New Audi A5 aims for upmarket honours
When the first-generation Audi A5 arrived on the scene, it caused something of a sensation. Based on the A4 sedan, it translated that car’s sensible aesthetics into an altogether more glamorous and athletic design with real head-turning capability.
The coupé’s attraction has been an enduring one, and it remains one of Ingolstadt’s most balanced and universally appealing creations.
Fast forward to 2017, and an all-new, second-generation A5 has just made its South African debut. The car retains the coupé configuration (a five-door Sportback version arrives in May) and its athletic presence, but the design has become more grown-up and somewhat more formal.
At face value, the new A5 is larger, with a more pronounced front end dominated by an imposing, prowling bonnet. Pronounced profiles emphasise the curved shape, while the Audi grille is wider and more upright.
The raked windscreen flows into a smooth, wind-cheating roofline, while the rear is almost pert by comparison, but with haunches that still show off the muscle and squat, planted stance typical of the original A5 design. The standard 17-inch wheels look to small in the newcomer’s visual context – it deserves 18 or even 19-inch alloys.
So, if the first A5 was sporty and boisterous, its successor is a more sophisticated, more restrained but still unmistakably athletic interpretation of that formula.
The extended wheelbase allows more interior space in a cabin exuding Audi’s particular combination of minimalism and intuitive ergonomics, with wide-opening doors allowing reasonable access to the deep-set rear bench seat. The narrow glass aperture means rear passengers might still feel mildly constrained back there, despite decent leg and headroom.
The overall execution is exemplary though: it’s smart and classy, and looks and feels the premium quality part. Audi’s virtual cockpit is an option, but should really become a standard feature – and shouldn’t be linked to the R20k-plus on-board navigation option, which currently makes the combo a very dear extra.
The boot is capacious, easily swallowing bulky luggage or a pair of golf club sets, and confirming that the A5 will make a great long-distance cruiser in the best grand tourer tradition.
Drivetrain options are quite comprehensive, spanning a pair of 2,0-litre TFSI petrol engines and a 2,0-litre TDI turbodiesel, as well as the range-topping, super-sporty S5’s turbo V6.
The base 2,0-litre TFSI is Audi’s Ultra unit, focussed on efficiency, and good for 140 kW and 320 Nm. It gets a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox, and drives the front wheels.
A more powerful version of the same 2,0-litre four-cylinder unit links 185 kW to 370 Nm, with the seven-speed S-tronic transmission now coupled to quattro all-wheel drive.
For diesel fans, the 2,0-litre TDI turbodiesel engine mill produces 140 kW and 400 Nm, and is offered with the same S-tronic gearbox, while both front-wheel drive and quattro all-wheel drive are on offer.
Finally, the majestic S5’s turbocharged V6 delivers 260 kW and 500 Nm to all four wheels via quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed Tiptronic auto gearbox, although its snappy gear shifts in dynamic drive mode feel more like the percussive action of a sequential – quite fantastic.
On the launch route’s undulating, roller coaster-style roads between Villiersdorp and Caledon, the A5 strutted its stuff with unruffled confidence, carrying loads of speed into corners and coping with blind rises and abrupt dips with consummate ease.
It’s a car that enjoys being driven with gusto, and while you sometimes feel that the entry-level TFSI could do with a bit more poke on steeper hills, it rewards those prepared to use the full rev range with ample urge, and great driver engagement. The suspension is taut, ensuring composure and confidence, and the steering feels more communicate than the previous car, with good feedback and decent weight under load.
That said, this is also a more refined A5 than its predecessor, with low interior noise levels and a ride quality that‘s smooth without anaesthetising the driving experience.
All told, the A5 builds on the original’s strengths, and addresses its shortcomings. It has more space and sophistication, yet serves up an engaging, even thrilling drive. The styling may have lost some of its drama, but the overall car is more talented, and more convincing.
As for drivetrain choice, performance fans will be drawn to the S5’s supreme dynamic capabilities, while the TDI offers a compelling balance of economy, low-down grunt and value. However, the 185 kW TFSI quattro may just deliver the best overall combination of urge, luxury and driver appeal.
Key model pricing:
A5 2.0 TFSI 140 kW S-tronic R589 000
A5 2.0 TDI 140 kW S-tronic R619 000
A5 2.0 TDI 140 kW S-tronic quattro R652 500
A5 2.0 TFSI 185 kW S-tronic quattro R723 500
S5 3.0 TFSI 260 kW Tiptronic quattro R928 000