2011 Audi A5 Coupe 2.0 TDi 170 SE (GB)

That the Audi A5 Coupe has been a success is beyond much doubt, as these cars are a common sight on the roads all over Europe. The original 80-based Coupe, a close relative of the iconic urQuattro sold strongly in the early 1980s, at a time when Audi had this sector of the market almost completely to themselves, as any direct competitors such as the Opel Manta, Ford Capri and Renault Fuego were all in the final stages of their model lives and BMW was merely selling the 3 Series as a regular 2 door saloon. Sadly the second generation Coupe did less well, never establishing quite the same level of interest, and so Audi abandoned the format in the mid-1990s when the first A4 model was launched. It took until 2007 before Audi had another go, choosing to launch the 2 door Coupe some months before the volume selling equivalent A4 Saloon car, a strategy the complete opposite of dread rival BMW, who start a 3 Series model refresh with the Saloon and add the Coupe later. Although the body styling of the A5 Coupe has not changed in 5 years, with just a subtle facelfit applied for 2012 model year cars, there have been plenty of updates to the mechanical specification, and the initially limited range has expanded such that the prospective purchaser can choose from a vast variety of engines, power outputs, gearboxes and front or four wheel drive even before reaching for the extensive options lists and the colour chart to personalise their car. I’ve previously driven first the V8 powered S5 model and then last summer an A5 2.0 TDi model, so knew what to expect when I was offered an A5 Coupe for the day.

First surprise when I went to collect the car was its colour. A huge proportion of Audis sold in Europe are in the more sober shades of grey and black, so to get a bright red car made for a pleasant change. I happen to think that this colour really suits the lines of the car very well, and as the weather on test day was grim, and grey, the photographer was particularly grateful for something with some colour to it. A further surprise was that this proved to be an SE. Almost all Audi loan and demo cars tend to be S-Line models, as these tend to be what most customers want, so I thought it would be interesting to see what you gain (ride comfort was at the forefront of my mind) and lose (equipment levels) by opting for the entry level car. When I noted the 12 plate on a pre-facelift car, I suspect that this was probably a stock car which had not sold and had therefore been registered for use as a dealer loaner. So, whilst I have previously written about a similar car, in Sport trim, which I drove for a week last summer, I thought it was still valid to present this review.

2011 model A5 Coupes were offered with a choice of 1.8, 2.0 4 cylinder petrol engines, as well as a 3.2 litre V6, and diesel engines in 2.0, 2.7 and 3.0 litre capacities with the last being combined with the Quattro four wheel drive system, and then the range was topped by the V8 powered S5 and RS5 models. All the engines were revised for the 2012 cars. The test car was a 2.0 TDi, which means 168 bhp and a tax favourable CO2 rating of 134 g/km. It came with a standard stop/start system, and was coupled to a six speed manual gearbox. Every VW Group TDi engine I have sampled over the years – and there have been more than a few – has been more refined than the last, and this one really was probably the best of the lot. It is still just about evident that it is a diesel when you start it up, but this is a very civilised powerplant, with none of the horrid roughness that ruined the Pump Duese powered models a few years ago. Once on the move, all traces of diesel noise appear banished, and it is the great slug of torque which does far more to remind you that the fuel comes from the black pump rather than any aural sensation. Torque is generated from low in the rev range, so no matter what speed you are doing, once you are out of first gear, there is plenty of acceleration available until you get near the red line. Not that changing gear is any hardship either, as another one time VW Group weakness, that of slightly notchy gearboxes, has also been completely eradicated and the stubby lever can be slotted very easily and quickly from ratio to ratio. Even selecting reverse, by pushing down and over to the left alongside first, is no issue at all. This all means that the car is easy to drive and even though it is only a 2 litre, you do not feel deprived of acceleration. I know from sampling the larger 3.0 TDi engine in the larger A7 that the bigger engine is even more impressive, but it costs more, is less fuel efficient and the tax bill will be higher, so for those who need to stick to the 2.0, they are unlikely to be disappointed. Thanks to the high 6th gear, the A5 is a quiet and relaxing cruiser, with minimal noise levels when the car takes to the motorway, with just a bit of wind and tyre noise evident.

