Reviews

2012 Audi A5 Driving Impressions


The Audi A5 offers precise handling, feeling at times like it is on rails. The A5 lineup offers a wide choice of powertrains that significantly affect its driving character.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is smooth and powerful. It produces strong torque to propel the car quickly from intersections and up hills. More impressive is the width of the powerband, that area of engine speed that delivers maximum power. The turbocharged engine makes big torque from just off idle at 1500 rpm all the way to 4200 rpm. And from 4300-6000 rpm it delivers 211 horsepower. It will rev to 6700 rpm, but there isn't much point when you've got that much midrange power. It’s most economical (25 mpg EPA Combined) with the 6-speed manual but still accelerates to 60 mph from a standstill in less than 6.5 seconds.

Given the A5's 3500-plus pounds and all-wheel drive traction it's acceleration times are not as quick as some competitors. But in real-world driving it never feels short of power and it pays off in fuel economy and less mass over the front wheels helps handling.

Steering is nicely weighted on the A5, and it doesn't lack feel. We classify the Audi's steering heavier than a BMW in standard mode, but lighter than a BMW in Sport mode, so it's a happy medium. At parking speeds, it is light and quick, with a respectable cut for maneuvering.

The A5 has exemplary handling characteristics. The A5 rides more smoothly than the S5 does. The suspension has no slop or wallow in it but is more compliant than that of the S5, and the A5's tires absorb bumps better.

An A5 with the S line package is a step firmer than the standard A5, though not as sporting as the S5. The S line is perhaps the best for enthusiasts saddled with poor roads.

Quattro, Audi's all-wheel drive system, nominally sends 40 percent of the power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear wheels to give dynamics related to a rear-wheel-drive car with the stability and enhanced poor weather traction of all-wheel drive. This system is always on and requires no driver action, automatically distributing propulsion in the most efficient, effective, stable manner. On S5 the rear differential may be upgraded to a unit that distributes power to each rear wheel in varying amounts, aiding turn-in, balance and confidence.

The S5 coupe comes with a V8 that starts with a deep purr, then aligns with the V6's more mechanical song in the upper revs. The gas pedal has lots of travel so the driver can fine tune how much power to apply and how quickly. The S5 is an Autobahn bruiser, its elastic well of torque set up to accelerate with authority from virtually any speed (0-60 mph in around five seconds) and it's still pulling as it is reined in electronically at 155 mph. That speed isn't useful in the American landscape but the flexibility certainly is. Where some muscle cars reach 50 or 60 mph in first gear with the engine turning 6000 rpm, the freer-revving S5 does only 65 mph in second gear at 7000 rpm. Power comes on smoothly and progressively, with plenty of torque to get you moving and a soundtrack Mozart couldn't better, rather like a muted American LeMans racing sports car, as the engine approaches its redline. At 65 mph, the engine spins 15 percent to 25 percent faster than most big V8s, so even at that speed in top gear there is useful urge in acceleration.

The S5 gearing also pays dividends around town, where motion is so effortless you can start out smoothly from a stop in second gear. The car will idle in gear quite slowly and has decent engine braking so you can crawl along in traffic, and with just the slightest forethought, rarely have to use the clutch pedal. The manual shifter feels solid and of some heft, reminding us of a front-engine Porsche and heavier than the typical BMW; it is direct, precise and never misses a gear. Indeed, the only negative aspect of driving the S5 as a daily gridlock grinder is the gas mileage.

An S5 Cabriolet comes with the supercharged 3-liter V6 also used in the S4 and a host of Audi and VW cars and crossovers. It's down 21 horsepower to the 4.2-liter V8 but makes the same torque earlier in the rev band, gets better mileage than the V8 and even has a decent soundtrack. It's coupled exclusively to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission that does all the work for you, and does it very quickly. It's the most advanced gearbox in the A5/S5 line.

Big brakes and sticky tires haul the S5 down from speed in a drama-free hurry, without the nose diving to the pavement or the tail standing up like a hound on alert. Designed where repeated heavy slowing from 125 mph is common, the Audi's brakes will be tested in America only on racetracks. Naturally, the latest generations of electronic brake assistants are on board, but you have to be a real poser to have them come into play.

With quattro, the S5 is able to put down all 354 horsepower in any dry conditions and a greater proportion of it in inclement conditions than would be possible without quattro. There's nary a tire chirp as it lunges toward the horizon. With a set of narrower dedicated winter tires the only alternative snowmobile that might come close is the considerably more expensive Porsche Carrera 4.

The A5/S5 was the first recent Audi in which the front differential is mounted between the engine and the transmission, taking some weight off the front wheels. The car splits its weight almost evenly over the front and rear wheels which, when matched with the all-wheel drive, allows each corner to do a near-equal amount of work. That translates to a car that feels less nose-heavy than before, changes directions much more crisply, minimizes body roll (but leaves enough to know you're pushing it) and delivers inspiring confidence; indeed, we covered one stretch of wet road without putting a foot wrong as fast as we'd covered it in dry weather with a top-notch rear-wheel-drive sport sedan still prone to twitching its tail and not because of too much power. Some credit is due the 19-inch sport tires, but it is the S5's lightweight, independent suspension, good balance, and all-wheel-drive grip that let it put on such displays of composure. Even a hack of a driver can frequently motor along quite briskly without any intervention from the stability system.

Although the S5 is heavier, with its larger engine and higher feature content, than an A5, the S5 has slightly better balance. The S5 weighs nearly 4,000 pounds, though, and doesn't have quite the feeling of place-it-anywhere lightness of a BMW 3 Series coupe or Porsche. This isn't a bad thing, more a demonstration of the Audi's long-distance, high-speed touring philosophy as opposed to a less-compromised sports car. The ride is never punishing, but those more expensive rides with adjustable suspension do offer a bit more compliance for the marginal surfaces of some interstates.

Adaptive headlights, on models so equipped, swivel to illuminate the road in corners by reacting to steering wheel movement. And these are among the best, as they precisely follow the wheel and don't jerk from side to side as some do, better illuminating the road than making a distracting light show.

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