Audi's A5 looks like a winner
Granted, it's a bit pricey, but swoopy coupe sure stands out from its competitors
The sport coupe is an interesting beast. It's not a sports car, yet it's not as practical as a four-door. Even so, Audi feels it needs one to compete with the BMW 3 Series two-door. I'm not sure that really is a need, but image-conscious shoppers who aren't looking for the most driving excitement may find the A5 at the top of their most-wanted list.
Why? The A5 is simply a great-looking package wrapped around a pretty useful car, even if it only has two doors. The only problem may be its cost: When you load up the A5, its price tag may take the glimmer out of your eye.
During my week with the A5 there was no doubt as to its most compelling attribute, the styling. My test car was blue - specifically, Aruba Blue Metallic - which is not a normal test-car color. It was gorgeous. The other A5s I've seen around Chicago have been the same shade of dark gray.
Really, though, any color works on the A5 because it has a swoopy profile, a bold front end highlighted by the trademark Audi grille, and a dynamic rear with trapezoidal LED taillights. It rides low and features standard 18-inch wheels, all of which lead to a cohesive design that you can tell Audi put a lot of thought into. The BMW 3 Series two-door looks like a design afterthought. The G37 looks generic in comparison. The A5 stands out and, yes, many folks turned their heads when I drove through downtown Chicago during my commute.
One interesting feature is the A5's standard glass roof. It doesn't slide open like a moon roof, but it does crack open to let air in. It makes more of an impact inside than out, though the black roof does help break up the A5's exterior color scheme.
If you're familiar with the redesigned A4's interior, there won't be anything too surprising in the A5. Of course, since that car hasn't been on sale very long I guess I still have to do my job and explain the A5's innards.
Again, my test car's color palette influenced my opinion. Its beige leather seats and near-olive dashboard and door panels were an off-putting combination, and the drab dash color didn't look nearly as good as Audi's simple black. The front seats, however, are extremely comfortable, and the leather is very high-grade. Even the back seat is comfortable enough for adults on short trips. There are also electronic controls on top of the front seat that make it easy to slide it forward, whether you're in the back seat or standing outside the car waiting to get in.
The A5's trunk, at 12 cubic feet, is spacious, though not as commodious as the A4 sedan's, which measures 16.9 cubic feet. The A5's rear seats also fold flat, making the coupe pretty practical.
The toughest aspect of the A5 for me to wrap my head around is the driving experience. Why? Because the A5 is a sleek-looking sport coupe, but it doesn't drive like one. While the standard 265-horsepower V-6 has enough power for daily driving - especially in higher gears - it doesn't deliver driving excitement.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but my test car was equipped with Audi's six-speed automatic with a manual function. Shifting was smooth between higher gears, but during around-town driving, where you're constantly needing those first three gears, it was a bit off-putting, with noticeable delays in upshifts. Shifts came more quickly using the manual feature, but that could get frustrating during long commutes.
The A5 is also a slug leaving stoplights, with noticeable hesitation and little initial oomph, so any extra traction the standard all-wheel drive would afford from a dead stop isn't put to the test. The BMW 335i's turbo six-cylinder, on the other hand, consistently offers more gusto.
Steering is accurate, but like most Audis there's a lot more play in the wheel than you'd expect. Navigating parking lots requires so much turning it feels like you're driving in a 1980s arcade game. Luckily, because the steering is light, all that turning doesn't put stress on your arms, as it would in a BMW. That makes the A5 easier to drive than the BMW 335i coupe, but less fun.
The suspension is a mix between sporty and sedate. It's firm enough that you'll notice bumps and other road imperfections, but supple enough for a pleasant highway ride.
Depending on your daily drive, the A5 might be more your cup of tea than a more performance-oriented car would be. If you have a mostly highway or suburban commute, this middle-of-the-road ride may be for you. Plus, if you live in a poor-weather climate, the standard all-wheel drive will offer some reassurance.
However, if you're a city dweller like me you'll miss the performance benefits normally gained from a tighter suspension. In fairness, my test car did not come with the optional sport suspension, but I assume it would make it an even a harsher ride. That's always the tradeoff involved in adding more performance. Audi also offers an optional suspension package called Audi Drive Select, which features Dynamic and Comfort modes, for an additional $2,950. That price seems high if you're shopping an A5 versus the performance-oriented S5, which starts at $51,400. Add Audi Drive Select to the A5 and you're only $8,000 away from an S5.
Unlike other German brands, and even other Audis, the A5 comes rather well-equipped, with no need to add options. Most notably, you get real leather seats and that large glass roof, along with a three-zone climate system and a 10-speaker stereo with a CD player and Bluetooth. If you want heated seats, however, you'll have to pony up an additional $1,900 for the Premium Package, which also includes the bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lamps that were first used on the R8 sports car.
An S Line Package is available for $2,900 and includes a sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, different front and rear bumpers, sport seats, brushed-aluminum interior inlays, a sport steering wheel, headlamp washers, and a black headliner. This equipment is similar to what the more expensive S5 comes with standard. If you just want 19-inch wheels, they cost an additional $900.
The navigation system costs $2,390 and adds a six-disc CD changer. However, you must buy the Premium Package before getting the navigation system. Adaptive cruise control can be added for $2,100, as long as the car is already equipped with the navigation system. A Technology Package includes a rear-view camera, adaptive headlights and a keyless start system for $2,200. And, yes, you have to get both the Premium Package and the navigation system to add it.
Luckily, an upgraded Bang & Olufson 14-speaker sound system can be added to any A5 for $850, as can iPod integration for $290.
The A5 starts at $40,700, but how much does a fully loaded one cost? $57,290. An almost-identically equipped S5 costs $61,890. So while the two cars' starting prices are more than $10,000 apart, when you load them up with goodies the difference is more than halved. And for just $4,000, the performance packed into a 354-horsepower S5 is definitely worth the extra cost.
The A5 fills a unique place in the luxury-car market. With designers trying out the most extravagant styling on entire car lines, Audi has found a look that's both striking and beautiful. It's one of the few cars on the road that will draw stares without being awkwardly styled.
The A5 also holds a place for buyers looking for a solid blend of performance and comfort, whereas the BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G37 are squarely aimed at enthusiast drivers. While that may keep speed demons away, the A5 remains a confident highway performer that's also comfortable.