Arriving at an event in a luxurious convertible with the top down is one of the surest ways of making an entrance.
You get bonus points if both you and your date are well-dressed and have slightly tousled hairdos.
After all, a convertible’s main purpose is to convey its occupants to their destinations in style. Nobody buys these cars for practical considerations.
If you want a cabriolet that’s both fashionable and refined, the Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class (in E200 form) are two models to consider.
I’m immediately drawn to the Audi A5 Cabriolet the moment I see it. The test unit’s Tango Red paintwork seems to make it glow, even in a dimly lit carpark. And with a height of 1483mm (45mm lower than the E-Class), it has an athletic stance that urges keen drivers to get in and drive it.
Adding to the A5’s sporty outlook are the chiselled lines on its bonnet and flanks, which make it look tauter and more muscular than the E200 Cabriolet. I like how Audi kept the wave-shaped shoulder line from the previous A5 – it’s an element that makes it more recognisable.
While the Audi A5 Cabriolet exudes dynamism, the Mercedes-Benz E200 Cabriolet radiates opulence.
The E-Class’ “diamond-studded” grille is not new (it was first seen on the A-Class in 2012), but it never fails to increase the car’s bling factor. More importantly, it does this without looking as tacky as those Hermes belts with big “H” buckles.
More significantly, because the E-Class is significantly longer than the A5 (by 153mm, to be exact), it looks grander, too. But size aside, I think it has to be the E-Class’ rounder figure that makes it prettier than the A5.
The A5’s sporty character is reflected in its interior. As I settle into the driver’s seat, I appreciate the more “intimate” feel from the angled dashboard, which brings the controls closer to me.
Audi’s focus on interior quality is evident here. The tactility of the buttons is great, and the “click” they make when pressed sounds reassuring. I also love the solid action of the A5’s gearshift lever – it sure makes the E200’s column-mounted shifter feel rather flimsy.
The A5’s other neat tricks include a function that lets you match the front passenger’s seat position to the driver’s, and microphones located on the driver’s seatbelt.
Having both front seats in identical positions is perfect for front occupants who wish to look “perfect” while cruising with the top down (or for motoring journos who insist that the convertible looks “correct” in photos).
The microphones on the A5’s seatbelt are useful – you don’t need to shout just to be heard when you’re using voice commands or Bluetooth telephony. But if you’re on the phone while your tummy is growling, whoever you’re talking to might think that there’s a monster about to eat you alive!
Monsters (or any other horrifying beings) will be the last thing on your mind when you’re in the E200 Cabriolet, whose interior is like a luxurious, high-tech lounge.
Open the Merc door and the first thing that greets you is the wonderful scent of leather. The seats are not only plusher than the A5’s, but easier to adjust, too, thanks to the door-mounted controls.
The E200’s dashboard is dominated by two 12.3-inch displays – one that functions as the instrument panel and the other for infotainment. They positively dwarf the A5’s Virtual Cockpit and Multi Media Interface (MMI).
That said, although the graphics on Mercedes screens are more attractive than Audi’s, the A5’s infotainment system is more intuitive than the E200’s Comand Online interface, which looks a lot more complicated.
Aesthetically, however, the Comand screen is neatly “integrated”, whereas the MMI display atop the dash looks like a removable tablet.
Screens and their sizes aside, what’s really impressive about the E200 cockpit is its welcoming vibe. Chalk that up to the dashboard’s wavy design, along with the gentler curves and softer materials used throughout the cabin.
Refinement is great, but I’m more interested in how these models drive. I have to temper my expectations, though, since these four-seater convertibles will probably have a stronger emphasis on relaxed cruising instead of bruising performance.
That said, the A5’s lethargic low-end performance leaves me flustered. I couldn’t understand its lack of response. On paper, the Audi has 320Nm versus the Merc’s 300Nm, and it shouldn’t matter that the former figure arrives at 1450rpm whereas the latter is available at 1200rpm.
The A5 also has 190hp, or 6hp more than the E200. And being the smaller and lighter car, the A5 has a better power-to-weight ratio, too.
I thought putting the drive mode in Dynamic (the most aggressive setting) and leaving the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox in “S” would help. They do not. If the A5 had a flaw, it would be the lack of responsiveness when it comes to standing starts.
That’s really too bad, because the A5’s chassis and suspension feel like they were tuned for better handling. But that doesn’t mean the A5’s ride quality is hard. It is merely a bit firmer than the E200’s, and coupled with its lower ride height, you can sense the A5’s potential.
But once you get the Audi up to speed and are cruising along ECP with the top down, there’s nothing to complain about. The car’s body feels solid, and I didn’t hear any squeaks or rattles even when going over poorer surfaces (which seem to be increasing, and becoming the norm in Singapore).
The A5’s century sprint time of 7.9 seconds is a hair quicker (by 0.2 of a second) than the E200’s.
What’s even speedier is the Audi’s roof. Dropping the soft-top takes 15 seconds and raising it takes 18 seconds. In comparison, the Merc takes 20 seconds to open/close its soft-top. So, during a sudden thunderstorm, the A5’s occupants won’t get as wet as those in the E-Class.
Now, while the A5 cabrio feels like it has unrealised sporting potential, the E200 cabrio has managed to fulfil its luxury obligations.
When you drive the E200 Cabriolet with its roof up, the interior feels as quiet as the E-Class Coupe’s. You’d only realise the lack of a fixed roof if you touched the ceiling, or were passed by a tipper truck.
But with the top down, not even the roar of commercial vans or lorries can spoil your drive. With your sunglasses on, and ensconced in the E-Class’ elegant interior, everything else seems trivial.
At night, cruising in the E-Class with the top down becomes even more pleasurable. With the wind in my face, I momentarily forgot about the temperature, which was still at an uncomfortable 30 degrees C.
Best of all, despite being bigger and heavier than the A5 (1770kg versus 1645kg), the E200 moves off from a standstill with less hesitation. The Merc’s turbocharged 2-litre 4-cylinder is also more linear than the Audi’s, with no turbo lag to speak of.
However, the E200’s workmanlike soundtrack is uncharacteristic of the brand, and sounds particularly gruff when you rev the motor past 4000rpm.
After two days with the E200, I took another drive in the A5. The A5 has the edge in handling, but when it comes to finesse, the E200 has this in the bag. It also puts a bigger smile on my face than the A5.
For folks who want to arrive in style and make an impactful entrance, the E200 should be their bejewelled convertible of choice instead of the A5.
Don’t forget the dapper ensemble and slightly tousled hairdo to go with the Merc.
Mercedes-Benz E200 Cabriolet 2.0 (A)
ENGINE 1991cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 184hp at 5500rpm
MAX TORQUE 300Nm at 1200-4000rpm
GEARBOX 9-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 8.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 234km/h
CO2 EMISSION 161g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $292,888 (after $10k VES surcharge)
Audi A5 Cabriolet 2.0 (A)
ENGINE 1984cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 190hp at 4200-6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 320Nm at 1450-4200rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 7.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 237kmh
CO2 EMISSION 133g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $245,701 (no VES rebate/surcharge)