By on April 9, 2009

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.]

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45 Comments on “Review: 2009 Audi A5 3.2 Quattro...”

  • avatar

    Not quite with you on many of these points, but not too far off on most, either.

    I find the exterior Audi’s best. It’s not minimalist, but unlike some overly busy, overly forced BMWs all of the elements cohere. Much more striking than the closely related B8 A4 sedan.

    The interior–too much hard plastic in the door panels and IP to qualify as the best. I’ve certainly seen nicer interiors in A8s. Which is as it should be, I suppose.

    I’ve only sampled this engine in the Q5. Sounded great and felt strong over 4,500. Must feel even stronger in the lighter A5.

    I’ve yet to drive a VW/Audi with a decent manual shifter. No surprise that this one falls short.

    Ditto the handling. I just don’t form nearly the same connection with an Audi as I do with the better BMWs–or the Pontiac G8. Drove a G8 GXP the other day, and you can precisely steer that car with the throttle. Incredibly fun. Even with the rear bias, this just doesn’t happen in an Audi, at least not on pavement. Probably on a dirt or gravel road–but how often is that going to be the case?

    TrueDelta will have an initial reliability stat for the 2009 A4 and A5 in early May. Audi reliability has actually been fairly good in the last couple of years. Will repair frequencies remain low as the cars age? Remains to be seen.

  • avatar

    The small greenhouse makes it look fat.

  • avatar

    so how’s it compare to a BMW 335i?

    never mind

    i think in the perfect world you’d have a 335i floorplan, motor, box and an Audi body and interior for the ultimate win

    problem with the 3 series is that it’s cliched and expected but there’s a bloody good reason for that… it’s STILL the one to beat

  • avatar

    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.

    That’s quicker than I thought it would be.

    @Michael Karesh: G8 GXP review on the way? Please?

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Somewhat of a wierd car, lets put 2.0 tfsi in it and drop price 20k. And then, 30k is still a lot of money for a car.

    Audi is charging a lot of money for looks. Nose is ugly, as is the naked emperor’s hairy beer gut.

    Its a great car, but a whole lot of money.

    Too bad about shifter impressions, although I like shifting my 2002 A4. I don’t agree Audi can’t make a decent manual.

    And if I wanted a 335 I would have bought one already. Modern BMW is not convincing at all.

  • avatar

    This is a car in search of an engine and gearbox. In a class of G37s and 335is, the 3.2 simply does not have enough power. My ’04 2.7T S-line (based on ye olde Audi 2.8) has the same horsepower lower in the rev range and stomps the 3.2 in torque. I’ve got 280ft.lbs at 1800rpm.

    Equipped with S-tronic and the A6 spec 3.0T with 300hp and 310ft.lbs, the A5 S-line would be able to go toe-to-toe with the Infiniti and BMW. As it is, it must rely on its looks. The new supercharged S5 will outperform the 3 and G – at a price, of course.

  • avatar

    Excellent review as always Robert… Can I take your words to imply the B8 A4’s manual (that is just now arriving at dealerships) is also lacking?

    I’ve been upset for a while now about the ’09 A4 Avant’s lack of a stick tranny, but after reading your review above I wonder if I should go with their autobox with paddle shifters and be done with it. (The A4 automatic seems to be reviewing well so far.)

    A request, if you will: comparison review between ’09 A4 Avant 2.0T and an ’09 BMW 328 xDrive Wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      “A request, if you will: comparison review between ’09 A4 Avant 2.0T and an ’09 BMW 328 xDrive Wagon.”

      Is that one so hard to figure out? The Beemer will be faster and more reliable. The Audi will have a far, far nicer interior, and will still be pretty fast. There are plenty of aftermarket options to make them even faster.

      So its really just that one is a nicer looking car, in and out, and the other is more reliable.

