter, V-6 turbocharged engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 turbo cranks out 354 horsepower. The tamer A5 Cabriolet has a 2.o-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

Option packages for the S5 add about $8,000 to the bottom line of our test car. The $2,600 navigation package includes the virtual cockpit, a must-have option that projects satellite topographical images onto the dash. The S-sport package adds red brake calipers, a sport rear differential and an adaptive damping suspension. A Bang and Olufsen sound system ($950) and an a 19-inch wheel package ($800) round out the options.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The combination of an open top, all-wheel drive and 354 horses under the hood makes the S5 Cabriolet a road-legal thrill ride. We took our S5 tester down Roberts Mill Road on Walden's Ridge with the roof tucked away, and it felt a little like riding the Cannon Ball roller coaster at Lake Winnepesaukah.

Meanwhile, the trip back up the ridge is where the S5's quattro all-wheel-drive system shows off. You can feel the tires clawing into the turns, shifting power fore and aft. A torque-vectoring rear differential also helps create stability on twisting roads. The S5's sport suspension, with active damping, reads imperfections in a road's surface and makes adjustments accordingly.

We should note that while the S5 is technically a four seater, the back bench represents a tight squeeze for most adults. We suspect that 90 percent of the time it will be used as a storage shelf for groceries.

Car & Driver clocked the S5 at 4.8 seconds in a 0-60 mph sprint, not bad for a vehicle that has curb weight of 4,211 pounds.

BOTTOM LINE

The S5 is the perfect playmate for a young executive or an empty-nester who values spirited driving in the wild outdoors. If you find the price tag daunting — as most of us would — consider the less pricey Audi A5 Cabriolet, which delivers 95 percent of the fun at about 80 percent of the price.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

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