Car reviews - Audi - A5 - Coupe range
Quality, interior, handling, performance, refinement, detailing, safety, technology, ambience, aroma, improved value
Room for improvement
Regressive design, some squeaks, road noise, fiddly T-bar shifter, no manual availability, expensive desirable options
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23 Mar 2017
MAKE no mistake. The current Audi A4 was one of last year’s best debutantes.
Encapsulating the very essence of the Ingolstadt company’s Vorsprung Durch Technik – or progress through technology – the medium-sized four-door sedan and wagon takes the fight right up to the Mercedes-Benz C, BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE equivalents with suave aplomb. Even the cheapest 1.4 TFSI front-driver is a gem.
Yet there’s always been something disappointing about the coupe offshoot of this particular Audi series, which of course dates back to the pre-’94 80/90 days, so we just cannot assume we’d feel the same about the hardtop.
Maybe it’s the long shadow of that original B2 Ur-Quattro, the seminal all-wheel-drive high-performance flagship that rewrote both the sports and competition car rulebooks when it burst on the scene in 1980. For whatever reason, all subsequent models have delivered on style for sure but not always on driveability. Or comfort. Or refinement. Or value. Or all of the above.
So it’s with some irony that for the B9 two-door version of the A4 – known as the A5 Coupe since the debut of the previous B8 in 2007 – that perhaps the sole let-down has to do with none of the former bugbears, and everything to do with the styling. And obviously the way this sort of vehicle looks is paramount.
Ex-Audi design chief Walter de Silva’s first A5 Coupe was – is – a proportional and detail masterpiece. From any angle. In any colour. Under any light. Right up there. With the Alfa 156. And original Audi R8.
You may disagree, but the follow-up looks like the first one that’s warped ever-so-slightly underneath the hot sun. It’s that fussier so-called Tornado Line etched deeply uneasily along the flanks of the car, combined with the snarling face that lacks the grace and warmth of the original.
What was subtle and alluring is now trying too hard. Don’t get us wrong.
Delicacy and attention-to-detail brilliance do abound, but the whole is… less so.
Happily, in mostly every other way, the B9 A5 Coupe is at-times cataclysmically better than its at-times patchy predecessor. Such as in its stunning interior design and layout, which combines class, comfort and usability with devastating exquisiteness.
The few faults are the same ones that irk in the A4: occasional squeaks from the trim fiddly transmission lever action and jarring Virtual Cockpit fonts.
The latter’s speedo and tacho markings have varying thickness to theirs which just isn’t right.
We’re clutching at straws. The seats are brilliant. The amount of space more useable. The level of refinement palpably higher. And the overall ergonomics on a par with the gorgeous design inside. Stunning effort, Audi. And much better than before.
All three petrol variants were driven on the launch around Tasmania – the base 140kW 2.0 TFSI front-driver, volume-selling 185kW 2.0 TFSI Quattro, and rip-snorting S5 with a 260kW 3.0 TFSI Quattro powertrain. All petrols, all autos, all good.
Only back-to-back blasts would reveal the usefully extra oomph provided by the 185kW 2.0 TFSI Quattro compared to the 140kW entry model. Both are smart off the line, Bailey’s smooth as they glide along, and on-the-ready alert to driver’s acceleration requests.
Neither featured the optional adaptive dampers, but as the Tasmanian roads as chosen by Audi were generally of a very high quality, we cannot tell you if the five-link suspension on 18 and 19-inch wheel and tyre packages worn by the base and mid-line A5s respectively was bothered by bumps, humps and ruts.
Both did, however, transmit some droney noise on coarser surfaces, while the Hankook 245/40R18s on the 140kW front-driver did seem to have less grip than expected during one fast cornering moment.
Otherwise, like the cars themselves, the A5 Coupe’s beautifully weighted and well-balanced steering walks a fine line between athleticism and comfort. These are true grand tourers with abundant levels of pace, refinement and comfort as expected. Fast point-to-point poise and control.
We’d choose the 185kW 2.0 TFSI Quattro simply because of the all-weather surefootedness this delivers so effortlessly in spades as well as the way it dishes out all that performance so melodically.
Yet the S5 Coupe takes the latter to new sonic levels, backed up by rousing, walloping acceleration that seems incredible at this price point – in an Audi of this size at least.
No dual clutches for the 3.0-litre turbo (the previous one employed a supercharger) armed with a cracking eight-speed torque-converter auto, the blown V6 flies along with frenetic urge, unruffled by corners and cambers as it barrels through with virtually impervious ease.
Meaty steering, tenacious grip, ass-hauling brakes – this is a delicious GT experience. Especially as the standard adaptive dampers helped isolate but not alienate the road below over the few treacherous bits we did encounter. In the end, though, apart from the retrograde styling, it’s the A5/S5’s new-found value that sets old and new apart most. There’s enough beauty in the cabin, refinement, performance and dynamic delivery to justify the circa-$10K premium Audi charges for two less doors compared to the A4, while the standard spec listing isn’t the barren wasteland that German luxury cars once were.
Yes, some of the more desirable options are pricey, but there are no longer yawning chasms in the equipment department.
So the latest line of mid-size Audi hardtop is, by some margin, the greatest in generations, and perhaps even ever if we discount the supernaturally gifted Ur-Quattro. But even the latter’s unique, never-copied but always admired boxiness remains as a reminder that maybe Ingolstadt’s designers should have broken away from what came before, simply because it couldn’t have been topped.
If the Ingolstadt design team had been braver, then maybe the B9 A5 Coupe would have been the best of this brilliant A4 iteration.
We hope this mistake isn’t repeated again.
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