2008 Audi A5 | road test

Posted on Jun 21, 2007 by

The place is Verona, made famous with the love story of all times -Romeo and Juliet – and we are here testing ’s new A5. So is it going to be love or something else? We find out.

Honestly, for Audi this year has been all about the uber fast R8. The hype, the build-up of this supercar has somewhat diluted the arrival of the A5 and its sportscar twin, the S5. But this is a good dilemma to have. New models targeting new market niches and taking the company’s Vorsprung durch Technik philosophy to new levels can only be a subtle yet stern forewarning that Audi is no more content to take the back seat with regard to its German rivals.

The growth has been steady with the Quattro brand along with industry-best interiors pushing the growth in sales. But with the A5, Audi’s reputation as a true-blue BMW-style handling rival will surely take it to the next level: with a Quattro-equipped car.

It was in 1991 that the last mid-size coupe disappeared from the Audi line-up when the Audi Ur-Quattro went out of production. This car started out as a special edition model first seen in 1980 and a short run of just 400 Quattros was planned, but during that 11-year run Audi shifted 11,560 units through their factories. Now sixteen years later Audi has deemed it fit to once again invest in an impractical two-door five-seater….and we are quite happy with this decision. Audi’s avowed goal is to reach 1.5 million annual sales worldwide by 2015 and it is with models like the A5 and S5 that this figure will be breached.

The A5 is based loosely on the stunning Nuvolari concept seen at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show. This show car was Volkswagen Group head of design Walter de’Silva’s first big calling card at Audi and he has gone on record saying that the A5 is the most beautiful car he has ever designed. No doubt, it is beautiful with its well proportioned size but there are some bits which look eerily similar to those seen on Audi’s rivals. A case in point is the tail which looks a tad too much like that found on the BMW 335i Coupe. Another minor gripe we found is that the doors are not long enough to facilitate easy entry to the rear seats which in turn means that sitting at the rear can be a dubious proposition for most adults. In many ways, the A5 resembles a grown up TT, you know, the kind that has passed through puberty and is now sprouting some facial hair. Only that in the A5’s case, it is like a teenager discovering the joys of working out in the gym and developing a body beautiful.

Past Audis were very geometrically and technically correct but de’Silva has torn up and thrown out the obvious. So the A5 gets a curvier, organic look with its gently waving waistline making for the least geometrical Audi in years. It does look good though, although we would have liked a better interpretation of Audi design…read that as more geometrical curves. More often than not, the test drive popped up queries in my mind as to the true character of this car. Is it a GT? A sporty coupe, perhaps? Try as I could, no concrete answers were coming through.

Fit and finish are exemplary; staying true to the rich legacy Audi has built up through the years. Everything fits together beautifully and the materials used are top notch. The perceived quality seems to ooze out of every bit in this car and Audi lovers will seem right at home.

While the front seats provide lots of room, rear occupants will suffer although the A5 looks like a longish car. While there seems to be just about enough legroom (for mainly average sized adults), headroom seems to be a problem. Our test cars had electric seat adjustment (and so will the cars coming to the Middle East) and once settled down inside, the frameless seals in the door effectively cocoon you from the outside world, leaving you to enjoy the excellent acoustics from the Bang & Olufsen stereo option.

 

 

The A5 coming to the Middle East will, as of now, have the excellent 3.2-litre FSI V6. Developing 265 bhp along with 330 Nm of torque this is quite a compelling motor. A new Multitronic continuously variable transmission is employed and uses eight gear ratios to propel the A5 forward – in full automatic or manual mode.

The A5 feels big and bulky, thanks to the thick pillars, especially the centre. A high waistline adds more inches to the girth and one feels absolutely enveloped if the seat is set for a sporty driving position. The wing mirrors are big and they ought to be, as through the centre mirror rearward vision is somewhat less, thanks to the fastback slope of the roof. But vision forward (three-quarter) is hampered by the wing mirrors in cohesion with the A-pillars and this makes turning into corners a tad worrisome.

The A5 employs Audi’s latest chassis technology; the new modular B8 architecture or Modular Lange Bestandteile (MLB) for modular length architecture. This same chassis technology could well pin the next generation A4, the next A6 as well as the next A8, not forgetting the next gen Q5 and A7 coupe. This means that Audi’s eggs lay in virtually one basket, or should that be one chassis!

The front differential is now located ahead of the clutch assembly, which allows the front axle to be farther forward while also making a 50/50 weight distribution easier to come by. These key touches, together with the 40/60 default torque split here for Quattro, make handling as good as it gets up till now for a non-R8 Audi passenger car.

The steering is light and flickable with lots of feel although the nose still seems to run wide if you enter a bend enthusiastically, as it happened to me on the wet roads in the hills above Verona, with little or no help from the tail when I eased off the accelerator. It would be good if the tail came around a bit to help. The front wheel drive A5 feels most agile because its lighter but the Quattro is obviously better in a corner providing more traction to exit a bend cleanly. I also drove the S5 and the 3.0 TDI Quattro and it was the last mentioned which really impressed; its fabulous torque helping to hustle around corners with aplomb. But then the Middle East is not going to get these two versions so I will speak only about the A5. Brakes were super and progressive giving a sharp bite when asked to come into play and I did not get any fading sensation despite thrashing the A5 through the narrow confines of the Italian countryside.

So the question still remains whether the A5’s credentials links it to being a sporty coupe or a GT. Only time will tell how owners will interpret their choice. For sure those wanting more power might want to opt for the sporty S5 while those wanting to be seen in a beautifully elegant coupe will interpret their buy as a GT. After all, it is different strokes for different people. And also will it entice buyers to fall in love with it? I think so, in all honesty, although it might throw up some inadequacies. But even so, in my opinion, it will be appealing to many quarters much like a flawed diamond which has its own charisma.

Speaking for myself, this is love.

 

 

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