      Me, I’d buy the Audi, but then I have a long history of owning some really fun money pits, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask :)

  • avatar

    Much as I suspected. I’m a BMW fanboy (or was before the X6 M), but I have to admit that the styling of this car, or the S5 more precisely, makes me weak in the knees. Unfortunately, the performance compared to the comparably priced M3 or 335i, as the case may be, leaves me confused.

  • avatar

    It is a beautiful car. I won’t spend the money for one, but I will look longingly at them on the street.

  • avatar
    Ken Elias

    Hmmm…my sis-in-law just got a loaded A5 manual missing only the S-Line option. Maybe RF’s tester has a bad tranny, but the one in the car she owns is smooth as butter. It’s so smooth shifting that it feels better than an automatic. Practically seamless shifting with no lurching…and that’s for both her and my brother driving the car.

    The car is a real looker and while it may not be totally on par with BMW’s handling, it’s still pretty darn good and there’s no harshness in the ride/engine. Can’t say she’s ever revved it though.

    I think this car will get Audi’s new 3.0T engine with 300 horses which would make it a real contender in performance.

    The only squawk with her car on the get go was some part of the B&O amplifier which wasn’t working thus robbing the sound system of bass. Replaced under warranty. No biggie.

    The good news is that the dealer is discounting the car…the bad news is that it’s nearly a $50k car.

  • avatar

    If its anything like the new A6 I just drove, its not any where near as fun as my 20 year old 525i. Nice just about everything else though. Oh and ditto on the interior, I compared it to a bunch of them at a car show, The A5 was probably the best, I do like M45 sport interior too.

  • avatar

    The swage line IS too swoopy, the flame surfacing is a bit forced but then again I wonder what the car would look like without it.

    Otherwise it’s a very goodlooking car. Here in my hood there at least three of them rolling around (3.0TDI, S5, and what I think is a 3.2), and especially the rear looks awesome.

    Still, it has too many flaws on the dynamic front, if I were to buy one it would be for the aesthetic appeal only, so I would probably go for a base engine model (which in Europe is a 1.8TSI) with a bunch of options and use it for cruising around.

    More likely though, I would go for the slightly less attractive to look at (although it might age better), yet more nimble 3-series coupe with one of those I6s.

  • avatar

    Good review. The car’s persona comes through nicely. She does have a fine ass. I drive past one in black in the parking lot at work each day.

    Taken together, it’s a very pretty car. Perfect car for the wife really. As a package, perhaps “built for women who do lunch”, much like the CLK.

    Each time I see a new A4 come out, I pine for my first generation car, sold many years ago. I don’t see myself plowing around corners in this newest version either.

  • avatar

    Front: Wow. That’s one maw of a flying vagina on this one. How many children did it have? Side: Camaro-ish. Rear: Generic Japanese family sedan. The manual transmission feeling/operating like crap is a deal-breaker for me. I lived that horror once in a Thunderbird Turbo. Never again.

  • avatar

    I never liked Audi.

    I drove my bosess’ A8L years back and at first, I thought it was cool with all the technology inside it such as the MMI and the front/rear backup sensors…but, when I tested the LS460 and the 750li, I quickly realized the Audi was lame in driving/handling and interior build quaility. The Audi’s interior felt like it belonged in an airplane’s econo class.

    None of these car’s touch the S550 in terms of interior design quality. As for look and smell, I’d gladly take the Piano Black wood on Ceramic White in an S-class before I’d bother with the lower detail of these lesser luxobarges.

  • avatar

    the A5 lacks the minimalist classicism that elevated its predecessors to art.

    I agree. I think Audi is trying too hard, and their cars start looking like BMW instead of the gorgeous simplicity they had before. The current A6 is still perfect, while the new A4 is much overdone, and is inferior to the C-class from a design perspective.

  • avatar

    Why buy it with the S-line? Isn’t that throwing money away? It doesn’t change the drop-dead gorgeous looks, and it doesn’t change the front maw as you put it.

