Audi A5 Coupe is Britain's favourite executive coupe - and is even better in revised form. Jonathan Crouch finds out why
On paper, the Audi A5 is the market's most complete compact executive coupe, more than ever in the improved version we're looking at here. Performance statistics, running costs, residual values, practicality - all of these things have been ruthlessly checked to improve upon standards set by rivals from Mercedes and BMW. It's a clinical approach. And not surprisingly, it's produced a car that's very difficult to fault.
Efficiency. It's a very Germanic trait. And of all the Teutonic automotive brands, Audi epitomises it best. Not only in its compact hatches and business-bound saloons which have to be affordable to run, but also in sportier, more impulse-purchase models. For goodness sake, they've even made a diesel version of their R8 supercar. The improved A5 Coupe we're looking at here won't raise quite as many eyebrows as that but it still claims to be a shockingly efficient way to have an awful lot of driving enjoyment. This is the improved, mildly facelifted version that was launched at the end of 2011, four years after this car first hit the UK market. Visually, the changes on offer may be slight but under the bonnet, they could hardly be more far-reaching. All the engines on offer are either completely new or usefully revised, with the result that wherever you look across the range, running costs are substantially reduced, often despite significant hikes in power. So an A5 makes sense. But that's not usually the over-riding reason for buying a coupe of this kind. Can it reward as much at the wheel as it does on the balance sheet? This is something that'll be essential if this car is to continue to be able to face down its arch-rivals, coupe versions of BMW's 3 Series and the Mercedes C-Class. Let's find out.
You'd think, when it came to driving dynamics, that this A5 would be starting out with a disadvantage over 3 Series Coupe rival. Its front-driven layout will, after all, never reward an enthusiast in quite the same way as a rear-driven BMW. But in originally developing this car, Audi was convinced that it could be made to feel almost as good. To prove the point, the engineers took a completely clean-sheet approach, developing an entirely new MDS platform that saw the engine moved way back from its usual position beyond the line of the front axle to a point behind it. Since the engine is the heaviest part of any car, that change was pretty significant, distributing this Audi's mass more uniformally across both axles. That improved handling response, while the longer wheelbase necessary to facilitate the change enhanced the ride quality. Audi fans will also point out that this car alone in its class offers the option of quattro four-wheel drive, tempting indeed given our wintry climate. Under the bonnet, if you're an enthusiastic driver, less is probably more. With less weight to carry around, lower-order 2WD petrol and diesel models feel more agile and more responsive than their pokier 3.0-litre stablemates and I prefer the 6-speed manual transmission to the auto-only set-up you're limited to on pricier models. In the TFSI petrol line-up, even the entry-level 170PS 1.8-litre variant manages sixty in 7.9s on the way to 143mph. Beyond that, there's the venerable 211PS 2.0-litre unit originally from the Golf GTI, this offered with four wheel drive. For me, a 2.0 TFSI A5 capable of sixty in just 6.4s on the way to 155mph is pretty much the perfect package. The 2.0-litre TDI diesels also offer plenty of performance, with both 163 and 177PS variants capable of reaching sixty in around 8s on the way to around 140mph, the faster of the two offered with the option of quattro 4WD. If all that's not enough and you really do want an A5 with a bit more straightline poke, then you'll be pleased to know that the higher end petrol range is a lot more competitive these days. Previously, buyers had the unappetising choice of an aging 3.2-litre V6 and a heavy, thirsty 4.2-litre V8 in the S5 model. Now, both units have been replaced by 272 and 333PS versions of the quicker, more efficient 3.0 TFSI supercharged unit borrowed from the larger A6 saloon. There's a two-way 3.0-litre choice in the diesel range too, either a 204PS variant with two wheel drive and 8-speed Multitronic auto transmission, or the car we tried, the top 245PS 3.0 TDI quattro model with 7-speed s tronic auto transmission. And this particular car really is very quick indeed, sixty from rest occupying just 5.8s on the way to an artificially limited 155mph maximum.
