ON SALE: NOVEMBER (S5); MARCH 2008 (A5) / $42,000 (A5, est.); $54,000 (S5, est.)
The Audi A4 at last takes two-door form and in the process ticks up one number to become the A5 and the sportier, V-8-powered S5. Actually, it's not the current A4 that serves as the basis of this coupe but rather the new A4 coming next fall. Both the new A4 and the A5 get Audi's reconfigured differential and clutch, which allows for a shorter front overhang. The coupe ups the style factor with character lines that rise and fall along the body sides. The S5, which arrives first, is powered by a potent, 4.2-liter V-8 that spins out 350 hp; the A5 uses Audi's 3.2-liter FSI V-6, good for 265 hp. Quattro is standard. On a preview drive in Italy, we found the S5 to be more of a road rocket than a dance partner, despite all-new steering that's supposed to be more involving and a standard six-speed stick. The interior is--predictably--lovely, and the back seat is habitable by adults, although headroom is tight. Design has long been Audi's strength, and it remains so here.