Any car tasked with taking on the BMW 3 Series has a tough road ahead of it – both in the showroom and, literally, on the road. Such is the fate the Audi A5 has faced since hitting the scene in 2008, going up against one of the most cheered and revered coupes on the market. To take on BMW's two-door titan (as well as a growing number of luxury coupes), Audi has spent every year since the A5's debut tweaking and changing it, giving the range a lineup of trims and models that has been simplified almost to perfection: Those who desire a great-looking luxury coupe with solid fuel economy can have the A5, while those who want more power can spend more money for the S5, and then, of course, there's the monstrous new-to-the-US RS5.
For 2013, changes to the A5 and its sportier derivatives have focused largely on the car's design, which is a pretty important factor since customers in this segment are likely putting style and luxury at the top of their checklists. The mildly updated A5 borrows heavily from some of the newer design cues found on other Audi models, including newly angular headlights and unmistakable LED running lamps, while other slight changes bring modest improvements to the interior and fuel economy. With a new BMW coupe hitting the scene next year (reportedly switching its name to 4 Series) and recent additions to the segment including the Cadillac CTS Coupe and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, we spent a week in the updated 2013 A5 to see if these changes will be enough to keep the five-year-old A5 relevant while going up against much younger models.
With just a nip here and a tuck there, the A5's facelift is effective in differentiating it from the previous design without straying too far from what made the original car look so darn good in the first place, and Audi has done this with a subtlety that few other automakers can pull off. The biggest change to the car's exterior styling is a reworked front end with edgier lines around the signature single-frame grille and new headlights showing off a more angular shape. Audi has made LED running lights into an art form, and the these new headlamps make the A5 look mean day or night. To a lesser degree, the taillights have also been updated with a different internal lighting setup that also gives the car a good nighttime appearance. Our Ibis White test car sported 18-inch wheels with a sharp V-spoke layout that has a design very similar to a jet engine's turbine blades.
Audi has made LED running lights into an art form.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the A5's aggressive new exterior styling, the changes made inside this car are far more restrained. As a testament to how great this interior was back in 2008, Audi has only made small tweaks to the interior, such as a new three-spoke steering wheel, reworked gauge cluster and a more ergonomic shift lever. It remains one of the best interiors of just about any car on sale, both in terms of styling and ease of use. In a day when interiors are either cramming in too many buttons and switches or getting rid of conventional controls altogether, the A5 is surprisingly minimalistic without being confusing or complicated. Designed to be a driver's car, the cabin is obviously built around the pilot with a clean cockpit look, easy-to-see gauges and readouts, and easy-to-use controls, but the entire interior shows Audi's attention to detail with just about every surface decked out in soft-touch materials, soft leathers and real metal accents. The oversized sunroof finishes off the sporty and open atmosphere by bringing plenty of light into the cabin, but it only tilts up about an inch or so, and can't slide back.
From the driver's seat, it's hard to find many faults with the A5's cabin, and those that we could dig up felt more like nitpicks. A thicker-rimmed steering wheel would be great to give the cabin a sportier vibe, and while the placement and button layout of the audio controls on non-navi-equipped models (like our tester) could take a little getting used to for people not familiar with Audi products, the operation of these controls are ultimately simple and not distracting. Even without navigation, though, the A5 still receives the same large display screen to view information for the audio system, and between this screen and the smaller digital multifunction display in the gauge cluster, it's easy for the driver to view all pertinent vehicle information.
It's good to know that the rear seats can accommodate adult passengers in reasonable comfort.
As nice as it is to occupy the driver's seat is in the A5, the rest of the car's cabin is more of the same in terms of remarkable materials, design and even some practicality. Yes, we just said that a coupe is practical. Surprisingly, the A5 doesn't give up much in terms of headroom or legroom compared to the A4 sedan, making it possible for four adults to fit in the car. While we wouldn't want to be seated in the rear seats for a lengthy road trip, it's good to know that if needed, the rear seats can accommodate adult passengers in reasonable comfort. The trunk space of the A5 is also only just fractionally smaller than its four-door counterpart, so there is room for plenty of luggage as well.
