The A5 has been treated to a wide-ranging series of revisions. Audi certainly can't be accused of doing things by half measures as Jonathan Crouch reports at the wheel of the fastest diesel version, the 3.0 TDI quattro s tronic..
Ten Second Review
Audi has long been a company capable of building brilliant sports cars but strangely reluctant to do so. With a complete rethink of its chassis philosophy, the A5 marks a new direction for the company and certainly gives BMW something to ponder. A huge step in the right direction for the keen driver then, especially if said driver can stretch to the flagship diesel model, the 245PS 3.0 TDI quattro s tronic.
There aren't many cars that have divided opinion quite as surgically as Audi's A5. When it first appeared in 2007, Audi promised us a whole new design philosophy, mounting the engine further back in the car for better weight distribution and moving away from the old 50:50 front/rear torque split on its quattro models in favour of something a little more fun. Motoring journalists were then invited to drive the car whereupon confusion reigned. Half couldn't feel any difference. The other half were sufficiently perceptive to feel a difference. Fast forward to today and Audi has tidied up and refreshed the A5 range. Few ever disagreed that the A5 was anything but a handsome and desirable thing. Most will recognise the latest car as just that little more handsome and desirable. Especially in top 3.0 TDI quattro diesel guise
Go for any top of the range 3.0-litre A5, petrol or diesel, and the clever dual clutch 7-speed s tronic auto gearbox comes as part of the deal. In the car we tried, it was mated to a 245PS 3.0 TDI diesel engine and benefitted from quattro 4WD. Normally, the quattro system distributes the engine's power primarily to the rear but if necessary, can redistribute torque towards the front at lightning speed. Opt for the Sport differential that's optional on top 3.0-litre models like this one and torque can even be distributed from side to side at the rear, firing you from corner to corner. Dynamically, the major change with this revised A5 Coupe is the introduction of a hi-tech electromechanical power steering system which is supposed to improve feedback, though that's still not this car's strongest suit. You can improve it by paying extra for 'dynamic steering', but it might be better to simply choose to go for Audi's optional 'Drive Select' system which tweaks steering feel along with engine management, auto gearbox response - even the air conditioning - in line with your choice of 'comfort', 'auto', 'dynamic' or even 'efficiency' modes. And performance? Well, this 245PS 3.0 TDI model makes sixty from rest in just 5.8s on the way to an artificially limited maximum of 155mph. If you don't have to have 4WD - or quite as much power - there's a 204PS version of this 3.0TDI engine mated to 2WD and an 8-speed Multitronic auto transmission.
Design and Build
This A5 Coupe still offers a convincing piece of penmanship, with an interesting mixture of straight lines, sweeping curves and convex surfaces gelling into a very good looking shape indeed. It's one that looks even better in the metal, the wavy beltline that runs from the headlights back to the taillights remaining the car's most distinctive feature. It's a practical shape too, a proper four-seater, with wide doors that make it easy to get in and out of the back. Once installed in the rear, you'll find more room than in equivalent BMW 4 Series and Mercedes C-Class Coupe rivals, though the sloping roofline means that those over six foot will want to bargain for a place upfront. The 455-litre boot is also the biggest in the class, though the boot aperture could be wider. Plus it can be extended to 829-litres by pushing forward the split-folding rear seats. And behind the wheel? Well, it's as beautifully finished as you'd expect an Audi to be, tailored like a sleek-fitting suit, everything being clear and elegant.
Market and Model
You'll need to budget at around the £41,000 mark for the top A5 Coupe 3.0 TDI Quattro s tronic 245PS S line model we tried, a car that requires an outlay of around £2,000 more than its closest rival, BMW's 430d. However, the Beemer only comes in 2WD form. And of course, this Audi comes as standard with the 7-speed dual clutch s tronic auto gearbox. You pays your money.... A fascinating option available across the board is a high specification Audi connect Bluetooth online car phone. This introduces a voice-activated Google-powered point-of-interest search system, navigation via Google Earth images and a WLAN Wireless Local Area Network hotspot to your A5, enabling occupants to connect phones and computers to the internet wirelessly. The only caveat is that you might need to watch your data bill, especially when travelling overseas. Safety provision runs to all the expected airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints and isofix child seat fastenings, as well as electronic driver aids for braking, traction and stability control. Once nice feature that's standard across the range is a 'break recommendation' system that monitors your driving reactions and will prompt you to stop for a restorative coffee if necessary. Optional features include 'Audi side assist', to stop you from dangerously pulling out to overtake in front of another driver. And 'Audi active lane assist' to keep dozy drivers from veering out of their lanes on the highway. There's also an ACC adaptive cruise control system that'll maintain a safe distance to the car in front on the motorway, warn you and prepare the car if you're about to have a rear end collision and, if necessary, can even automatically stop the car completely at speeds of under 18mph.
Cost of Ownership
If there's one thing we can take as read with Audi coupes, it's a strong residual value. The A5 will, as a genuinely new and not merely an evolutionary product from Audi, also enjoy the benefit of being perceived - rightly or wrongly - as a more modern product than its C-Class or 4 Series Coupe rivals, with this perception helping to beef up used values. Great news if you're looking to buy one or lease a car for, say, three years but possibly not what you'd want to hear if you were holding out for a bargain on a low mileage example. Efficiency is a big draw. The 3.0 TDI 245PS unit we tested is by no means the most efficient choice in the range, but it still returns 46.3mpg on the combined cycle and a 158g/km CO2 figure that shades that managed by the rival BMW 430d. Figures like these have been achieved thanks to a whole raft of high-efficiency engineering techniques, including a more efficient electromechanical power steering set-up, an energy recuperation system and Start / Stop technology that cuts the engine when you don't need it, say when you're waiting at the lights or stuck in urban traffic. Choose the optional 'Audi drive select' set-up and there's the option of an 'efficiency' mode that'll focus all of the car's systems on driving eco-consciously.
Audi didn't need to do a whole lot to the A5 in order for it to challenge for class leadership. The styling and the car's residual values, two of the key buying criteria in this sector, were both strong points. The latest car backs this up with improved engine efficiency across the board, better ride quality, more polish and a more modern take on systems integration. It's a very complete car, especially in top 3.0 TDI quattro form as tested. The only way you could possibly be disappointed by the A5 is if you were looking for the sharpest sports coupe around. BMW and Mercedes have both made big strides in that area and the A5 plays to a different crowd. In giving Audi a little more breathing room, its German rivals have perhaps done the A5 the biggest possible favour. Ingolstadt hasn't been slow to capitalise.