Car reviews - Audi - A5 - range
Engine refinement, 2.0-litre TDI diesel capability and value, dynamic competence, supercharged S5 acceleration, quattro grip, timeless design, interior
Room for improvement
Entry-level 1.8-litre petrol engine not so thrifty, road noise
29 Feb 2012
By LUC BRITTEN
AUDI’S sprawling A5 range, with its three body styles, seven engines and more extras than a Cecil B. DeMille movie, is nigh-on impossible to describe in anything less than a book.
We spent the best part of one and a half days driving variant after variant of the newly facelifted A5 range, from the hunky S5 sports coupe to the V6 diesel cabrio, and we still sampled only the core of the 21-model range.
So what we shall do here is stick to the major changes, including the new powertrains in the range, because that’s where the interest lays in the latest iteration of the mid-sized prestige offerings – slotted between the related but more conservative A4 and the bigger and more luxurious A6.
First cab off the rank was the new mainstream petrol V6 3.0 TFSI with its 200kW of turbocharged, direct-injected power, dual-clutch transmission and quattro all-wheel-drive grip, on this occasion in the four-door Sportback body.
In a word: smooth. This refined 3.0-litre drivetrain is the archetypal German six-cylinder, with free-spinning refinement. However, without much more grunt than a Holden Commodore, it did not leave us white knuckled.
More impressive was the S5 coupe with its hot-shot supercharged 245kW petrol V6 – a carryover in the Sportback and cabrio, but new to the coupe.
Wiping away a tear of regret in the knowledge that Audi had given its sumptuous 4.2-litre V8 the flick from S5 coupe in exchange for this more parsimonious blown 3.0-litre V6, we nevertheless had a fair idea of what to expect as we had tried this engine in the A5 Sportback, where it has resided since Sportback launched in 2010.
Also linked to a dual-clutch transmission and quattro all-wheel-drive system, this engine drives the A5 coupe out of the blocks with suitable urge – faster than the V8 it replaces, it needs to be said.
But for anyone who has sampled the warp-speed madness of the bicep-bulging RS5 – the buffed and bolder V8 brother to the S5 – well, the S5’s performance is splendid, not supercar.
Under acceleration, we missed the V8 soundtrack, but there is a delicious moment on the throttle overrun at gearchanges when the exhaust gives a guttural grunt like a race car. Smiles all round.
New to the range is idle-stop and electric-assisted power steering (EAPS), both for fuel-saving purposes, and while we have had some disappointing experiences with EAPS systems – in Ford Focus, for example – that is not the case here.
The Volkswagen Group in general has this technology pretty well nailed, although some might argue that Audi’s mates down the road in Munich might do it better. But we have no major complaints with the S5’s point-and-shoot road manners, with a suitably light tiller at parking speeds and good feedback in the highway.
Our main reservation about the whole A5 range – and the S5 in particular – is road noise, which burbled up from coarse-ship bitumen via the low-profile tyres, although no one would describe it as a deal breaker.
We spent time fiddling with the optional drive select system that is supposed to provide alternative settings for comfort, sports, efficient driving and so on, stiffening the suspension and steering, among other things.
Sorry, but we were underwhelmed and willing to bet that drivers who spend big bucks on this will probably spend 90 per cent of their driving time in the ‘auto’ setting.
For us, the big deal in the new A5 range are the two new four-cylinder engines – a new and thrifty 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that serves as the new gateway to the range at $66k, and the first four-cylinder diesel in the A5, the 2.0-litre 2.0 TDI.
Both dispense with the quattro all-wheel-drive system and instead drive the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), saving both money and weight.
The CVT helps to shape the character of the car, giving a sense that A5s equipped with either four-cylinder engine are slower than they really are.
The 1.8-litre engine in particular is, as you would expect, less lively than others in the range, to the point of boredom.
It is smooth, however, and adequate for the task. But on our short test drive we could not spot the fuel savings promised by Audi, with our stint behind the wheel costing 9.1 litres per 100km – well outside the 5.8L/100km listing in the press kit.
In fact, it was not that much better than the 10.1L/100km returned by the heavier and vastly more powerful S5 and 10.2L/100km from the V6T, which probably proves the old adage about having to wring a less powerful engine’s neck to maintain the pace.
Unfortunately, we had little drive time in the 2.0-litre diesel A5, so we cannot give meaningful fuel consumption figures for that, but we would be gobsmacked if it did not beat all of the petrol powerplant figures, while at the same time missing the mark on its claimed 4.7L/100km in real-world conditions.
Performance-wise, we think this diesel a superior choice to the 1.8 TFSI, with more low-end torque and creamy delivery that is better suited to the CVT.
Like all Audi diesels, this engine is also quiet and refined to such a degree that it can only be detected as a compression-ignition engine at idle.
For a premium of less than $2000 over the 1.8 petrol, it is worth a look for those unwilling to fork out many thousands of dollars more for a V6 petrol or diesel powertrain.
Audi has made numerous small changes around the vehicle to refine the overall package, including new LED headlights and other tweaks around the nose, but when it comes to the driving experience it is not much different to the A5 we have known since 2007.
Audi pointed to the simplified switchgear in the cabin, but BMW – suitably chastened after fumbling its first attempt at central electronic controls – now makes a better fist of it, with a more intuitive layout.
Still, the sumptuous Audi cabin is excellent, with plenty of lush leather and innumerable choices of extra-cost options for comfort and safety (such as adaptive cruise control and blind-spot warning).
The slope-roofed four-door A5 Sportback is the most practical of the three body styles, with ample room for a family, but lacks the chutzpah of the two-door coupe and slinkiness of the cabrio.
The latter lacks any semblance of a decent boot, such is the volume swallowed by the folding soft-top, and rear seat room is adequate rather than spacious.
Body rigidity is always an issue with a roofless car, and the A5 cabrio gets up a bit of jiggle over the bumps, although not to the extent to cause concern in terms of dynamics.
The coupe is the happy medium of the range – showy, slippery and – compared with the cabrio – a bit more sensible.
Competent, comfortable, superbly assembled and designed within an inch of its life, the A5 and its sportier S5 alternative are a class act, albeit an aging one.
The big test will be when rival BMW rolls out the coupe and cabrio versions of its all-new 3 Series, which has just lobbed in sedan form.
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