The 2011 Audi A5 lineup limits performance choices to a single engine, but each body style has two distinct transmission choices that could make the difference in loving it or leaving it.
As for the engine, it's the VW Group's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The turbo four's 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque are a favorite of editors, since the torque curve hits a peak at the lower reach of its powerband, and pulls evenly to the 6000-rpm range. It's been named a "best engine" by other publications, and for good reason.
With all the different transmission choices, the A5's performance remains surprisingly even. In the A5 Coupe, the turbo four pairs up with a new eight-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive, and together they give the A5 lineup very quick acceleration. Audi promises it'll dash to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Opt instead for the six-speed manual gearbox in the quattro A5 Coupe, and you'll shave another two-tenths off those figures, at 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds.
On the Cabriolet side of the equation, the base car has front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission, which uses pulleys and a belt for a slightly more efficient means of connecting engine power to the wheels. The CVT has a rubbery, drawn-out feel as it changes ratios; on Nissans fitted with CVTs, pre-programmed "gears" give them better responsiveness. This is the least satisfying powertrain in the A5 lineup and the least expensive but it's also the slowest to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, so shop wisely. Opting up to a true automatic in the Cabriolet cuts that acceleration figure to 7.2 seconds. The turbo engine actually works very well with the automatic, executing quick, decisive downshifts; it's the clear preference with the smaller engine.
Hushed, capable engine performance pairs well with the A5's ride and handling. The Coupe and Cabriolet are tuned more for serenity than taut driving feel. Steering is almost delicate--it's also a little slow and is almost devoid of feedback. The composed ride absorbs most bumps easily, but tackles corners with less enthusiasm. It's still nimble enough for most casual drivers just seeking a stylish luxury two-door without much sporting pretense--though that's available with an S-line option package that has stiffer suspension settings and better handling.
Audi also makes its Drive Select feature an option on the A5, and it's another feature we'd skip. Drive Select allows the driver to tune the suspension, steering, and throttle response, and in the similar A4, the system doesn't seem to offer the right combination of ride and handling to suit its character.