    I don’t want a manual, so I won’t comment there. I’ve never been a huge fan of VW/Audi, so I’m concerned about how it actually drives, that is staid versus BMW and Infiniti. I have not driven the A5, but I did drive the last-generation A4.

  • avatar

    I test drove an A5 last year along with a 135i the same day and while the 135 and by extension the 335 had a lot more power I enjoyed the A5 more. It’s a beautiful car inside and out and not at all cramped. It’s a GT like an Infiniti G37 but with more room. The one I tested was the Tiptronic and it seemed to shift almost as fast as a DSG. For 90% of your daily commute the A5 would do everything you want and with the best interior on the market where you spend 100% of your time driving.

    There is a reason you have a hard time finding A5 and S5’s but can pick from 1 of 50 335i’s at any given dealer.

  • avatar

    The A5 is gorgeous.

    Okay, now that I’ve done my duty by commenting on topic, I wanted to

    second monaco‘s request for a comparison review between ‘09 A4 Avant 2.0T and an ‘09 BMW 328 xDrive Wagon Touring.

  • avatar

    “the A5 lacks the minimalist classicism that elevated its predecessors to art.”

    great statement. Audi had a bit of understated class until they started adding all the bling. Most of their cars now lean decidedly toward the quido persuasion.

  • avatar

    “the A5 lacks the minimalist classicism that elevated its predecessors to art.

    great statement. Audi had a bit of understated class until they started adding all the bling. Most of their cars now lean decidedly toward the quido persuasion.”

    That pretty much sums it up. I used to drive an Audi – it was my very first car. It was a silver grey fancy sedan. It was very understated and elegant – yet also had this hint of aggression about it. Now though… they are so blinged out and flame surfaced etc etc that it just isn’t the same. Huge ugly maw of the grille wars unfortunately very present there. One thing that is still incredible is the interior – it is just amazing. Audi seems to be trying to combine subtlety and bling and the results just don’t really look that good. Kind of like certain BMW’s. Thank god the Aughts are almost over. These cars are going to look so dated in just a few years. This huge gaping maw trend just needs to end. It looks so bad and so obnoxious – like a drooping beer gut or a hairy, bloated female private part after having 10 kids. I would never drive something that looks like that. It doesn’t even look aggressive really. An elegant grille full of razor sharp teeth would be aggressive.

    I am sort of considering an Audi TTS or an S4 yet the grilles are such obnoxious bling now really. I like the look of the GTI 6 a lot more than anything from Audi right now. An Audi SHOULD be understated and beautiful like…. like… B-ko from Project A-ko. Or aggressive in an elegant way and loaded with power like … Sephiroth.

  • avatar

    I love the looks of this car. I’ve never driven a manual Audi (DSG or automatics only), so that is disappointing. I haven’t sat in an S Line model, but I sat in the S5 at an Audi event and have to say it’s one of my favorite interiors ever. The seats were a lot nicer than the non S-line ’09 A4 I drove. I would dare call them perfect.

  • avatar

    “An Audi SHOULD be understated and beautiful like…. like… B-ko from Project A-ko. Or aggressive in an elegant way and loaded with power like … Sephiroth.”

    I think carrying around a GIANT sword disqualifies Sephiroth as elegant ;)

  • avatar

    I just sat in one about a week ago while I was in for service on my A3 S-Line. I also drove the S5 on a race track a year ago at an Audi only event.

    The car is definitely a stunner of a looker. I think it will give the 3 Series coupe a run for its money.

    A couple of things though, the car is big. I think its way too big relative to its interior. Yes I realize its a coupe but it has less room in it than my little A3. In general I think the car is too big for what it is. I wont be buying one anytime soon.

    That being said I dont like the interior for several reasons. I dont like the dashboard in particular. It reminds me of a Buick for some reason with that wide rectangle. I much prefer the instrument pod by itself like in the previous generation. Also the ones that have wood in my opinion look tacky. It may be real but its looks like plastic and I really dont like the chrome edge around it. Like I said it reminds me of a Buick.

