First Drive: 2011 Audi A5

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.

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"More practical than a TT, more exclusive than an A4" really doesn't say much. That's like saying it's more practical than a Ferrari, more exclusive than a Toyota. It would mean something if it was more practical than an A4 and more exclusive than a TT.That said, still a lovely car.
Audi exteriors are becoming more and more bland every time I see them. The A5 looks attractive (though the interior is fairly boring) but I never understood the rave about it. Understated elegance is one thing--as the design ages, it tends more toward boringness.

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