REVIEW DATE: 04 Aug 2008
Audi excels at cultivating its brand image but the cars aren't bad either. Steve Walker looks at the A5 2.0 TFSI
Audi's A5 is a great-looking car and the 211PS 2.0-litre TFSI could well be its best engine. The powerplant uses advanced technology to deliver strong performance with good economy. It's good enough to make you question the need to climb further up the engine range.
A significant part of Audi's recent success has been built on factors that are hard to quantify. Desirability, exclusivity, prestige, cachet, cool, Audi has them and to the casual observer, it's not always entirely clear how it got them. Of course, it helps that the manufacturer seems as adept at engineering its products as it is at engineering its brand. The A5 Coupe with the 211PS 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engine is a case in point on both fronts.
Audi has been carefully nurturing a youthful and sporty image that's also less brash and overbearing than the marque's premium German rivals. Audi at its best keeps things low key, its products playing it cool while subtly emphasising their technological prowess and desirability. It's this approach that Audi customers have been buying into in their thousands and this A5 Coupe 2.0TFSI typifies it. The question is, once all the glossy advertising and marketing spin has been stripped away, how good is it?
The A5's 2.0-litre TFSI engine is offered in both 180 and 211PS guises to fill out the bottom end of the A5's petrol engine range. The six and eight cylinder units above have more power but for most, the upper 2.0 TFSI unit will have enough. How much is enough? The engine produces 211PS at 4,300rpm but the stat that reveals most about this unit's character is its 350Nm maximum torque that's available all the way from 1,500rpm to 4,200rpm.
This powerplant pulls strongly and seamlessly almost from the outset with an almost diesel-like surge of power through the mid range and no discernable turbo lag. It's achieved through the use of a variable geometry turbocharger and Audi's Valvelift technology which allows the combustion process to be precisely controlled and adapted instantaneously to the demands of the driver. The 0-60mph sprint takes 6.9s or 6.5s if you go for the quattro all-wheel-drive model and the top speed is an artificially-limited 155mph.
"The Audi A5 could be the marque's prettiest car and the 2.0-litre TFSI has a claim on being its cleverest engine.."
The A5 has you at a disadvantage as soon as you drop into the driver's seat. Unless you've had the foresight to approach it blindfolded or sneak up on it under cover of darkness, you've seen how the car looks and those delicately arching lines will already be pounding out a big soft spot in your heart as you thumb the starter button. On the move, the handling is fluid and engaging while falling short of being outright sporty. The suspension flows easily over even poor road surfaces, giving a reasonable level of feedback, though both this and the steering lack the edgy, responsiveness that the keenest of keen drivers will yearn for. Everyone else should be more than satisfied and when the A5 is sent on more mundane journeys, its smoothness and refinement really add to the enjoyment.
As the company that popularised four-wheel drive sports cars, Audi has developed a reputation for innovation and design. Therefore, it was imperative for it to start divorcing itself from what was seen as a rather old-fashioned and suboptimal chassis layout. The A5 has broken that mould. The steering system has been redesigned to offer better feel, five link front suspension helps optimise balance and a there's the familiar quattro drive system. This abandons the stodgy old 50:50 distribution in favour of a sportier 40 per cent front and 60 per cent rear torque split. It's just another example of the way Audi really is getting serious.
Leaving aside its radically improved chassis, the most significant factor for most buyers will be the simple fact that here at last is an Audi coupe that real people with legs and a head will be able to sit in the back of. The A5 will seat four adults in reasonable comfort and still leave room for 455 litres of boot space.
The A5's styling is reminiscent of the Nuvolari concept car, first shown in 2003, albeit with a good deal more shape in its flanks, the wavy beltline that runs from the headlights right back to the tail lights being the car's most distinctive feature. The interior is cleanly styled too, with the fascia looking a lot cleaner than some contemporary Audi models, the cowled dash now neatly incorporating the centrally mounted display screen. As with all Audi models, build quality seems peerless with beautifully damped controls and top-drawer materials used throughout. Expect a convertible version to follow.
Prices are a couple of thousand above the 180PS version of this engine, starting at around the £29,000 mark (with a premium of around £1,500 for the Quattro version), that's about £5,000 less than the 3.2-litre petrol version which is the next model up. Once they've decided whether to go quattro or not, Audi A5 2.0 TFSI customers have standard and Sport trim levels to get their teeth into. Standard models have 17-inch alloys, Milano leather upholstery, an MP3 compatible CD stereo, acoustic parking sensors, xenon lights, light and rain sensors, 3-zone climate control and the speed sensitive power steering. The Sport model chucks in sports seats, sports suspension and sportier 18" alloy wheels.
The A5's key rival is the BMW 3-Series coupe and of all its engines, this 211PS 2.0-litre TFSI looks to have the best chance of putting one over on the equivalent BMW model. This A5 lines up against the 325i Coupe and although that car's fractionally faster than the front wheel-drive Audi model, it's a shade slower than the quattro version. It's also less fuel efficient and can't match the formidable torque of the TFSI powerplant. All right, from a handling perspective, the BMW is a sportier prospect but the A5 is a larger more substantial-feeling car.
The A5's size, its optional 4x4 transmission and its equipment-laden interior might lead you to fear for its fuel economy but there really is no need. The standard 2.0 TFSI car can return a creditable 42.8mpg, while the heavier quattro gets 38.2mpg. Emissions for the two models are 154g/km and 173g/km respectively. The Valvelift system used by the engine helps again here because as well as making more power available when called for, it can rein the engine back to same fuel when your just cruising along.
Audi's exploits in building its brand profile have bolstered the desirability of its cars and, in the process, their value on the used car market. Residual; values for the A5 are likely to be extremely strong, with the 2.0TFSI retaining well over 50% of its value after three years of ownership.
The Audi A5 could be the marque's prettiest car and the 2.0-litre TFSI has a claim on being its cleverest engine. As a combination of beauty, brains and Audi's bullet-proof brand equity, the A5 2.0 TFSI is a model that shows its manufacturer in a very flattering light.
The 2.0-litre TFSI engine uses turbocharging and Audi's advanced Valvelift technology to offer up a seamless flow of power from the depths of the rev range. It makes for a great driving experience with fun when you want it and flexibility when you'd really rather not. The A5 covers the ground in effortless fashion but without the raw edge that some buyers in this sporty market sector might want. In general, it's an extremely competent and versatile coupe and it's an Audi which, these days, means image-conscious buyers will be only too eager to get one on their driveway.
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