Audi's 1996 Cabriolet, which is a fancy name for convertible, assures one of the pleasures of open-air motoring, a feeling of the good life, and the ability to taste the fruits of upscale performance.

The Audi Cabriolet constitutes a blend of high-tech mechanicals and the accouterments of a better-class automobile through Audi's V-6 engine with a variable geometric intake manifold and the leather and walnut interior.

Audi is an old-line German automobile manufacturer whose strong suit is quality and advanced engineering. The car is definitely in the luxury car category with a base price of $36,800.

"It has the advantage over other cabriolets in that it has front-wheel drive," said Chad Spidle, sales manager for Tom Wood Audi. "And you can actually fit two people in the back seat. That's something you can't do in some other makes."

As a four- seater, the Cabriolet has some Teutonic overtones, tempered for American tastes, so that the driver feels right at home.

The cockpit layout is fairly conventional, with the center console providing a home for the four- speed automatic transmission's shift quadrant.

Instrumentation features a tachometer, temperature and fuel gauges, digital clock, and an odometer, all standard fare, as well as an electronic, 160-mph speedometer (more for effect than reality). At 172 horsepower, the Cabriolet's V-6 motor needs a few more horses before trotting along at 160 per.

Audi says that the power-actuated top can be raised or lowered from the driver's seat during the time needed for the light to turn green at a stoplight. It's a single-latch, one-button convenience.

"The really neat thing is the top," Spidle said. "It automatically stows beneath a hard tonneau cover that raises up when the top is coming down and then covers it when it's in place.

"Of course, the cover raises up when you're putting the top up and then drops down over the empty storage area."

Up or down, you're riding in the elegance of Kodiak leather upholstery and genuine burled walnut trim. There are no hair-shirt production convertibles on the market these days, so, the all-season Cabriolet sports air conditioning, Audi Delta stereo and a full complement of power accessories.

A new stereo feature is Audi's graduated audio level adjustment system, which automatically boosts volume as road speed increases. The radio display system indicates the type of programming and a station's call letters. The system functions by decoding a signal sent out by broadcasters, especially useful when traveling.

Audi's V-6 is a 2.8-liter motor of 169 cubic inches that slightly exceeds the performance benchmark figure of one horsepower per cubic inch.

There is a single overhead cam for each bank of three cylinders. The one thing I would prefer to be done differently would be for the cams to be driven by a chain instead of a belt.

The four-speed automatic with its dynamic shift program is the only way the Cabriolet comes. There is no manual gearbox , because Audi figures that the convertible is more a high-speed international touring car than a road-racing sports model.

In Europe, you apparently can go touring with verve, as Audi electronically limits the top speed for the American market to 130 mph. Zero to 60 mph with the automatic is rated at 10.3 seconds.

The car rates as a compact, with a wheelbase of 100.6 inches and 176 inches for its overall length. Curb weight is 3,364 pounds, heavy enough to impart good ride qualities but not so much so that performance is impaired.