2011 Audi A5 Coupe 2.0 TDi 170 Sport (GB)

Wednesday 8th March 1980. I remember it well. Wednesday was always my favourite day of the week, as it was the day that Autocar was published, and all being well, the paper boy would deliver my copy just before I left for school. Back in 1980, there were far fewer “Scoop” reports (only Car magazine did those) and manufacturers tried to keep everything a secret until launch, rather than following the current fashion for more bites at the PR cherry than you can imagine, even before they reveal their new product, so it was still the case that a new car would be announced when no-one knew what it looked like, or what it was going to be called. Wednesday 8th March 1980 was the day that the iconic Audi Quattro was announced, and stunned everyone. Even before the car’s prowess in rallying became evident, I was mightily impressed by the car, though resigned to the fact that I would be lucky even to see one, let alone contemplate owning one. Wind the clock forward a good few years, and Audi had introduced a more affordable version of their legendary car, called simply Coupe. A mid-life facelift had tidied up the front end, and some new engine choices were all worthwhile improvements to a car that had few real rivals. With the lease on my first company car coming to an end, I can recall agonising over whether to scrape together enough money to try to fund a secondhand one, rather than signing up to a second rep-mobile. In the end, I did the sensible thing, and used the cash to fund a house move. By this time, Audi had replaced the original Coupe and Quattro with a new car, based on the 1986 model 80 saloon, which they once again called Coupe, with the more performant version inaugurating the S2 badge. The second generation car did not score that well with the press at the time, and it did not appeal to me. There was then a long interval before Audi ventured again into the Coupe market. When they showed a concept car called Nuvolari, I wondered if the desire for a coupe Audi would come to me again, though as is the way of these things, the ultimate production car, the A5 and S5 were sufficiently different from that lovely concept that their announcement was tinged with a slight feeling of disappointment. Nevertheless, there is no doubting the elegance of the design, and when I was on the quest for a replacement for my old S4, and I had the chance to borrow an S5 for a weekend, I jumped at the chance. I liked the car, but not so much that I ordered one. Blame the lure of the V10 for that, perhaps. Since the early beginnings of the A5 in 2007, Audi has added more and more models to the the A5 range, with cabrio and sportback body styles, a welter more engine choices, as well as introducing a number of different trim levels. A5 has truly become part of  the vast Audi range and has sold well, with, until the very recent announcement of the Mercedes C Class Coupe, only really the 3 series BMW as a direct rival. With a mid-life facelift just announced, it seemed a perfect time to re-assess the A5.

