2008 Audi A5 review:

2008 Audi A5

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Audi uses high-resolution maps for the navigation system that look very good. And that's really the best thing we can say about this navigation system. The fact that it is DVD-based and its processors are underpowered lead to sluggish performance. It takes a while for it to look up points of interest--of which it has a limited database--and calculate routes. Using the map to find destinations is nearly impossible, as it renders slowly. Its route guidance works adequately, but there are no advanced features, such as text-to-speech or traffic.

But if the navigation system leaves you lost, the A5's optional Bang & Olufsen stereo will make driving around aimlessly a joy. This stereo relies on 14 speakers pumping out a combined 505 watts through a 10-channel digital signal processor. Along with the standard bass, mid, and treble settings, Audi lets you adjust the surround setting. The Bang & Olufsen system upconverts 2-channel stereo into 7.1 surround sound. The result is exceptionally clear audio with excellent separation and fine quality across the spectrum, from its rich bass to its crisp highs. We mentioned the multiple audio sources available through the Audi Music Interface above. Sirius satellite radio is also an option.

Fourteen of these Bang & Olufsen speakers around the cabin result in excellent audio quality.

The Bluetooth cell phone system in the A5 is the second top gadget in this cabin. It is one of the better systems available, as it lets you import your entire phonebook to the car. Pairing a phone is a little inconvenient, as it can only be done within 2 minutes of starting the car, but that process does make it more secure. You can also set a custom PIN for phone pairing in the car's menus.

Audi's rear-view camera is also the best in the business. It may not be quite as necessary on a smaller car like the A5, but it will certainly help prevent backing into poles and curbs. The system uses a graphic overlay that not only shows how far objects are behind the car, but also shows the path of the car depending on how the wheels are turned, a particularly useful device for parallel parking.

We also had Audi's Side Assist feature on our A5, a blind-spot warning system that uses radar to identify nearby cars. Yellow LEDs on the insides of the side mirrors light up when there is a car in either lane next to you, either overtaking or sitting at your rear quarter. If you put on your turn signal when there is a car next to you, the LEDs will flash. In practice, this system works very well, letting you know when it is safe to change lanes, especially when there is a car cruising along in your blind spot. The only problem with this system is that it doesn't work at speeds below 30 mph, unlike the blind-spot warning system in the Volvo S80, which works at all speeds.

Under the hood
We liked driving the 2008 Audi A5 during our review period. The steering is responsive, and the six-speed manual is precise and smooth. But with this good-looking of a car, you would expect it to have more power. The 3.2-liter V-6 puts out 265 horsepower at 6,500rpm and 243 pound-feet of torque between 3,250rpm and 5,000rpm. While these numbers sound reasonable, the A5 felt underpowered, possibly because we had also reviewed the S5, or due to the car's 3,913 pounds.

With the six-speed manual, the A5 feels sporty, even if its engine doesn't hold up its part of the bargain.

We would also expect better fuel economy from a car with a 3.2-liter engine. The EPA rates the A5 at 27 mpg on the highway, which is decent, but at only 16 mpg in the city. During our mixed driving course with the car, we saw an average of less than 20 mpg, at 19.4. This number is similar to what we've seen from cars with 3.5-liter V-6 engines. For emissions, the Audi A5 earns the minimal LEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board.

The A5 proved most enjoyable on winding mountain roads, even if we couldn't get massive acceleration out of the corners. It reaffirmed our love of driving Quattro-equipped cars as we tested the limits of its grip. We didn't detect a lot of body roll, and the all-wheel-drive gives extra confidence in the corners. We also had the chance to take the A5 for a couple of laps around the race track at Laguna Seca a month ago, and here the car was exceedingly well-mannered. The ratio favoring handling over power in the A5 really makes it hard to get things wrong.

In sum
Audi sells itself as a premium brand, so its cars don't come cheap. The 2008 Audi A5 starts at $39,900. We added the navigation system, which includes the Audi Music Interface, for $2,390, the Bang & Olufsen audio system for $850, and Side Assist for $500. Other niceties came in the Technology package, for $1,700, and the Premium package, for $1,850. Along with a couple of other options and the $775 destination charge, our A5 totaled $50,340.

The A5 has a lot to recommend it, and we generally like this car. The Audi Music Interface and Bang & Olufsen audio system give it a strong showing for cabin gadgets, although it gets held back by its poky navigation system. Similarly, its handling gives it good marks for performance tech, but the engine's lack of efficiency pulls its score down.

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