2011 Audi A5 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 31, 2011

The Audi A5 Coupe and Cabriolet bear one of the most elegant bodies in autodom, and drive with a light, easy touch.

Walter d'Silva, Audi's head designer, once called his A5 t he best-looking car he'd ever drawn. If you take that as fact, is there any way to top it?

The only thing we can think of is to de-top it. The best way to improve on the sensual 2011 Audi A5 Coupe is to turn it into an open-air Cabriolet, in our opinion. And given the choice, the convertible is the way we'd go if we were going to spend $40,000 or more on a luxury two-door from Audi.

In either body style, the A5 comports itself well. It's a boulevard cruiser at heart, with a light touch to its controls and a well-organized, finely built cabin. It's cozy enough for two adults and lots of weekend bags, though adding another couple for a cross-town trip isn't out of the question. But as a convertible, it shines: the top lowers quickly, or rises to the occasion of keeping passengers well-insulated from sun or rain. It loses some of the polished surfaces of the hardtop, and still the Cabriolet does a better job of entertaining its wards. Two of them, at least, since the back seat gets even smaller when the roof removal project is complete.

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The turbocharged four-cylinder common to all A5s also earns fuel economy numbers that keep it within psychological grasp for shoppers lurching toward higher-mileage choices. There's no diesel or hybrid available, but EPA ratings in the high 20-mpg range give the A5 enough cover to substitute for thirstier, more overtly sporting two-doors.

It's well-equipped in base form, and has a full set of options to entertain drivers, including a new HD Radio option for the 2011 model year. The big omission from the 2011 A5's features list probably is a great-weather guarantee. Let us know when you find that one, will you?

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2011 Audi A5

Styling

Expressive sheetmetal and a luxuriously functional cabin give the 2011 Audi A5 a cool character all its own.

Sharing its running gear with Audi's A4 four-door, the 2011 Audi A5 Coupe and Cabriolet make much more from the meat and potatoes they're given, than do the four-door counterparts.

Step back from its strong grille and the A5 reveals a muted aggression that's in lockstep with Audi's sedan lineup. To the rear the A5 has some of the supple, sculptural look of classic coupes like the Sixties Camaro. It's striking though subtle. Poise is baked into its rear haunches, and the sexy rear end has just enough detailing to accent its shape, not overwhelm it. Rear LED lighting shows up on most models, as it's becoming an Audi hallmark.

The A5's cockpit is equal to the sheetmetal's high design standard. Inside, the Audi A5 feels luxurious, even lavish. Plenty of attention has been paid to details like its gauges, and the light touches of metallic trim on its buttons and switches. It's handsome, but may be a touch less sophistication than Audi's interiors from just a generation ago. Drivers can opt for suede and leather seats, and can pay for aluminum or black trim on the dash, replacing the usual wood.

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2011 Audi A5

Performance

Its lighter touch may leave you wanting for something a little sharper than the 2011 Audi A5, but acceleration is strong in the Coupe and the automatic Cabrio; skip the CVT and Drive Select if you can.

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.

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2011 Audi A5

Comfort & Quality

It skimps a little on rear-seat room, but the 2011 Audi A5 lavishes passengers with great front seats, a roomy trunk, and top-drawer finishes.

It's not strictly a two-seater, but the 2011 Audi A5 has a lot more room for front passengers than it does for those in the back.

Both the A5 Coupe and Cabriolet start with supportive front seats mounted to grant good leg and head room. There's a firmness to the seats that feels good after covering long distances, though the bolstered buckets in the sporty S5 coupe and convertible would be a great addition to the options list, too--though the available S-line sport seats are close. Like most cars in this class, the headroom is snug when the optional panoramic sunroof is fitted on Coupe models.

The rear seats in the coupe are small and can be difficult to get into, even with the A5's long doors. Once they're wedged in back, adults will find almost no legroom and not much more headroom under either the hard or soft roof. The relative lack of room is more pronounced in the Cabriolet, since it's a bit narrower across the back where its top is hinged to the body. Still, compared to some other four-seat convertibles--cars like the Volkswagen Eos--the A5 Cabriolet's rear seats are relatively roomy.

The rear seats are split to fold down in equal portions, or together, which boosts access to the trunk. Even in the Cabriolet, the cargo hold has space for a fair amount of luggage; it hangs on to 11.3 of the Coupe's 16.3 cubic feet of trunk space, even when the top is folded down.

