Our first agenda when in any brand new car is to settle in and adjust the seating position, steering wheel and all mirrors, and the A5 was no exception. The previously mentioned power seat controls allow an infinite combination and we were quickly able to find the optimal position. Likewise with the mirrors and steering wheel (which incidentally is adjusted manually rather than electrically). The driving position is unsurprisingly very much like the A4. One does not get the feeling that they are sitting very “low and long” despite the A5’s outward appearance.
Firing up the A5 itself is something brand new to Audi. Gone are the “switchblade” keys of old, replaced in the A5 by a somewhat (perhaps 20%) larger fob with no metal key whatsoever. Instead the fob is inserted into a rectangular slot on the dash and then pressed in (towards the engine) to engage the starter. Audi is also offering optional Advanced Key on the A5 which, as in other Audi models, allows the driver to start the car via a starter button on the center console so long as the key is with them in the car (presumably in a pocket, purse or briefcase, etc). Unlike in the A6, A8 and Q7, however, the button has been perfected as a round, silver polished starter button.
We already spoke to the multi-adjustable armrest and found it to provide a very comfortable resting spot for our right arm in the manual transmission vehicles. The shifter sits relatively high on the center column and in our opinion could have been cut down in height just a bit. We also experienced some variation in shift throws – in all manual transmission vehicles the 1-2 shift felt rather lengthy, whereas 3-4 and 5-6 shifts felt relatively closer together. The shift gates themselves are close together from side to side, in other words from 1-3-5 or 2-4-6 there is relatively thin left-to-right spacing. The only gripe here would be the feeling that the 1-2 shift distance was just too long. Everything else felt perfect.
All the focus on detail inside and out invariably brings us to actually driving the vehicle, to which we offer an upfront qualification. We will address everyday driving almost exclusively and will emphatically pass over high performance driving characteristics.
We did this with the belief, as previously stated, that people generally buy a coupé based on exterior design (the emotional appeal) above all else. We agree that the car cannot and should not perform poorly, but believe for example that the lack of oversteer during aggressive driving is not nearly as relevant in the A5 / S5 as it would be if we were reviewing the RS4. Those who disagree – or who want to go deeper on the performance side – should check our Audi News Discussion Forum where there are links to many reviews from other publications, some of which focus more heavily on performance.
The takeaways from the drive were overwhelmingly positive.
Starting with the powerplants, the 3.2-liter V6 FSI engine seems to be impersonating something with a lot more displacement because it provides not only a quick launch, but good power delivery up through the rev band in each gear. Never once did we find ourselves lagging along – in fact the engine largely became an afterthought inasmuch as more than adequate power always seemed available.
Probably the highest compliment we can pay the 3.2 V6 is that when we drove it back-to-back following the S5 we did not experience a tremendous letdown. This is in no way to be taken as commentary that the S5 was relatively weak, but instead is a well deserved accolade for the V6-powered A5. We feel sure that the quoted 0-100 km/h time of 6.1 seconds could be bested by a stock A5.
The S5 lowers the 0-100 km/h time by a full second – and that’s a strong statement indeed. Whereas the A5 3.2 V6 always felt more than adequate, the 4.2-liter V8 FSI provided an experience that was nothing short of imposing. The S5 feels both extremely quick and extremely powerful at essentially any speed and leaves us feeling like even the still mythical RS5 has some big boots to fill.
We also spent time behind the wheel of the Euro-spec A5 3.0-liter TDI and it is a clear winner. It appears able to keep up step-for-step with the S5, yet offers significantly improved fuel economy. It also provides a much flatter torque band which starts incredibly low in the RPM band. Alas this variant is not destined for North America so we’ll save readers the heartache and move to other topics.
Much ado has been made about the A5’s new Modular Longitudinal Platform (MLP), the first such Audi to be built utilizing the interchangeable architecture. From a functional perspective MLP moves the engine and transmission further back behind the axle which in theory results in significantly improved handling and driving dynamics. It also gives Audi the ability to move the axles further towards the corners, providing the much sought after longer wheelbase.
The average driver will probably be unable to discern the driving benefits derived from the MLP system. A previous Audi owner or more discerning driver will come away with the notion that the typically heavy Audi front end no longer dominates the experience. No disrespect to the fine Audi engineers, but we suspect MLP is merely a step in the right direction from a weight and power distribution perspective (not to mention cross-platform economies of scale) rather than a crowning achievement.
With its lower and wider stance an all new suspension has been designed for the A5. In twisties and high speed maneuvering the car offers little in the way of body roll, but rather feels snugly planted to the pavement. Damping is (thankfully) not overdone such that the vehicle retains a sporty feel. The S5 is of course even stiffer on the road, but once again the evolution is welcomed. In previous years good money was required in order to bring the B5 or B6 S4’s suspension up to snuff, whereas we get the distinct impression that the aftermarket demand for an S5 suspension will hardly exist.
Steering was a bit of a conundrum in that we felt that the weighting in the A5 was appropriate, but that things were overboosted in the S5 – clearly the opposite of what one would expect. Audi says that the servotronic power assisted steering is speed dependent, but things were a bit feathery at all speeds in the S5. Presumably the relay can be pulled at the owner’s discretion which would easily solve this minor problem.
From a sound perspective we could not have been happier with either the A5 3.2 or the mighty S5 because each did exactly what we wanted. The A5 was remarkably quiet in all situations – at idle, at full open throttle, on poor road surfaces and at full speed on the highway. The cockpit is ultra quiet and the V6 engine provides few clues that it even exists, and that attention to detail is appreciated.
The S5 is a study in contrast, at least from an engine and exhaust perspective – again exactly in line with our desires. With the beefy V8 under the hood the driver wants some acoustic assurance that there is in fact a monster waiting to be unleashed. Similarly, Audi has finally provided a tuned exhaust that is appropriate to an “S” – aggressive, guttural and part of the experience. From our perspective the S5 exhaust puts the RS4 to shame, and once again demonstrates why there is an active aftermarket for RS4 exhausts. Bravo to Audi in this area!
Ultimately we must ask ourselves: does the A5 / S5 live up to its promise as the new Audi coupé? Is it both beautiful and sporty to drive? We offer a resounding yes. We believe that potential owners will be awfully impressed when these cars start to arrive in the US. We also believe that this model has the ability to be, as with the much more limited R8, a car that people are glad to be seen driving; that folks are in fact quite jazzed to own. And that is exactly what Audi needs as it continues to build momentum.
We have been asked to compare the driving experience of the A5 / S5 with the R8 and the Mk2 TT which is very much an apples-to-oranges proposition. The R8 is clearly purpose built and ought better be an amazing experience with its $100,000+ price tag. The new TT is likewise an extremely capable performer, yet is built on a completely different platform, weighs less, has no real backseat and carries a completely different mandate within the Audi lineup. So rather than compare side-to-side we would simply say that the A5 / S5 is exceptional both as a luxury coupé and as a competitive offering from Audi in the marketplace.
Pricing has not been announced, but we expect to see the A5 in the $40,000 range and the S5 in the low $50’s. In a strange but welcomed twist the US will actually get the 6-speed manual S5 first with first deliveries in the late fall. The A5 will follow next spring with both 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic (with paddle shifters) transmissions offered. With the US set to be the most important market for Audi’s new coupés we are anxious to see how aggressive Audi will be with its sales campaigns. Lease pricing, too, will be an important factor.
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