- A real four-seater, more or less
- A strikingly handsome vehicle
- A high degree of sophistication
- Transmissions? Take your pick
- Great (S5) performance becomes (RS5) awesome
- CVT=not for me
- Cabriolet loses valuable rear seat space
- Trunk space isn't all that large
- Bluetooth's an option?
A pretty, talented family of coupes and convertibles, the A5 lineup ranges from the black-sheep CVT Cabrio to the unabashedly awesome RS5.
It's widely regarded as one of the most attractive two-door luxury cars of the past few years, and Audi's A5 hasn't done much to tamper with its affable style for the 2013 model year. Available as a coupe or a convertible, and in sporty S5 and harder-edged RS5 trim, the lineup spans a range of drivetrains and body styles that makes it more versatile than its competition.
Elegant and striking, the two-door A5 bears the stamp of Audi's recent vintage of cars, with careful attention to surfaces and a bare minimum of detail. It's equally handsome as a coupe or convertible, no mean feat, though the Cabriolet's dash of decadence is undeniably a star turn. It only lapses at the front end, where the deep, open-jawed grille seems too large and abstract, especially this year, since designers have slimmed down the headlamps and subdued the frame of the grille. The cabin strikes a coordinating chord, with soothing shapes and a high level of fit and finish, and new choices of trim ranging from carbon to stainless steel to good old-fashioned wood.
A boulevard cruiser at heart, the A5 comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 211 horsepower. The Cabriolet suffers with a base front-drive model outfitted with a continuously variable transmission, as much a concession to fuel economy as to low-cost lease deals. Skip it for virtually any other model: all of them get standard all-wheel drive, and whether you choose the six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic, the shifting amplifies the four's wide powerband while mostly muting its growl. Fuel economy is good, with a high of 32 mpg on the manual-equipped Coupe. Ride and handling are tuned for comfort, though Audi's available Drive Select system lets owners program steering, throttle, suspension and transmission profiles for more aggressive feel. There's also variable-ratio Dynamic Steering. We'd pass on both, and opt instead for the sport suspension offered on coupe models for its predictable, slightly firm road feel.
A step up into the performance arena brings the S5 coupe and cabriolet, and with them a 333-hp supercharged V-6 and a choice of manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmissions. A sport suspension, better brakes and bigger wheels and tires give it tauter handling with less understeer than the basic A5; Drive Select and Dynamic Steering are on the menu as well. The champion of the lineup is undoubtedly the RS5: its 4.2-liter V-8 has 450 ripe-sounding horsepower, its dual-clutch transmission is effortlessly quick to shift, and its available sport differential turns the coupe into a rival for the likes of the C63 AMG, M3, and CTS-V.
The A5 lineup is a car for a couple and their luggage to travel in, though one or two additional riders can fit in the rear. It's close-coupled but not cruel. The cabin is well laid out as well as finely built, and the controls are lighter than those of other German coupes. Leg and shoulder room are generous, and the seats are well-padded and bolstered. The rear seats, on the other hand, are too short in the legs for adults. From the driver's seat, visibility rearward is on the poor side due to the chunky C-pillars that look so good on the outside (the Cabriolet avoids this criticism with the top down). Interior storage space is generally good, with a locking glove box and console, one-liter bottle holders in the doors, and a larger-than-average trunk with fold-flat rear seats.
The S5 and its Cabriolet counterpart, like most luxury performance cars, haven't been safety tested, but they do offer an extensive list of safety features, including: dual front, side, and side curtain airbags; knee airbags, traction and stability control; anti-lock brakes; active pop-up roll bars in the Cabriolet; and a rear-view camera with parking sensors.
Luxury features are similarly exhaustive, with all of the usual luxury suspects on board, including all the power and heated accessories you can think of, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. Optional add-ons include the excellent Bang & Olfusen sound system, navigation, and iPhone integration. The latest-generation MMI controller is also employed, making it easy to control audio, navigation, and other on-screen functions with its joystick-like controller. New Google Earth and Street View mapping provides some of the clearest, most beautiful renderings we've seen on a GPS.Of all the models, the A5 and S5 convertibles shine brightest. Their well-insulated tops can be dropped in a matter of seconds, and they'll rise quickly enough that you won't get drenched when you stop in a sudden shower. Sure, the cloth top blurs some of the coupe's crisp roofline--not to mention eating further into the rear seat space--but the sensation of sun in the face and (a little bit of) wind in the hair makes those quibbles fade into insignificance.