Throw out your copy of WardsAuto “Interior of the Year” awards. The Audi A5 with the S Line seats is four-wheeled Hammer time: the world’s best automotive interior. Nobody can touch the way this cabin looks, works, feels and smells. OK, when you use the Audi A5’s thumbwheel to scroll through your iPod tunes, if you don’t select a new tune within the allotted time, the menu reverts to the song playing, which could be six clicks back. Other than that, I can’t think of anything wrong with the A5’s cabin. Yes, even the dreaded MMI mouse thingie has won me over. If you want a reason to admire/buy/worship/savor the Audi A5 3.2 Quattro, there you go. Otherwise, well, I have issues. For example . . .
The Audi A5 has been hailed as a design masterpiece in various quarters. Arguing the point is pointless; if an enthusiast loves a car’s sheet metal, nothing a reviewer can say will alter the machine’s aesthetic appeal. So here are my two bits: the A5 lacks the minimalist classicism that elevated its predecessors to art. The A5’s gangsta greenhouse is too fly for a white guy, the swage line is too swoopy AND too angular, the flame surfacing is forced and I will never forgive Audi for NOT modifying their Billy The Big Mouth Bass maw for U.S. license plates. Admittedly, the A5 is drop dead sexy from the rear. But I’ve never been much of an ass man. So there you go.
Speaking of go, our Quattro press car was motivated by a 3.2-liter six. Ingolstadt’s mill delivers max power (265 hp) at a lofty 6500 rpm. But there’s plenty of shove (243 lb·ft) on the down low (3250–5000 rpm). In fact, the direct injection six-pot feels like two engines in one. It’s a torquey beast that wants to shift early; the dashboard display actually tells you to change gears. At the same time, there are professional sewing machines that aren’t as smooth as this engine at wide open throttle. You can rev the beJesus out of the A5’s powerplant, [potentially] accelerating the 3737 pound two-door from zero to sixty in just 5.8 seconds. The question is: why would you?
The A5 six-speed manual transmission is, as TTAC reviewer Jack Baruth put it, “not Audi’s finest hour.” Less diplomatically, it’s crap. A ponderous clutch and a light throw create a major pistonhead buzz-kill. Just for [no] fun, there’s also a dead zone between the gears, which slot home with all the precision of three-year-old’s coloring. It’s virtually impossible to make a smooth one-two shift in the A5, no matter where you are in the rev range. You end up shifting at low rpms just to be done with it. Given the A5 cog swapper’s suckitude, the tiny percentage of Americans who can operate a stick shift, and the fact that Audi has access to the world’s best transmission, Ingolstadt should have fitted all A5s with DSG and called it good. The A5’s manual gearbox is the dynamic definition of not good.
Should you persevere, the A5’s handling is exemplary. Our tester came with all the S-Line bits and the Drive Select package. The latter puts 19″ summer tires on the pavement, connects them to a stiffer suspension and lets you dial out the resulting hard ride. So equipped, the A5 corners without any appreciable body roll and endless grip at enormous, extra-legal speeds. And? Even with the helm dialed-up to maximum sensitivity, even with a 40/60 front/rear torque split (i.e., a rear wheel-drive bias), you might as well phone it in. The polite engine noises entering the A5’s otherwise hushed cabin are similarly de-motivational. Note to the police: anyone hustling the Audi A5 is doing so because they really are in a hurry.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find the A5’s “happy place”: driving conditions where the press car was completely comfortable with itself. Cruising was hard work; hair-on-fire hoonery was unrewarding. A plain Jane automatic A5 mit Tip would eliminate the shifting and ker-thumping tire problems, freeing its owner to not give a damn about corner carving (although they’d miss the perfectly shaped tiller and endlessly comfortable sport seats). I’m also reasonably sure the 354 horse (at 6800 rpm) V8 S5 is a giant killer (although I’d seriously consider an autobox in that application as well). As the Brits would say, this A5 falls between two stools (as in furniture).
All that said, if someone told me they’d bought/leased a A5 3.2 Quattro with the S-Line package because they loved the way the car looked, inside and out, I wouldn’t begrudge their choice. A car can’t do everything well—even if it’s on the “there goes my annual bonus” side of expensive. To achieve genuine excellence, an automobile simply has to do one thing better than anyone else. In the A5’s case, it’s what’s inside that counts.
[Audi provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance and a tank of gas.]