Never underestimate the power of great design. Take our long-term A5. All in all, it is a completely stunning example of the emotional response great exterior design can generate. Aside from the odd exotic, or R8, there may be no more visually striking vehicle on the road-and certainly not in this class. With the A5 and S5, Audi chief designer Walter da'Silva has taken the brand's new family design language and effectively booted it through the uprights.
Ours seems particularly effective draped in pearlescent Ibis White, the inverted trapezoid grille element and foglamp cutouts standing in stark contrast to the pristine snowy panels. We've never really been big fans of the white car as art, but the A5 may just be the thing to change our minds. Drive it down the street and you're guaranteed more than your fair share of looks. In any case, more than a modest $40,000 base price would suggest. The A5 is, flat out, just plain sexy. It manages to combine sensuality and aggression in a seemingly paradoxical yet very Aston Martin-esque fashion.
Some have criticized the company for applying the LED running lights to the entire model range, citing the move as softening the range-topping R8's own visual impact. But I'm having a hard time reconciling that argument. They look great, jewel-like, and are a big factor in delivering the A5's optical impact. From your rearview mirror, it's hard to mistake this car for anything but an Audi product as it closes for the kill. (And anyway, the R8 wasn't the first Audi with daytime-running LEDs; it was the S6.)
Continuing backward, the A5's smooth, sweeping panels lend a distinct elegance, a sophistication through simplicity, that most modern German sedans or four-seat coupes seem to lack. The body panels themselves are devoid of extraneous "character lines," save for the subtle direction changes imparted by the shoulder line and another, more subtle crease mediating the doors and rocker panels. The hood, trunk, and rear bumper follow suit, favoring sweeping surfaces and smooth curves over steam-pressed busyness.
Exterior aside, one gripe I've got with the current North American A5 and A4 lineup is the lack of drivetrain options. In Europe you can choose from the 3.2-liter gasoline V6, the 2.0 TFSI, or one of three diesel-burners currently on the books: 2.0, 2.7, and a new ultra-clean 3.0 TDI that lays down 236 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque while supposedly returning economy numbers upwards of 44 mpg. And let's not mention the exclusive availability of the S tronic dual-clutch automated manual. Sucks to be us.
The engine we do get, the petrol V6, is an aging warrior, still adequate for the job but flagging somewhat in the face of the newer and more advanced power units. Still, it kicks out a goodly 265 max horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque. Funny enough, to really make it effective for sporting driving it needs to be kept on the boil-much like, say, a turbocharged four-cylinder-with the indicator needle locked into the middle to upper regions of the tachometer. Think north of 3500 rpm. Thankfully ours is equipped with the six-speed manual do-it-yourselfer, so tach needle location can be dictated readily and on demand. The shifter itself is light yet well balanced, positive in its engagement and effortless in its actuation. Signature Audi gearbox goodness. The clutch stroke is a little long, making swift gear engagement tricky at first. But you get used to it. The brakes are really very good, with great pedal feel, and stand up well to repeated heavy stabs when throwing the hefty A5-almost 3,700 pounds' worth-into tight mountain-road bends. Braking endurance also may have to do with the Quattro all-wheel-drive system's road-holding ability, which often allows you to stay pretty hot and save the brakes when diving into corners. Chasiss balance has something to do with this as well, since the A5 touts nearly evenly split front-to-rear weight distribution (48 percent front, 52 rear). And you just can't mess with Quattro's corner-exiting ability, laying traction from all four wheels via standard 40/60 power split.
One really cool option we equipped our A5 with is a driver-selectable toggle switch on the center dash linked to the various input systems-steering, throttle, suspension. Known as Audi Drive Select, it allows you to change drive characteristics on the fly. Three preset modes are included-Comfort, Auto, and Sport-that change throttle mapping, shock damping, and steering response to correspond with your mood. Additionally, a third setting, Individual, lets you mix and match characteristics from among the three presets using the drive Select computer function by pressing a button to the left of the MMI control cluster.
At A Glance
+ Sex on wheels
- Limited drivetrain options
Total mileage: 4,206
Fuel economy: 18-24 mpg
2009 Audi A5 3.2 Quattro
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
3.2-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve
Peak Power: 265 hp @ 6500 rpm
Peak Torque: 243 lb-ft@3250-5000 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.8 sec.
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)
Fuel Economy (EPA est.): 16 city/27 hwy
Base Price: $40,700
Price as Equipped: $52,415
Destination charge: $825
Price increase credit: -$400
Audi drive select: $2,950; navigation system: $2,390; Technology package (rear parking sensors w/rearview camera, adaptive headlights, keyless start/stop, Audi side assist): $2,200; Premium package (garage door opener, Xenon plus headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, auto-dimming and manual folding side mirrors, heated front seats, driver seat memory): $1,900; Milano leather seats: $1,000; Bang & Olufsen premium sound: $850