One of the prettiest coupes around, the 2008 Audi A5 comes in with excellent handling, thanks to the standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Its 3.2-liter engine produces adequate power, but you'll have to step up to the Audi S5 for real fun. Our test car came with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission in lieu of the available six-speed automatic.
We also had all the goodies in the cabin, including an excellent sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system and the Audi Music Interface, which let us connect a crazy variety of music devices to the car. We're also very happy with the Bluetooth phone support, but the navigation system really needs help, despite its high-resolution maps. Audi rounds out the gadgets in the A5 with its very useful blind-spot warning system and the best rear-view camera available.
Test the tech: Music player madness
Rooting around the glove compartment of our test car, we came across a mesh bag full of cables. There was an iPod plug, a 1/8-inch minijack, USB adapter, and a mini USB. Each cable plugged into a port mounted in the glove box, the Audi Music Interface. We had previously used the iPod connector in the Audi S5, but hadn't seen these other options. To test the tech, we scrounged around the office, coming up with an iPod, a USB drive with MP3 files, a Zune, and a Creative Zen with a mini USB connection.
We gathered four MP3 devices to use with the Audi A5.
We first plugged the iPod into the system, then used Audi's Multimedia Interface (MMI) to choose the Audi Music Interface from the Source menu. After a few short moments, the iPod library showed up on the A5's LCD. We really couldn't ask for a better interface. It let us choose from categories including artist, album, and genre, after which we could drill down to the particular music we wanted to hear. The MMI's dial made it easy to choose music.
Then we switched to the USB adapter cable. We plugged in our USB drive, then plugged the cable into the glove box port. Although the interface came up faster, we weren't treated to nearly as much refinement as we had with the iPod. We could only browse folders on the USB drive, with no facility to look at music by genre or other ID3 tag information.
The iPod interface is excellent, offering full indexing of the music library.
Our next attempt was the mini USB cable. We plugged it into the Creative Zen, then plugged it into the A5. When we switched the source to Audi Music Interface, the screen told us the device was initializing. And it kept initializing until it decided it couldn't, and failed. In this case, we would probably have needed a storage device without a proprietary file system, which the Creative Zen uses. A few MP3 players, such as the Cowon iAudio 7, have standard file systems that should work with the Audi Music Interface, although choosing music will be similar to the USB drive.
The USB interface isn't quite as good, merely showing music folders.
Finally, we plugged the minijack into our Zune's headphone port, and plugged it into the car. We knew this would be strictly an audio connection, and the screen merely showed that we were listening to an external device. To choose music, we had to reach over to the glove compartment and use the Zune controls, as the cable is too short to put the Zune on the console, which would be a more convenient position for the driver.
In the cabin
The 2008 Audi A5 uses MMI controls, consisting of a knob surrounded by four buttons, mounted on the console, while the LCD is mounted at the top center of the dashboard. The MMI controls are well-positioned and easy to reach and manipulate while keeping your eyes on the road. But you do have to get used to the positions of the function buttons, positioned around the outside of the MMI controls, for choosing navigation, telephone, or stereo screens. Onscreen, Audi color codes the applications, using blue for navigation, green for the telephone, and amber for the stereo, making it easy to see at a glance which function you are controlling.
The navigation system's maps are nicely rendered, but the system itself is slow.
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.
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.