Review: 2008 Audi A5 Test Drive
After more than fifteen years of conspicuous absence from the luxury sport coupe segment, Audi makes a grand re-entrance.
by Nate Chapnick
Audi abandoned the luxury sport coupe market more than fifteen years ago, but now aims to shake it up again with its new A5. In 1991, when the company discontinued its Quattro Coupe, a ground-breaking car that was among the first high-performance vehicles to include all-wheel-drive, other automakers happily and capably filled the void. The new A5 enters a much more competitive landscape than the one it left more than a decade back; it”s now filled with appealing entrants such as the BMW 3 Series Coupe, Infiniti G37 and Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class.
The A5 is one of the latest vehicles in Audi”s product offensive designed to woo buyers and stoke loyalty with a variety of niche products. Even if the new A5 can”t erase the memory of more than ten years of abandonment, its good looks and reasonable price make it worth cross-shopping against more long-running competitors.
Admiral of the Fleet ““ Audi A8
Open and Shut Case ““ BMW 6 Series
Stronger Engine, Spiffier Looks ““ Cadillac STS
More Power to Ya ““ Hummer H2
Practical Exotic Car ““ Maserati Coupe
Like the BMW 3 Series Coupe is to the 3 Series Sedan, the Audi A5 is positioned above the A4 in Audi”s growing lineup. At 182.3 inches long, the A5 is slightly longer than the 181.1-inch-long 3 Series Coupe and about an inch shorter than the Mercedes CLK. The A5 is powered by a 265-hp 3.2-liter V6 engine, while the more performance-oriented S5 receives a 350-hp 4.2-liter V8. Both engines are used in other Audi models.
The higher-performance S5 reaches dealers first, coming this fall at around $52,000. The A5 won”t hit the market until the first quarter of 2008, most likely in March. Its base price of around $40,000 could be worth holding out for, but those who yearn for ultimate performance and handling will prefer the S5.
If it”s attention you crave, the Audi A5 delivers. With a wide and low stance, wheels pushed to the corners and a stretched-out wheelbase, the A5 draws onlookers.
The overall form is modern and substantial, thanks to the A5″s wide shoulder lines, high beltline and massive trapezoidal front grille that is framed by unique, optional LED daytime running lights. As part of an optional Adaptive Light package, the sixteen LEDs are serious eye candy. Below the headlights are the front fog lamps, tastefully trimmed in chrome.
The sportier S5 shares the A5″s athletic styling, but its lower front fascia looks more aggressive.
The A5″s back end, with its small but interesting details, does not disappoint. For instance, rather than tack on a strip of composite material to create a spoiler, the rear edge of the trunk lid subtly kicks up to benefit aerodynamics and preserve a clean aesthetic. The A5″s distinctive LED taillights ensure that the attention garnered by the A5 during the day continues all through the night.
The Audi”s chief designer, Walter de”Silva, who was also responsible for the Q7, the new TT and current A6, says that the A5 is the most beautiful vehicle he has ever designed. It strikes a balance between timeless elegance and dramatic flair, a combination that should serve it well in this mature segment where restraint is usually favored over flash.
Audi”s interior designers must be descendants of fine watchmakers: They share an obsession for extreme precision and detail. Little touches like rubberized vent controls, satin-finished engine start button and knurled aluminum on the Multi Media Interface (MMI) control knob exemplify this engineering mentality.
These details add up to make the Audi A5″s interior a rewarding space for any trip, long or short. Audi”s familiar MMI controls most interior functions with a large rotary knob and thoughtfully chosen buttons on the center console that manipulate menus displayed on a 6.5-inch screen in the middle of the dash.
A six-disc CD changer is located in the center console area just below the central air vents. And below that are A/C controls, which are easy to operate, even with gloves on.
A thick, three-spoke steering wheel feels perfectly sized and is easily adjustable thanks to its manual tilt and telescoping feature. The gear shifter is well placed, but is awkwardly tall with surprisingly long throws. An adjustable armrest alleviates the awkwardness of the shift lever”s height, though not entirely.
For a coupe, the A5″s rear seats are surprisingly accommodating for two passengers. The A5 also has plenty of storage, from the compartments in the doors to the ones on the center console, which are perfect for a wallet or cell phone. Two cup holders in the front are big enough to fit huge lattes, but will obstruct the armrest.
Large outside mirrors are a welcome change from the small ones found on the 2007 A4 and A8.
Optional on the A5 is a truly phenomenal Bang & Olufsen premium sound system. Fourteen speakers are powered by a ten-channel amplifier that pumps out 505 watts. It should cost less than the $6,300 system on the A8.
Compared to the Bose system in the Audi S4, the A5″s B&O setup will blow you away with clear mid-range and heart-pounding bass. Plus, the B&O speakers look classy and modern with aluminum surrounds.
The A5″s 16.1 cubic feet of luggage space is remarkable, considering that the 3 Series holds just 11.1 cubic feet and the CLK just 10.4.
Though sufficiently powerful for everyday driving, the A5 doesn”t necessarily feel like a high-performance coupe “” for that, there”s the S5. But those unwilling to cough up the S5″s $12,000 premium will still get a quick vehicle with the A5.
Its 265-hp V6 with 243 pound-feet of torque propels the Audi A5 from 0-62 mph in 6.1 seconds, slightly faster than the BMW 328i Coupe. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and buyers can also opt for a six-speed automatic.
Our A5 test vehicle had the six-speed manual. It felt imprecise moving the gears, especially compared to that of the BMW 3 Series.
The A5 comes standard with quattro all-wheel drive, which makes the car safer and more drivable in everyday situations and can improve acceleration at the expense of added weight, complexity and gas mileage. When pushing the A5 through quick turns, it feels heavier and less agile than the BMW 3 Series. But there is little body roll and the A5 stays planted, yet the ride is never harsh.
If you”re looking for a more performance-oriented experience and don”t want to spring for the S5, then consider the A5″s S-Line package, whose stiffer suspension springs and dampers lower the body by 10 mm.
Large 16-inch disc brakes stop the 3,500-pound A5 with confidence. The steering feels direct and benefits from varying degrees of boost, depending on the speed “” more boost makes the steering lighter when parking the car, less boost tightens it up when driving fast.
Overall, the A5 is fun to drive without being a chore. A quiet cabin filters unnecessary road noise, but not to the point of completely insulating you from the driving experience, as a Lexus does. The beauty of the A5 lies in its nearly ideal blend of sport and luxury “” a trait most modern Audis are known for. It”s practical and comfortable enough for everyday driving with enough style and performance to make a statement.
Is the Audi A5 for You?
Buy the A5 if
You value subtle, restrained styling; you prefer the all-weather-security of AWD; you”re considering the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class and want something that seems fresher and less ubiquitous.
Keep Looking if
You crave all-out performance, in which case the S5 is worth considering; the styling is a bit too subtle for your tastes; fuel economy is a concern.
Front seats should accommodate all body types and sizes comfortably. Two adults will be happy in the rear for short to moderate-length trips, but three will be tight.
BMW 3 Series Coupe, Infiniti G37 Coupe, Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, Volvo C70
Audi A5 Gallery:
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