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. It puts out 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Our editors like this powerplant in just about every VW Group car that uses it. The low-end torque fits a broad range of tasks and the engine pulls strongly and evenly into 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, Audi's turbo-4 couples to an 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Together they pound out quick acceleration. Audi says this drivetrain scoots the A5 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. With the available 6-speed manual, the A5 Coupe Quattro hits 60 mph in 6.4 sec.
Cabriolets come configured slightly differently. The entry-level model gets a continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive. The transmission doesn't change ratios quickly, and contributes to a motorboat-like effect. It's smooth, but takes its time to respond to throttle changes. It's the least expensive A5 but the worst for enthusiasts, since it's also the slowest to 60 mph, taking 7.5 seconds to get to that benchmark. 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.