You have to be very familiar indeed with the looks of an A5 Coupe to notice the differences made to this revised model. Essentially, it's been all about bringing the styling into line with Audi's latest design language, which has meant a sharper-looking set of wedgy A6-style headlamps that on most UK models will be surrounded by the LED strip daytime running lights that are fitted to S line and top of the range models. There's also a cleaner-looking single-frame front grille, as well as tweaks to the front bumper and the bonnet. The more angular tail lights have been re-styled too and use brighter LED technology. But this is detail stuff. The overall aesthetic look and feel of this car hasn't changed, the interesting mixture of straight lines, sweeping curves and convex surfaces gelling into a very good looking shape indeed. It's one that looks even better in the metal, the wavy beltline that runs from the headlights back to the taillights remaining the car's most distinctive feature. It's a practical shape too, a proper four-seater, with wide doors that make it easy to get in and out of the back. Once installed in the rear, you'll find more room than in equivalent BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class Coupe rivals, though the sloping roofline means that those over six foot will want to bargain for a place upfront. The 455-litre boot is also the biggest in the class, though the boot aperture could be wider. Plus it can be extended to 829-litres by pushing forward the split-folding rear seats. And behind the wheel? Well, it's as beautifully finished as ever, tailored like a sleek-fitting suit, everything being clear and elegant.
A5 Coupe models continue to occupy the £27,000-£40,000 bracket, with a £2,000-£3,000 premium to pay if you want to switch from any given petrol variant to its diesel alternative. And there'll be a little more to pay on 2.0-litre petrol or diesel versions if you want the reassurance of the quattro 4WD system that's standard on the fastest 3.0-litre petrol and diesel models. Budget an extra £1,500 on top of the cost of lower-order variants if you want automatic transmission - an 8-speed Multitronic unit on front-wheel drive models or a 7-speed dual clutch s tronic system on quattro variants like the one I'm driving here. All the A5 Coupe's engines are torquey turbocharged direct injection units and whichever you choose - 1.8, 2.0 or 3.0 TFSI petrol models or either of the 2.0 or 3.0-litre TDIs - you should find your car to be decently equipped. It's a bit surprising that the entry-level variants do without Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, but all models do get 17-inch alloys, an 8-speaker MP3-compatible CD stereo with aux-in point and SD memory card reader, front foglights, a leather-covered steering wheel, a category 1 alarm and an automatic opening boot. Personally, we'd avoid S line trim with its sharpened suspension that spoils the supple ride that's one of this car's nicest features. Still, that's up to you. Safety provision runs to all the expected airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints and isofix child seat fastenings, as well as electronic driver aids for braking, traction and stability control. Once nice feature that's standard across the range is a 'break recommendation' system that monitors your driving reactions and will prompt you to stop for a restorative coffee if necessary.
If you really want to maximise the potential for low running costs in your A5 Coupe, then your dealer is likely to point you towards the entry-level diesel variant, the 163PS 2.0TDI ultra, which manages 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and puts out just 109g/km of CO2. That's a useful improvement over the figures recorded by the standard 177PS 2.0TDI diesel model - 61.4mpg and 120g/km. You'll need the standard version though, if you want to pay extra for the option of quattro 4WD, but if you go for that, bear in mind that running costs take quite a hit, the figures falling to 55.4mpg and 134g/km. That's worse than you can expect from the 204PS 2WD version of the 3.0 TDI model (which rather creditably manages 57.6mpg and 129g/km). The top 3.0 TDI quattro we tried manages 49.6mpg and 149g/km. Sorry to keep at you with the figures, but we need to complete the picture for those considering a petrol A5 Coupe. The entry-level 1.8 TFSI manages 49.6mpg on the combined cycle. Even so, we'd be tempted to stretch up to the 2.0 TFSI quattro model, which despite its extra 41 PS isn't far behind the entry-level variant on the balance sheet, returning 42.8mpg and 152g/km. The pokier 272PS 3.0TFSI variant though, can manage only 34.9mpg and 190g/km - some way behind obvious rivals. More work needs to be done here.
The Audi A5 may not be the sportiest or the most prestigiously-badged compact executive sports coupe you can buy but the sales figures suggest it's the one that most customers in this segment would rather have. That was the case even before the far-reaching changes made to the model we've been looking at here. So were they really needed? Well, Audi's a brand with little time for such questions. The proof in the product is that Vorsprung Durch Technic is more than just a marketing slogan, a passion for perfection that means the company's never-ending quest for better, more efficient products never stops. And this is certainly one of those. In terms of driving satisfaction, it's as close to the class-leading rear wheel drive BMW 3 Series Coupe as any front-driven rival is ever likely to get. And in every other respect - quality, practicality, value and running costs - this A5 is unequalled in its market. Some may find in Audi's ruthless pursuit of excellence a product that can be rather soul-less. But many more will see this car as being everything that a desirable sports coupe should be. Very smart. Very cool. And very Audi.