2009 Design of the Year: 2009 Audi A5

Roy Ritchie

Last year, after disputing Volkswagen Group design chief Walter de'Silva's assertion that Audi's A5 is his best-ever design, we went on to confirm that he had indeed created a beautiful car. Just how beautiful has been clarified by seeing A5s on the road, but no one really fully appreciates the quality of its total design before driving it.

The first point of appreciation comes when you approach the car, finding it bigger and more substantial than it seemed in static auto-show conditions. The second comes when you open the door to find one of the best interiors offered today, for any car at any price. Audis have had excellent interiors for many years, but the A5 surpasses previous models. A driver senses that a special effort was made just to please him, yet passengers, too, are flattered by the seating comfort and the obvious care in assembling the details. This is clearly a car made for going places, a true grand tourer.

Everything one touches feels good to the fingers. Tactile response is too often ignored in car design, but while traveling in an A5, one could spend hours gently caressing its controls, its armrests, even its voluptuous seat contours. It helps that actuating the knobs and buttons is smooth, precise, and physically satisfying. The only other car as tactilely pleasing is an older pre-German Rolls-Royce, with its few but perfectly finished organ-stop vent knobs and polished black steering wheel.

The exterior is not head and shoulders above other cars, but it is elegantly handsome and more emotional in form than previous Audis. Germanic rigor is nicely tempered by Latin romanticism. The key line on the exterior is the sharp surface break running from the upper outer headlamp corner to the corresponding point on the taillight, subtly rising above each wheel. It is complemented by the rising line on the flanks that carries through the rear wheel opening and sweeps around the back of the car to define the bumper.

All U.S.-spec A5s feature Quattro all-wheel drive, so they're particularly good in bad weather situations, making them excellent choices in much of the United States, not to mention northern Europe. Whether facing snow and ice or not, the elegance, stability, and sheer visual presence of the A5 are pleasing to owners. For us, it is a clear Design of the Year winner.

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