Speaking of space, we know there is enough room underhood for a V8, but since 2011, the standard engine for the A5 has been the 2.0-liter TFSI turbocharged, direct-injected inline four-cylinder that helps balance power and fuel economy. The engine's 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque are sent to the ground using Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and our tester came with the company's optional eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. For hardcore enthusiasts about to cry foul that we didn't test the six-speed manual gearbox, just remember that the A5 Cabrio comes in standard trim with front-wheel drive that offers a Continuously Variable Transmission as an option. On top of that, this transmission is one of the best automatics used by the Volkswagen Group in terms of shift points and response, and for a sportier feel, it's easy enough to just knock the shift lever into Sport mode for a bit more excitement. Thanks to plenty of low-end of torque, the A5 is still a lot of fun to drive, even in Standard mode.
This transmission is one of the best automatics used by the Volkswagen Group in terms of shift points and response.
That being said, the A5 isn't the fastest or quickest car in its class, but it is very well-balanced, which is improved upon in 2013 with a new electric power-assisted steering system that helps make the car both more sporty and fuel efficient. On the driving side of things, the steering response of this new EPAS system is just about perfect, giving good feedback at speed without feeling too heavy at lower speeds. As for fuel economy, out tester with the eight-speed auto improved its EPA estimate on the highway up to 30 miles per gallon (+1 mpg compared to the 2012 A5), though oddly enough it's decreased by the same amount in the city with a rating of 20 mpg. During our week with the A5 2.0T, we generally saw around 25 mpg in mixed driving when avoiding Sport mode.
Strong fuel economy is nice, but the name of the game has always been balance when it comes to the A5, and the 2013 model still delivers. In addition to the new power steering, the A5's engine, transmission and braking system all operate in a manner that doesn't feel too sports-car jerky or luxury-car numb. Even the actual balance of the car feels perfectly distributed from front to rear, even though Audi doesn't actually list the A5's weight distribution. Despite weighing a couple hundred pounds more than a comparable 3 Series Coupe, the A5 might be its closest handling rival thanks to a wider stance (both its track and width are about three inches wider) and standard all-wheel drive. The A5 does, however, weigh about 400 pounds less than a comparable Cadillac CTS Coupe and around 150 pounds less than an Infiniti G37x Coupe. On paper, Audi claims the car's acceleration from zero to 60 miles per hour is 6.2 seconds, which is far from quick these days, but between the lag-free turbo engine and quick-shifting transmission, the A5 doesn't disappoint. Besides, if it's off-the-line performance you seek, Audi dealers will gladly show you to the S5 or RS5.
Regardless of how it's used, the A5 definitely doesn't look or feel its age.
Many people perceive the A5 as a sporty car, but it still has all of the qualities that we expect from Audi luxury, such as a smooth ride and quiet interior. We can't remember the last time a car with frameless windows was as quiet as the A5, and between the compliant suspension and comfortable seats, this car would feel good whether being driven on a winding back road or long highway. Regardless of how it's used, though, the A5 definitely doesn't look or feel its age.
It's hard to believe that the Audi A5 is already five years old – an age when most cars are approaching a complete redesign – but Audi's new styling cues ensure that it's still one of the best-looking luxury coupes on the market. On top of its styling, the Quattro-equipped A5 also has a lower starting price than its all-wheel-drive competitors, and with an as-tested price $43,635, we were even a little surprised that our tester wound up a couple grand lower than comparably equipped versions of the G37x Coupe, 328i xDrive and CTS Coupe AWD (Benz's C250 Coupe does not offer all-wheel drive) – no easy feat for a German car going up against American and Japanese rivals.
Audi's restyled A5 is a complete package.
And more than just a pretty face, Audi's restyled A5 is a complete package offering up to a 32-mpg highway rating (when you opt for the manual transmission), entertaining driving dynamics and a full range of models that satisfies a full spectrum of driving styles. While this entry-level A5 trim won't likely knock the upcoming 4 Series Coupe from its destined throne just yet, or out-accelerate V6-powered models like the CTS and Infiniti G37, it's meant to look good and drive better, and it does both exceptionally well.