I did not have the car for long enough to get any meaningful data on fuel economy, but I do know from previous experience that this is not a thirsty car. To help eke things out that bit further, there is a standard “Stop/start” system fitted, which seemed to work pretty efficiently, and there is a discrete change up indicator in the instrument displays. No-one has ever had much of an issue with the way the engine delivers its performance in any recent Audi, the disappointments have all come from the steering and handling. Some of this is unquestionably a matter of personal taste and some of it is only truly evident in the more exacting conditions of a track when things that would be inappropriate on a public road are called for. That said, there is no denying that the S-Line suspension, coupled with an array of larger wheels is not conducive to a particularly compliant ride. The test car, as an SE, lacked the stiffer suspension, and also came on 17″ wheels, which ought to have made it more comfortable. Lacking a true back to back test, and therefore having to rely on memory, it was hard to judge just how much of a difference these changes make, but certainly I can report that the ride felt perfectly reasonable to me, although I have to admit that I was not the harshest critic of the Sport suspension when I sampled that. Audi do not have the same steering feel as you will get in a BMW or a Ford Focus, but I have never subscribed to the view that (with the exception of the A3 Sportback I had last year)  that it is particularly bad. There are an increasing number of cars on our roads now where there is no feel at all, and the Audi is definitely not like that. You can certainly feel what the wheels are doing, and there is some feel associated with turning the wheel, so it is something I could happily live with. The same is true for the handling. On public roads, I really struggle to see why the criticisms that only seem to emanate from the British press (the Germans nearly always rate an Audi over a BMW!) are quite so trenchant. Maybe it is something that I have got used to after years of driving the brand, but for me, I feel very confident taking one of these cars, whether it is front wheel drive as with this test car, or Quattro down a twisty road in almost any weather conditions at speeds at which I feel are safe and apposite. Far less contentious are the brakes, which do their job well, though there is a cursed electronic handbrake fitted to all A5s, operated by a small flap to the right of the gearlever. Whilst there was the optional Hill-Holder feature fitted to the test car, another flap, this time to the left of the gearlever, there were still occasions when the brake did not disengage smoothly, which proved to be an unnecessary irritation that would not arise were a conventional mechanical lever fitted.  Visibility from the driver’s seat is not too bad. The steeply raked rear window and high back mean that you cannot really see where the back of the car is, but the SE spec includes rear parking sensors and the door mirrors offer a good field of vision and they help out quite significantly.

The interior of the A5 is familiar to anyone who knows the A4, as the basic design elements are exactly the same. It is all beautifully finished and made form high quality materials, as is the case with all modern Audis, even if the standard seat covering on this car is a rather harder Milano leather than the super soft Nappa leather available on top spec cars. Look a little harder, though, and you quickly realise that this is a less generously equipped model than others that I have driven. The most evident difference is that the centre console lacks the MMI rotary dial and the array of buttons that line either side of the gearlever on other models, leaving a rather bare looking space. The functions that on S-Line, Black Edition and S models are found on the console are transferred to the dash and surround the Audi Concert audio unit, which is a simpler unit, with just a single CD capacity, than that found in posher trims. Because this takes up more space, the controls for the dual zone climate control are different. On SE spec cars, there is dual zone climate control, set by a pair of rotary dials along with a few buttons. Other than that, all is familiar. The main dash moulding is large, and extends over 2/3rds of the width of the car, covering the central area of the dash as well as that in front of the driver. There are two large dials, for speedometer and rev counter and two smaller ones for water temperature and fuel level, and a display area for trip computer info and warning lights. All are very clearly presented and easy to read. Column stalks that are exactly the same as you find in a whole variety of VW Group products at present operate the wipers and indicators, with a button on the end of the right hand stalk to cycle the trip computer displays. The Group standard rotary lights dial is to the right of the column, along with separate buttons for the fog lights. Every switch operates with a beautiful precision and feels like a quality item.  There is a “Stop/Start” button which operates with the rather chunky “key” in the dash slot to the left of the wheel, and with your foot on the clutch pedal. You can turn the Stop/Start system off, but as the system operates very efficiently, there would simply to be little point in so doing.