The A5 affirms Audi's reputation for high-quality interiors. Surfaces have a low-gloss luster, and the cockpit shows the company's mastery of mixing plastic, leather, and wood in the right proportions.

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2011 Audi A5

Safety

The 2011 Audi A5 hasn't been crash-tested, but earns its high safety score from safety features and a track record of protection.

The 2011 Audi A5 has yet to be crash-tested, but we're giving it a high safety score based on Audi's long history of performance in this engineering niche, and also for the lengthy standard safety gear fitted in each example.

Neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested the 2011 Audi A5 Coupe or Cabriolet. And unlike years past, prior scores don't carry over, because both the federal and insurance-industry agencies have changed their rating criteria.

The A5 comes with dual front and side airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. Curtain airbags are omitted on the Cabriolet for obvious reasons, but they're present on the Coupe model. On the Cabrio, Audi fits larger side airbags as well as pop-up roll bars that deploy when the vehicle's sensors detect a rollover.

A lane-departure warning system, a blind-spot warning system, radar-based cruise control, adaptive headlamps, a rearview camera and rear parking sensors are options on the A5 lineup. It's a little surprising to see some of these left off the standard-equipment list, at the A5's price point. Visibility is very good in the A5 Coupe, a little less so in the Cabriolet when the roof is raised. Still, the optional rearview camera and reverse parking sensors are welcome features, since the A5 does have somewhat thick roof pillars and a small rear window.

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2011 Audi A5

Features

The 2011 Audi A5 wins over luxury-loving cruisers with navigation and a Bang & Olufsen stereo--even if you have to go through MMI to get to them.

With some minor juggling of features across the model line, the 2011 Audi A5 is nearly identical to last year's model. It's lavishly outfitted as you'd expect in an upscale convertible, and its audio and entertainment features are competitive, even if its MMI controller can seem frustrating.

The A5 Coupe and Cabriolet share some standard features. Automatic climate control comes with both; so do a 10-speaker audio system, power windows/locks/mirrors, keyless entry and pushbutton start, and cruise control.

On the Coupe, a panoramic sunroof is a key option; its analogue over on the Cabriolet side of things is a folding fabric top that weighs less and takes up less space when folded, than a hardtop convertible mechanism might. It also opens or closes in fewer than 20 seconds, or about a stoplight's worth of free time.

Audi offers its Multi-Media Interface (MMI) as an option. It places a roller-wheel controller on the center console, so that the driver can command navigation, climate, and entertainment functions more easily--or so the theory goes. Like other knob-driven systems, the MMI still requires most drivers to go through a long learning curve before they can operate the controls without looking down at the LCD display. And it still has a set of redundant buttons laid out around the knob, making the whole effort seem in need of a rethink. Ford's MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch are a better idea, swapping out the knob for steering-wheel switches and voice controls, even if it takes as long or longer to learn.

Bluetooth, bi-xenon headlamps, a rearview camera, side-lane assist (which warns drivers of vehicles in blind spots), a navigation system, and a powerful, clean-sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system are available as options.

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2011 Audi A5

Fuel Economy

For its size and four-seat capacity, the 2011 Audi A5 delivers very good fuel economy; steer clear of the CVT unless you're scrimping and saving.

Now that it's down to only four-cylinder, turbocharged powerplants, the 2011 Audi A5 earns a respectable green score that reflects strong EPA fuel-economy ratings.

The base A5 for 2011 has the 211-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder teamed with a continuously variable transmission. The efficient unit propels the front-drive Cabriolet to a 22/30 mpg EPA rating. When a conventional six-speed automatic is figured in, along with all-wheel drive, the numbers fall slightly, to 21/29 mpg.

The same powertrain in the A5 Coupe earns a 21/31 mpg rating when it's fitted with a six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive. With a newly developed eight-speed automatic transmission, the A5 Coupe with all-wheel drive gets rated at 21/29 mpg by the EPA.

While Audi's CVT is the overall mileage winner in the lineup, we don't recommend it unless you're looking for the least expensive A5 Cabriolet you can find. The transmission uses pulleys and a belt as a substitute for a conventionally geared automatic, and it's generally a less satisfying, less responsive solution that also generates more noise than the usual automatic.

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Styling 9
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 9
Features 9
Fuel Economy 7
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