"Nice Audi." Every time I rolled up in the glossy red A5, I heard the same refrain. Young, old, rich, poor– if the onlooker had a tongue, they wagged it at me and my Audi. And there you have it. The people have spoken. I find this curious for two reasons. First, das volk haven't driven it. Second, the A5 is a two-door variant of the new A4. Has anyone other than a nurse or desperate housewife looked at an A4 and exclaimed, "Nice Audi?" Perhaps so, but the ad hoc A5 admiration society still raises an important question: is it a nice Audi?
It sure it is gorgeous. I understand Audi's decision to graft goatees onto the front of their cars– the big mouth bass look differentiates their vehicles from Bimmers– but that doesn't mean I've ever liked it. Until the A5. Fine, the corporate snout looks pretty slick on the A8, too. But the A5's gaping maw is, finally, perfectly balanced with the flanking headlights and air intakes. It's also the coupe's least sexy bit. The tail is double-take eye candy, with muscular haunches that [should] haunt Jag designer's dreams.
With flowing fender lines, trick surfaces and a masterful roof line, the A5 puts Bavaria's Bangled Bimmers to shame. Our tester's goofy [optional] wheels not-withstanding, design-wise, de'Silva nailed it.
Inside, Audi must have replaced their regular junta of haptic sticklers with out-of-work Citroën engineers. Virtually every control lives somewhere other than where you'd expect. The stereo's volume knob hides to the right of the gear lever (thankfully there's a thumbwheel on the steering wheel). To adjust the fan, you have to push a button to let the HVAC controls know you're interested in changing the fan speed, and then change fan speed. After a week, I still have no idea (let alone a theory) on how to switch air flow between vents. While BMW's iDrive gets more bad press than Kim Kardashian, Audi's MMI (Multi-Media Interface) requires its own adult education class. After an hour of pushing and swearing, I still couldn't reset the average MPG.
As for comfort, the A5's front seats are perfectly suitable for long journeys or lateral Gs. Unfortunately, 2+2 doesn't equal four; that pretty, sloping roofline is a literal-minded advertisement for Spinal Tap.
The A5's powered by Audi's ubiquitous 265-horse 3.2-liter FSI V6. The "fuel-straight" direct injection technology engenders more torque (243 ft.-lbs. of twist) and a cooler planet. It also requires 12 spark plugs and a gangly maze of wires under the engine's three plastic covers. Audi claims the A5 can hustle itself from standing still to 60 mph in just a tick over 6 seconds. That's fast enough for government work. But unless you stand on the pedal, you'd still be left filling-out forms.
Under normal acceleration, the A5's six-speed slushbox puts you in fourth gear at 30 mph. Obviously, the early-and-often shifting is an attempt to surmount the four-wheel-drive vehicle's inherent weight penalty (3737 lbs.) to deliver CAFE-pleasing mpg. That it does, but at the cost of driver satisfaction. True, you can select cogs by sliding the gear lever to the right for some up and down action, or whack the paddles behind the wheel. But then why not get a manual A5?
The word on the street is that Audi's new B8 platform– which positions the engine further away from the front bumper– has eliminated Audi's mainstream vehicles' notorious propensity to handle like a Mercedes with an anvil strapped onto the hood. The word on the street is wrong. Well, half wrong. The A5 Quattro's snout doesn't go truffle hunting at the slightest whiff of a corner. But sling it into a bendy bit and the chassis heads off for a nice long nap. The fact that the cog-swapper constantly guesses wrong– you can have any gear you like as long as it's the next one up– doesn't help you tackle corners, either.
In short, confidence is high. Speeds are slow. Well, unless you're on a long stretch of highway, where miles melt like snowflakes on a hot tongue. Only your whole body is melting because you can't adjust the fan. But then you stop to
read the manual get gas, look at the A5 and you find yourself biting the back of your hand because it's such a beautiful machine.
Around town, the Audi A5 feels every inch the $30k entry level luxury car fashion statement. Only it's $50k. Given the sticker shock, the coupe's questionable low speed handling and the transmission's mileage uber alles programming, Ingolstadt should thank its lucky design stars that emotion trumps logic. The world is a better place for having A5s in it, but there are better places for an enthusiast to sit.