Reading the window sticker on the gorgeous new Audi A5 Cabriolet quickly awakened my class consciousness from its light sleep.

The fact that the base price of $44,100 was a bit out of my price range was enough to remind me of my proletarian lot in life. But when I saw that Audi, by loading up the test car with every option save the diamond-studded space probe launcher, had bloated the final price to $56,525, I began to question my career path as well. I began to think that if I had taken a job on Wall Street instead of becoming a newspaper schlub, maybe I could afford one of these beauties.

And the new-for-2010 A5 Cabriolet is a beautiful automobile. The proportions, the sculpting are lovely business. And the fact that the interior styling and build quality are also superb just embellishes this Mona Lisa on wheels.

Driving the new convertible was as pleasurable as looking at it. The perforated black leather driver's seat (which contrasted nicely with the perforated gray cloth headliner) was supportive and afforded an excellent driving position. The instruments and controls were readily accessible.

Engine performance was good, and the steering and braking were right on the money. The car cornered athletically on a suspension as taut as its styling, and yet the ride was quite comfortable. Wind and road noise tried to get in, but the bouncer denied them admission.

The Cabriolet is, in short, as good at highway cruising as it is on the twisty back roads leading to your vacation chalet in the Poconos.

The newly arrived A5 Cabriolet is a replacement for the A4 Cabriolet. The reason for putting the soft top on the A5 instead of the A4 is simple enough: It was cheaper to fashion a convertible from the A5 coupe than it would have been to modify the body of the A4 sedan.

The A5 Cabriolet is powered by a direct-injected, 2-liter turbocharged four that appears in various states of tune in cars built by Audi and it corporate cousin, Volkswagen. Its output ranges from 200 horsepower in the Volkswagen GTI to 265 in the Audi TTS. The A5 version is rated at 211, and develops good torque, so it is quite adequate in this car.

In addition to being ever so willing, this engine is a real smoothy by four-cylinder standards. While most fours wouldn't be at home in a luxury car, I think this one is.

Although the coupe version of the A5 can be obtained with a six-speed manual (and a base price of as little as $36,000), the soft-top is available only with a six-speed automatic.

The Cabriolet is offered either with front-drive or the Quattro all-wheel-drive system I found in the test car. The Quattro system makes the A5 more sure-footed in aggressive cornering situations and, of course, in the snow. (I wished I still had the A5 test car during last weekend's 23.2-inch snowfall. The front-drive Chevy Aveo I was driving at the time didn't get me stuck on the byways of Mount Airy, but it didn't get through as easily as the A5 would have.)

Although it's not exactly ragtop weather, this guy does look good with the top down. Taking it down requires just 15 seconds, while putting it up takes 17. When it's down, it occupies only 2 cubic feet of a 13-cubic-foot trunk.

The A5 Cabriolet (which hasn't been crash-rated yet) comes with a closetful of safety gear, ranging from all the usual air-bag suspects to automatically triggered rollover protection.

The standard equipment list for the A5 Cabriolet is extensive, as is the warranty. The latter includes a four year/50,000 mile bumper to bumper guarantee, as well as free first scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance.

The car's EPA ratings of 20 m.p.g. city and 26 highway are pretty decent by luxury-car standards.


2010 Audi A5 2.0 Quattro Cabriolet

Base price: $44,100.

As tested: $56,525 (inc. shipping).

Standard equipment: 2-liter engine, six-speed automatic gearbox, all-wheel-drive, and a full luxury litany ranging from leather seats to automatic rollover protection.

Options: Where to start? There's the Prestige Package ($8,300), Comfort ($2,400), and Driver's Assist ($900).

Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city and 26 highway.

Engine performance: Lively.

Handling: Excellent.

Styling: Dynamite.

Warranty: Four years/ 50,000 miles bumper to bumper.

The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; Three Bens,

good; Two Bens, fair;

One Ben, poor.