If Audi's move from the margins to the mainstream of luxury auto brands is due to any one factor, it's design. At Audi, the TT is arguably the apotheosis of the brand's form language, but the A5 is another potent distillation. True, it's not too far removed from its four-door sibling, the A4, but the coupe does wear its own uniquely sculpted sheetmetal, and the A5 is all the more distinctive due to its relative rarity compared to the seemingly ubiquitous (in some markets, at least) A4.
Between the A5, the high-performance S5 variant, and the convertible versions of both, there are a total of six different powertrains available here, which seems like about twice as many as are really necessary. This coupe is more about style than performance, which makes the A5 version the stronger proposition than the S5. Staying with the A5 eliminates the S5's rumbling but thirsty 4.2-liter V-8 and the S5's Cabrio's punchy supercharged V-6. Instead, you're left with the 2.0-liter direct-injected turbo four, but that's okay. The 2.0T is available with three different transmissions and front- or all-wheel drive, but is ideally mated with the six-speed stick and Quattro. Happily, that combo is also the least expensive of all A5 variants.
Audi's 2.0T engine is the class of the turbo four-cylinder field (no wonder Audi is spreading it throughout its lineup). The boost is seamlessly integrated, and unleashes a wave of torque that pushes you along. Pairing this engine with Audi's six-speed manual makes it even more lively. In the A5 coupe, it results in a factory-measured 0-to-60 time of 6.4 seconds, which easily outruns the new Mercedes-Benz C250 coupe, with its new turbocharged, direct-injected four. Standard Quattro means torque steer is not an issue. The A5's six-speed manual might not be quite as slick as what you'll find in a BMW 328i, but it still provides nice, light shift action and short throws. As a bonus, the six-speed stick gets better gas mileage than the automatic, despite the latter transmission's two extra gears. At 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, the A5 is as economical as some compacts.
Another positive outgrowth of staying with the four-cylinder is less weight hanging out over the nose, which makes for snappier turn-in. Like its four-door sibling, the A5 still suffers from power steering that's trying to be all things to all people, with too much variation in assist between a parking-lot pace and on-the-road speeds. Ride comfort is decent, despite my test example's 18-inch wheels. Optional Drive Select offers the ability to fine-tune suspension firmness, as well as several other variables.
Although now several years old, the exterior design is wearing well. The A5 interior, however, doesn't seem quite as impressive as it once did. My test car was the mid-trim-level premium plus and was further equipped with navigation and optional nutmeg laurel wood trim. Leather is standard on the A5. The beige leather with contrasting darker areas was attractive and the interior bits certainly are well put together, but the cabin overall lacked some visual sparkle compared to newer competitors. Practically speaking, the front seats are comfortable and the view out is not bad for a coupe. The two-place rear perch is cramped, however, with headroom in particularly short supply. Consider it an occasional-use proposition unless your rear-seat passengers are under five-foot-eight.
Still, the A5 offers a lot more daily usability than the strictly two-place TT coupe. (Okay, granted, that car has a pair of rear seats, but they're sized for briefcases, not for people.) And at the same time, it makes the kind of understated style statement an Audi should. Get it with the 2.0T, the six-speed, and Quattro, and you've got not only the least expensive, most economical combo, but also one that's pretty sweet to drive.
2011 Audi A5
Base price (with destination): $37,375
Price as tested: $45,430
2.0-liter TFSI four-cylinder
6-speed manual transmission
Quattro all-wheel drive
Leather-trimmed 8-way power seats
Tilting glass panel roof with sunshade
Aluminum interior trim
Multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel
Automatic climate control
10-speaker, 180-watt audio system with CD, SD card slot, auxiliary input, and Sirius satellite radio
Options on this vehicle:
Premium Plus package
- Xenon plus headlamps
- LED daytime running lights
- LED taillights
- 18-inch, 10-spoke wheels
- Bluetooth phone connectivity
- heated front seats
- 3-zone automatic climate control
- Audi music interface
- rain/light sensor
- auto-dimming interior mirror with compass
Audi navigation system with backup camera
Bang & Olufsen premium sound system
Nutmeg laurel wood trim
Key options not on vehicle:
19-inch sport package
Milano leather upholstery
21 / 31 / 25 mpg
2.0L I-4 turbo
Horsepower: 211 hp @ 4300-6000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1500 -- 4200 rpm
Curb weight: 3583 lb
8.5 x 18 in wheels
Competitors: BMW 328i coupe, Cadillac CTS coupe, Infiniti G37 coupe, Mercedes-Benz C250 coupe