The opportunity came when instead of the expected A1 courtesy car, Bristol Audi gave me the keys to an Ice Silver A5 Coupe. With just TDi badging on the car, it required a little more sleuthing to determine that the model with which I had been supplied was a front wheel drive 170 bhp 2.0 TDi in Sport trim. The list price of such a vehicle before you include any options is £31,300. Gone are the days when Audi confined the model trims to SE and S-Line, as there a number of other variants now available. Sport is based on the SE, and comes with 245/40 18″ wheels, sports suspension and sports seats over and above the SE spec. You get all these if you go for S-Line, of course, and the extra money for that version also goes towards the S-Line appearance features which include badging, the sill extensions changes to the front grille bumpers and rear diffuser, as well as S-Line trim inside which includes a black roof lining, leather stitching on the steering wheel and gear lever and xenon lights. There is now also a Black Edition, which gives you black inlays to the interior and exterior trim, an upgraded Bang and Olufsen audio unit and larger 19″ wheels. Like all the premium German brands, there remains an extensive options list and you could easily end up paying vastly more money than you expected to do.
Recent VW Group diesels have impressed me with their new found levels of refinement, and this car proved to be no exception. Put the key stub in the slot to the left of the wheel, press the clutch, and press the key in, and the engine fires. It is still evident that it does drink from the black pump, especially if you are outside the car, but the noise levels are tamed far better than ever before, and are not noticeably louder than some petrol engines now. Where the engine impresses most, unsurprisingly, is in the amount of available torque. Once underway, this car pulls quite strongly in second gear, and although the red line is still set at diesel type limits, there is plenty of acceleration available in every gear, whether gathering speed from a standing start or from within moving traffic. Once cruising at a steady speed, there is a little tyre noise and a just discernible amount of wind noise, but remarkably little from the engine. Indeed, my on a short demo run, my passenger was quite surprised to see that we were travelling at, well, let’s say motorway average speed. Motorway refinement is doubtless helped by the 6 speed gearbox which was fitted to the car. After years of rather baulky boxes on VWs and Audis, they have finally cracked what needed to be done, and the gear change is good. The lever is pleasant to hold, and perfectly placed, and gears are easy to select, with the lever moving readily between gears. There is an indicator in the instrument display of which gear is selected, along with a suggestion of when to change up, which as is always the case with these things, is configured for optimum economy and relaxed driving, so suggested change up points at about 1800 rpm each time. I was enjoying the car too much to want to confine myself to that. A further aid to economy is the inclusion of a Stop-Start system, which cuts the engine once at idle, when the car is out of gear, once the engine has warmed up. I am getting more accustomed to these features now, and this one worked quite well, firing the engine almost as quickly as you can move it into gear ready to move off.  the trip computer showed an average of 40.3 mpg, but during my time with the car, I managed far better than that, achieving 52 mpg on a motorway trip to London, which is double what I can achieve with the S6. The British motoring press are still far from convinced about the steering feel in almost any Audi, and my experience of the A3 Sportback suggested that there are times when I would definitely agree with them. Whereas the A5 does not hit the levels achieved by the first 2 generations of Ford Focus, I though it was perfectly acceptable. Well weighted, you certainly had a good idea what the front wheels were doing, in a way that was so completely absent in that A3 (and a good few other cars lately!). For the driving that I undertook, ie on public roads at responsible speeds, there were no issues with the handling, either. Whether at the limit on the track, the consequence of front wheel and a large heavy engine mounted quite well forward in the car would be an issue, is something for conjecture. The Sport suspension is the same as that fitted to S-Line cars, with firmer springs and dampers, and could invite allegations of a poor ride. Whilst certainly firm, I found no issues with it. Maybe I have become accustomed to S model Audi ride characteristics and actually do not mind! The brakes seemed fine, though this car is cursed with the regrettable electronic handbrake.  It did also feature the optional Hill Holder button, situated to the left of the gear lever, and this did seem to make it easier to achieve hill starts without the car rolling back. I would still prefer a proper mechanical lever, though. Visibility was not a problem, with generous quantities of glass compared to some recent designs, and a good view from the mirrors. Parking sensors helped to notify when obstacles behind the car were getting close.  
Open the door and look inside the A5 and you know immediately that you are looking at an Audi, as it bears all the family traits. Indeed, the dashboard layout is identical to that in the current B8 generation A4, so despite the fact that I had not actually driven an A5 before, there was no pre-departure familiarisation required. Some of the switches, especially the layout of the buttons around the gearlever for the MMI/audio unit and sat nav system are different from the S6 with which I am intimately familiar, with the on/off knob to the right of the gear lever in this car and to the left in mine. Even so, everything proved utterly intuitive to use. The main dash moulding is large, extending 2/3rds the way across the car, so the display screen for the sat nav is neatly incorporated. Below this are a pair of air vents, and then the aperture for inserting a CD with the twin MP3 connections hidden beneath a drop down flap. The climate control unit, with separate settings for either side of the car are then beneath this. There are quite a lot of buttons on the centre console around the gear lever, but these are now familiar to an Audi driver, so not as daunting as they seemed when we all complained about MMI, and i-Drive and the like a few years ago. The main instruments, quite deeply recessed and chrome ring surrounded, are clearly marked, and comprise speedo and rev counter, with smaller dials for water temperature and fuel level, and then plenty of space for warning lights and digital displays. Many of these are cycled through by pressing the button on the end of the right hand column stalk, and others are set from the MMI unit. Column stalks in this car are identical to all those in recent VW Group cars, as is the rotary light switch mounted on the dash to the right of the wheel. There are buttons on the steering wheel boss for some of the audio unit functions. Cruise control is operated by a shorter stalk to the left of the wheel.  
Whilst the interior of the A5 looks like the A4, the driving position is not quite the same, as I felt I was sitting lower in the car, which is perhaps in keeping with the coupe body style. There are plenty of (manual) ways to adjust the driver’s seat, with not just fore and aft and back rest angle, but an extendible under-thigh support at the front of the seat, and height adjusters for both the front and back of the seat, as well as a lumbar support control. The front  passenger does not get all of these. It was not hard to find the perfect seating position for me, and I experienced no issues with the alleged offset driving position which caused such alarm and disappointment when right hand drive examples of both A5 and A4 reached the UK, even though if you extend your left leg out straight, you find the clutch pedal is to the right of your left leg. The seat proved supremely comfortable, too. I am not sure that those who were asked to sit in the back would say the same. Getting in proved easier than getting out, as even though the seat slides forward when the backrest is tilted forward, the gap between the seat and door is not that large. Once in, the amount of leg room will depend on the proportions of the front seat passenger. Sitting “behind myself”, and there was enough space, but put the front seat further back, and leg room is not generous. Head room is certainly at a premium, and was insufficient for me, forcing me to conclude that the back of this car is not really designed for 2 adults to go very far in any level of spacious comfort. The boot, by contrast, is commodious. Not especially deep, it is a regular shape, and extends well back, so you could easily put a couple of large suitcases and plenty of other stuff in it. There are tie down points at the sides. The rear seats can be folded down, creating a voluminous luggage area. Inside the cabin, you get plenty of space for odds and ends, too, with door pockets, a reasonable glove box, two recesses in the centre console if you include the cup holder mouldings, as well as some space under the central armrest.
As a loan car supplied whilst mine was being serviced, I expected to get only a little experience of the A5, but thanks to some over ambitious levels of booking cars in, they ended up keeping my car for longer than anticipated, which gave me the opportunity to spend more time driving the A5, and I was not upset about that. There is much that is good about this car: it looks good, the engine is decently refined and powerful enough for everyday motoring, it was comfortable, the interior quality is superlative. The only significant demerit is the lack of space in the back, but then you expect that in a coupe, and it is far less challenged in this respect than, say the Alfa Brera. So, would I buy one? Hard to say. Were I in the market for a car in this class, I would certainly give it strong consideration, though I would have to sample the dread rivals from BMW and Mercedes as well, to decide which one suited best.
2011-08-16 06:17:27

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