When the A5 and A4 models first reached the UK, much was made of the rather off-set driving position, and I am aware of potential purchasers who have chosen another car as a consequence. The issue is mainly around the location of the clutch pedal being too far to the right, so it is the manual gearbox cars where a driver is most likely to notice. I have to say that in this car, as with the previous A5 that I drove, I did not find it a particular problem, and there is at least plenty of space in the footwell. The driver’s seat has manual adjustment in all directions, and it proved easy to find the right position in which to sit. You certainly do feel a bit more like you are sitting in this car, lower down than you do in the equivalent A4 model., but that is all part of the Coupe experience.

As with most coupes, the trade-off for the shapely rear end of the car is rather obvious when you look at the back seats. At first glance, things don’t look too bad, and if the front seat passengers are able to sit well forward, then they may indeed prove not to be so, but the reality is that accommodation in the back of the A5 Coupe is only suitable for adults over a short distance. Getting in and out is not particularly easy, even though the front seat backrest folds decently well forward, and then once installed, it quickly becomes apparent that it is headroom that is the shortest supply. When I sat in the back, I found I needed to bow my head a little to clear the headlining. The seat itself is comfortable, and with the front seat set well forward there is ample leg and knee room. But a tall front seat passenger will mean that this amount of space can all but disappear as well. The back really is designed for two people, with separately shaped seats for the pair of occupants joined together by a flat middle section of both cushion and back rest, and there is also the reasonably bulky transmission tunnel to contend with as well. By contrast, the boot is a good size. It is quite deep from back to front, and the floor area is of a similar size to that which you will find in the A4 saloon. There is a stowage compartment behind a large flap on the left hand side and an open recess on the right. You could probably tuck a few odds and ends under the boot floor around the space saver spare wheel which also lives there. No shortage of space for oddments in the passenger compartment, with decent door bins, a good sized glove box and there’s a cubby area under the central armrest as well as a small slot in front of it and a single cup holder.

When doing my research on the standard specifications of A5 Coupe models, I was quite surprised to find that there was a base model, or “Standard” in Audi speak, which was positioned under the SE in the range. With Sport, S-Line and Black Edition, this is one reason why the number of available models looked so long.  Standard cars have cloth covered seats, and have single zone climate control. You do still get the Audi Concert Audio unit complete with a multi-function display screen in the top of the centre of the dash, along with silver dash inlays and outside you get a black finished grille, 17″ 6 spoke alloys and twin exhaust pipes. Upgrade to the SE and you can add three zone climate control with an outlet for the rear compartment, Milano leather seats, an upgraded Audio unit with 10 speakers and bluetooth preparation, a three spoke leather covered wheel, a gear shift indicator, automatic headlights and wipers, rear parking sensors, 5 spoke 17″ alloy wheels.  The price premium for this was £1770, taking the list price for a manual 2.0 TDi SE to £30,330. The Sport was an interim model adding most of the changes that came on the S-Line but with more of the visual appearance of the SE. Sport adds 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. The Black Edition includes 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 they you expected to do.  The 2012 range is different with Technik replacing the Sport.

It will come as little surprise that I enjoyed my brief time with this car. I enjoyed the week I spent in an A5 2.0 TDi Sport last year, and as this car was not very different, then it was always likely that it would also appeal. On balance, I think I would prefer the slightly better equipped cabin of the Sport or S-Line model than the slightly bare looking console of this SE, and am confident that I could live with the slight penalty in ride comfort that would accompany such an upgrade. Of course, Audi have refreshed the car for 2012, making a raft of changes to the engines, suspension and trim, so on the assumption that I get the chance of driving another A5 before too long, the chances are that it will be different again. I look forward to finding out just how different it proves to be.

2012-05-22 07:00:00

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