Remember the Audi Nuvolari show car? That 2003 concept was design chief Walter de'Silva's first project at Audi; as we now see, it was also a faithful predictor of the new Audi A5, the brand's first full-size coupe since the Audi Coupe Quattro disappeared from the American market in the early 1990s.
De'Silva has not merely applied Audi's current design language to a two-door body. Instead, the A5 alters the Audi look. The one visual detail that takes some getting used to is the wavy line that runs along the flanks, linking the head- and taillamps. Unlike Audi's last coupe, the A5 features a conventional trunk lid instead of a hatchback. Martin Winterkorn, the former Audi chairman who is now in charge of the entire Volkswagen Group, explains why: "A separate trunk is always better for premium cars. It keeps the luggage away from the passengers, it keeps the noise out of the cabin, and it keeps the classic proportions intact."
At 182.3 inches, the A5 is 1.7 inches longer than the A4. Since the roofline doesn't drop away dramatically aft of the B-pillars, the rear seats offer enough headroom for grown-ups. Shoulder room is a bit more snug than in the A4, though, and the flat backrests are uncommonly upright. Behind them, the cargo compartment holds a useful 15.5 cubic feet.
Inside, the A5 is definitely more A6 than TT. As is typical with Audi, the quality of the materials is impressive. It's a classy driving environment--functional and comfortable, cool but not overstyled, comprehensively equipped and beautifully put together. You may not love every line stamped into the sheetmetal of the A5, but it's virtually impossible not to be impressed by this cockpit.
But there's more that's new than what you can see. The A5 is the first Audi model based on the so-called modular longitudinal platform (MLP). MLP is radically different from previously used components set. The front axle, for instance, is a five-link arrangement featuring upper and lower control arms. The suspension arms are attached to a subframe, which is in turn mounted rigidly to the body. The rear axle is a trapezoidal multilink setup. All suspension parts are made of aluminum. To reduce the front overhang by nearly four inches, the front differential is situated ahead of the clutch, as in the A8. This allows for an extended wheelbase of 108.3 inches, which exceeds that of the A4 by four inches.
Another brand-new element is the rack-and-pinion power steering. Mounted high up on most previous Audis, in the A5 it has been brought down to the front axle and thus much closer to the wheel centers. Shorter steering arms and fewer joints mean less unwanted flexibility and more instant wheel actuation. "The new steering feels quicker and more precise," promises Ulrich Hackenberg, who fathered the MLP layout. "It responds more promptly, and the message it relays is unfiltered and three-dimensional."
The chassis, the improved weight distribution, and the (standard) rear-biased Quattro setup are all there to ensure that the A5 is up to the task of challenging the class-leading BMW 3-series in handling and roadholding.
European customers will be able to choose from five different powerplants: a new 170-hp, 1.8-liter TFSI unit; a 265-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 FSI; a 354-hp, 4.2-liter direct-injection V-8 in the S5; and two V-6 turbo-diesels. As expected, the choices for North America narrow considerably. U.S. buyers can pick either the 3.2-liter V-6 (in the A5) or the 4.2-liter V-8 (in the S5). Both engines are available with either a manual or an automatic transmission, with six forward speeds in each case.
In the A5, the 3.2-liter V-6's 243 lb-ft of torque is available from 3000 to 5000 rpm and can, when paired with the manual transmission, send the A5 from 0 to 62 mph in 6.1 seconds. The S5, with 325 lb-ft of torque from its V-8, cuts a full second off that time (both figures according to Audi). Besides the additional power, the S5 also has a firmer suspension and bigger brakes.
Like the S6 and the S8, the A5 sports Audi's signature daytime running lights, which consist of eight LEDs per headlamp unit and xenon low beams. The S5 also boasts a more butch-looking grille, bigger air intakes, chunkier bumpers, four oval tailpipes, trademark aluminum side-mirror housings, and eighteen-inch, ten-spoke wheels shod with high-speed-rated tires.
U.S. dealers should get the new coupe in September, a quick-for-Audi three months after the car's launch in Europe. The sporty S5 will be available almost simultaneously with the standard car.
And there's still more to come. Starting in early 2008, the S5 also will be offered with the dual-clutch S tronic automatic. An A5 cabriolet is set to debut that same year. In 2009, we'll see the wild RS5, which allegedly boasts flared wheel arches, deep spoilers, and the high-revving, 420-hp V-8 from the RS4 and the mid-engine R8. It looks as if the new Audi is the start of something good.