    Also the backseat is useless. Really useless. I am 5’11” and with the seat adjusted properly I am not sure who could sit back there.

    At 50K its not particularly cheap but neither is the BMW coupe.

    As for the driving, the S5 I drove on the track was quick. Easily as quick as some Porsche’s as I have driven. That being said it just not an exciting car to drive. Kind of muted and smooth. A perfect luxo cruiser if thats what you like. But if you are looking for that Porsche kind of excitement you are better off buying the Porsche.

  • avatar

    A car for Generation Jones.

    354 horses yap must be so heavy that needs a lot of torque and HP.

  • avatar

    I love my 07 A3 S-line so I hate to read a review saying bad things about Audi, not that I disagree. Like tincanman99 I saw this car briefly at the dealer and wasn’t all that excited by it and the price is out of my range anyways.

  • avatar

    It’s a great looking car inside and out but for $50K I’d still take the 335 coupe – its not as large and more entertaining to drive even if the design is somewhat anonymous.

  • avatar

    “I think carrying around a GIANT sword disqualifies Sephiroth as elegant”

    Sephiroth just has this flawless, elegant approach to aggression. Even with the sword – which is long and graceful, unlike Cloud’s obtuse and club like weapon. An Audi should be like that – powerful and elegant. Not mawlike, obnoxious and ugly.

    Anyway, straying off topic perhaps.

    Oh and check this video gosh it is such an awesome anime if you’ve never seen it you are seriously out of touch
    A-ko VS B-ko

  • avatar

    Haven’t driven an A5, but if it drives anything like an A6 with the new supercharged V-6, it’ll prove to be more of a tourer than a scrapper.

    Disagree with the assessment of the interior, though…it’s nice enough, but the styling and details say “Toyota” to me.

    My vote for the nicest current interior would go to the Jaguar XF or Cadillac CTS. And neither are cursed with that MMI silliness.

  • avatar

    the swage line is too swoopy AND too angular

    This is my least favourite part of the car’s exterior. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the eighties and grew on angles, but I don’t like swoops in sheet metal.

    It’s not quite as gross as the similar line down the side of Hyundai Elantra sedan, but it wrecks an otherwise nice design. It’s quite striking otherwise.

  • avatar

    such a work of art inside and out… it needs a new engine BAD… fit it with the new 3.0 SC’d 300hp one and it’ll be a winner

  • avatar

    best interior, nope, sorry
    climate control stuck in front of shifter negates that.

    What predecessors? What art?

  • avatar

    Mr. Farago, now THIS is a good review. I’m hoping it wasn’t contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, but I believe you’re sincere.

  • avatar

    oh well, so you’ve just confirmed, I’d NEVER buy this car. To me, it looks bad. Best angle is front (though the Leds makes it look like it has eyeliner or something – same thing I hate on the R8 – really ummm how can I put it….feminine – though I’d like to use a stronger word, but afraid of flaming policy…). If it’s bad to drive, the sides are bland and the back is oh so blah, so generic Asianish…It’s my opinion but at this price I stick w/ the Italians.

  • avatar

    Robert – nice review. I fell in love with the A5/S5 when it was first introduced, and I still drool everytime I see one go by.

    I drove an A5 recently and a new A4 6-speed and I have to say, I found the manual transmission to be quite good. Not M3 good, but very good, smooth and precise.

    As to the 3.2 V6, I do agree – it’s getting very long in the tooth compared to what else is out there. I’m very interested to try out the new 3.0T (supercharged 6) that they’re dropping into the new S4, the 2011 S5 (for America, the V8 stays for 2010) and a de-tuned version in the new facelifted A6. THis will be the sweet motor to own, methinks.

    As to the ride and handling – I think it’s important to recognize what this car is as much as it is not: it’s a GT, so it’s a bit softer and a bit more relaxed. Perhaps with the upcoming A7, Audi will transition the A5/S5 into a more sports-tuned model and the A7 will take the GT crown?

