Audi's A5 mid-size coupe has been providing stiff competition to BMW's 3 Series since 2007. The latest incarnation, due to go on sale in early 2012, features a host of updates designed to put the smack-down on its rivals and attract Audi customers that want something quick, sporty and attractive, without the letters 'TT' in the title.
This updated A5 features tweaked styling and a host of technologies -- stop-start, electronic steering and revised engines -- designed to increase efficiency. We hopped in the two-door coupe model and hurled it in the general direction of some tarmac to discover how these changes affect the overall package.
It's worth noting that we weren't able to spend as long with the car as we'd have liked, as we tested it alongside a host of other Audi vehicles at a day-long 2011 range review. Because of this, we'll refrain from giving the A5 a final score out of five until we can spend more time with it.
Aesthetically, the new A5 Coupe isn't a massive departure from the previous model, so you'll need a trained eye to spot the effects of its facelift. At the front, the car dumps the comparatively dreary headlamps of old for stylish new ones that are stepped along the bottom edge.
The 'smiling' LED day-running lights, which have become such a notable feature on modern Audis, have been changed too. This time, they've been formed into a gorgeous, angular LED strip that illuminates during the daytime as a safety feature, providing added visibility on those dreary overcast days. It will also alert passers-by to the fact that you're in the new Audi A5, of course.
Further tweaks can be found on the A5's front grille, lower air intakes and its fog lamps, which have been ditched for spangly new rectangular LED jobbies. Around the back, meanwhile, the new A5 gets a revised rear light cluster, which also benefits from bright, modern, energy-efficient LED lighting.
There are plenty of changes below the A5's newly fettled surface. The car comes with seven (count 'em) engine choices, some of which are brand new and some of which have been upgraded in situ from the older car.
At the top end of the spectrum, the 359PS (metric horsepower) 4.2-litre V8 in the high-end S5 coupe is replaced by a less powerful -- but more efficient -- supercharged 3-litre TFSI petrol engine chucking out 333PS. Audi also offers a less aggressive version of this 3-litre engine, which churns out 272PS, as a replacement for the 3.2-litre 265PS lump in the previous A5 coupe and cabriolet.
Lower down the food chain, there's a new 204PS 3-litre V6 TDI diesel engine, which replaces the 2.7-litre TDI, and a 211PS 2-litre TFSI, which was fitted to our test car. If low CO2 and high fuel economy is your primary focus, Audi offers a 177PS 2-litre TDI diesel engine promising 60mpg and 122g/km.
More or less grunt
Audi's new engine lineup aims to make the car more efficient than ever. The supercharged 3-litre petrol engine in the sporty S5 iteration of the A5 coupe is slightly less powerful than the V8 it replaces, but it gets the car from 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds -- a 0.2-second improvement on the unit that came before it. Driven frugally, Audi says it'll deliver 34.9mpg -- a massive improvement on the V8 coupe's 26.4mpg.
If the 177PS diesel isn't your thing and you'd rather a frugal petrol engine, then the company's 1.8-litre TFSI unit is one to consider. It has been completely redesigned, Audi says, to feature cleverer valves, better thermal management, more precise fuel injection and turbochargers. All of this increases power from 160PS to 170PS, but there's no compromise in economy. Thanks to a stop-start system and new electronic steering, this frugal petrol unit helps return 49.6mpg and 134g/km.
What's it like to drive?
In a word -- dynamic. The car's steering weight can be adjusted using the drive select interface on Audi's MMI system (more on this later) to be heavier, for a sportier feel, or lighter, to make it easier to manoeuvre around town. The speed of the gear changes can be adjusted too, although even the fastest setting seemed pretty lackadaisical, particularly when shifting from first to second gear.
Our test car featured Audi's Quattro four-wheel-drive system, which provided impressive levels of grip, even in the damp. It helps the car accelerate so well, you'll barely notice the road is wet. Quattro will also send extra torque to one outside wheel rather than the other to improve the car's turning ability. We can't say we noticed its effect though, as the car still displayed a tendency to understeer -- that is, it keeps going straight on instead of going round a corner -- when it reaches the limit of its traction.
A common complaint of Audis of old is that their ride was a little too stiff. Audi says it's changed the suspension settings of the new car, but it appears little has changed -- the ride was still jiggly even on fairly smooth roads.
We'll forgive almost any handling foibles because of the A5's brakes. They are sensational. Drop the anchors in an emergency stop and you'll come to a standstill so quickly your eyes and tongue will loll out of your face.
My my, MMI
Audi hasn't skimped on cabin gadgets. The A5 uses a slightly improved version of the company's multimedia interface -- or MMI -- which brings with it some long-overdue features.
The car now accepts seven-digit postcode entry, so there's less need for lengthy street names when plotting a journey. It also packs a Google-based points of interest database, which lets you search for local businesses using everyone's favourite search overlord, and it has Google Earth mapping data, which provides richer, sexier-looking maps.
The A5 even comes with Wi-Fi Internet access. You'll have to pop your own SIM card into the car to take advantage of it, but once you do, it'll create a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot that lets passengers connect laptops, phones and tablets to the Interweb while the car is on the move.
The MMI is by no means perfect -- the twisty knob used to enter data feels a little unresponsive in comparison to similar systems from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The graphics on the 7-inch display are on the small side. And the overall screen quality leaves a little to be desired. But on the whole, the cabin tech is of a good standard.
The Audi A5 has never quite got our juices flowing in the same way as, say, a BMW 3 Series, but this A5 is very good indeed. We'll need to spend longer in the car before we cast our final judgement, but following our relatively short time in the thing, we found it to be comfortable, quiet and solidly built.