    Anyhow – for someone like me who doesn’t have time to track the car, wants something fun, gorgeous to sit in, pleasant to ride in for long distances and hot to look at, the A5 is a good pick…just *sigh*, too damned expensive.

  • avatar

    At one year and 22,000 miles, I still love my red A5 six speed.

    No problems — not that there should be with a car that is so new. It has been a good commuter car.

    My car does not have the S-line package.

    I find the engine and shifter good, but not great. The 2.7 turbo six would have been a better engine for the car. If the car becomes available with the 3.0 supercharged engine from the A6, I would probably trade for it.

    I love the looks of the car including the front end. No modern automobile designer can hold a candle to Walter DeSilva of VW/Audi.

    I drove the 335xi and its engine is wonderful. I just couldn’t get over the looks of the car.

    Other than the 8 series, there has been no BMW in the last 20 years that I have found the least bit attractive.

  • avatar

    ” Best angle is front (though the Leds makes it look like it has eyeliner or something – same thing I hate on the R8 – really ummm how can I put it….feminine – though I’d like to use a stronger word, but afraid of flaming policy…). It’s my opinion but at this price I stick w/ the Italians.”

    The “feminine” part is the best thing about it.
    They need to make one in that great pink that a TT was painted in. (google pink Audi TT)
    The eyeliner part is a great idea, changing colors LEDs, yes.
    Americans can’t stick with the Italians

  • avatar

    The A5 is a gorgeous car inside and out. I had the pleasure of driving one like the tester when the owner decided to trade it in for a Hyundai Genesis! Yes a 2009 Audi A5 3.2 Quattro 6 speed with 3000 miles traded for a Hyundai. How does $12,000 of depreciation in 3 months sound? Ouch!

    I think the review is spot on about the A5 just not being comfortable in its own skin.

  • avatar

    Audis to me always look better in pictures than in person. Maybe I just can’t get past that god awful grill.

    As our famous leader once said ” you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig..”

    Enuf said.

    Big Miles

  • avatar


    This is a car in search of an engine and gearbox. In a class of G37s and 335is, the 3.2 simply does not have enough power. My ‘04 2.7T S-line (based on ye olde Audi 2.8) has the same horsepower lower in the rev range and stomps the 3.2 in torque. I’ve got 280ft.lbs at 1800rpm.

    Gotta agree with you there Davekaybsc. I have the ’04 A6 2.7T S-Line as well and its hella fast. It’s one of those cars that just got everything right. Fast, if not faster (especially at the low rpm range) than the current A6, C5 looks (no large-mouth bass grill) and, for enthusiasts, VERY mod-friendly. Funny how some manufacturers can’t replicate past successes. The ’04 A6 S-Line and E39 M5 come to my mind of cars that just nailed it and have not really been topped yet.

  • avatar

    Like I’ll EVER buy a European car again? And I happen to think the 2002-1004 A4 is the most perfectly styled sedan and wagon ever: simple, tasteful, understated, and timeless. Reminds me of the NSU Ro80.

    Not seeing a ‘vagina’ there, but these new Audis with the dying fish gasping for air look has sunk to a new low with the addition of the catfish whiskers. So what, get in and drive? The sucking mouth is also replicated on the dang steering wheel hub!

  • avatar

    “accelerating the 3737 pound two-door from zero to sixty takes 5.8 secs.”

    Did you say 3737 lbs?? With the stick? Can’t imagine motivating its fat ass around corners with a full tank o’gas and my enlarged gluts. I’m quite amazed it can move that fast. Almost like driving the porky Challenger.

  • avatar



    Though lots of people just want a BMW badge, I find the Audi S5 beautiful. The V8 engine makes me drool.

    I like Audi A5/S5 for another odd reason : quattro and the four circles. With Black/black configuration, the Audi can be compared to Tidus in Final Fantasy X.

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