Think of it as the BMW 3 Series of Audis
BMW 335i Coupe, Infiniti G37, Mercedes-Benz CLK350
Upon driving a car for the first time, we usually come up with a dollar figure in our heads after pushing a few buttons and a quick drive around the block. Unfortunately, that perceived value is often far lower than the actual sticker price. So imagine our surprise when all of us, upon giving a quick glance of the 2008 Audi A5 3.2 quattro in our midst, came up with an almost dead-on guess of $50,000. Like many other things about this new Audi sport coupe, Audi has clearly nailed the price, too.
It's been a very long time since a two-door Audi hardtop has been available – R8 supercar and VW-based TT notwithstanding – and even then they were hatchbacks. The wait has been well worth it. The Audi A5 possesses all the elements needed in a German sport coupe: style, performance, poise, luxury, and a sense of self-assuredness that it's simply the best choice out there. The A5 comes closest to any Audi we've ever driven to that benchmark of entry-level luxury sport coupe perfection, the BMW 3 Series, and even if it doesn't quite top that car, it comes closer to the BMW than any Audi before it.
If the 2008 Audi A5 has any single deal killer, it's under the hood. The engine is new for this year, and we love the power and torque delivery of the 3.2-liter direct-injected V-6. It even sounds good on paper, until you realize that 265 hp is 35 short of the BMW 335xi.
However, if you never drag race a BMW, you'll likely never notice a problem with the Audi A5. The throttle responds instantly to your foot, with quick, authoritative but smooth shifts from the six-speed automatic. The 243 lb.-ft. of torque is available from 3,250 to 5,000 rpm, meaning you have plenty of grunt available in the midrange. The Audi A5 gathers speed like a philatelist hoards stamps, and without a careful eye on the speedometer, you'll be attracting attention from Johnny Law in no time.
The automatic transmission in our test car uses Audi's older Tiptronic technology, rather than the DSG twin-clutch mechanism that is in vogue these days on other cars in the company's lineup. However, Tiptronic has evolved over the years to be a good system, with rev-matching on downshifts to prevent disrupting the car, and quick shifts. In traffic, it proves superior to twin-clutch systems because it is still, at heart, a true automatic with a torque converter, a system that remains superior when moving away from a dead stop or other tasks which are hard to modulate with a clutch mechanism. That said, we're convinced that the six-speed manual version of the Audi A5 is probably the way to go, mainly because we're a little old-school when it comes to our sport coupes.
Even with optional low-profile tires and 19-inch wheels – a truly striking take on the traditional five-spoke design – our Audi A5 test car never disappointed as it soaked up the miles. Bumps big and small disappeared under the Audi coupe, and we never found ourselves wincing even over the larger ones.
Up to a point, there's little downside in the handling department, too. The 2008 Audi A5 boasts a new architecture from Audi that moves the differential between the engine and the torque converter. This allowed the engineers to push the front wheels forward by nearly five inches, giving the Audi excellent weight distribution (52 percent in front, 48 percent in the rear) and much sharper steering than we've experienced in Audis in the past. The harder you push the Audi A5, the harder it pushes back, with sharp responses, quick steering and the self-assuredness that the quattro all-wheel drive system delivers.
However, get closer to the limit and the A5 begins to discombobulate a little. The dampers begin to lose their composure, and the body bounces uncomfortably over mid-corner bumps. The brakes, which feel fine most of the time, give up early in aggressive driving. The engine, too, feels out of breath, struggling to pull the Audi around corners. If you plan on pushing the A5 hard, we recommend stepping up to the more expensive – but sharper-handling – Audi S5, with its V-8 engine and sport suspension. At the very least, get your Audi A5 with the S line option package, with its stiffer suspension components. We also had complaints about the steering. At speed it's great, but in parking lots it's much too light and feels virtually disconnected from the front wheels
Although it has a different name, the 2008 Audi A5 is essentially a coupe version of the 2009 Audi A4, and thus shares a lot of that car's styling cues. This is a good thing, both for the A5 and the upcoming A4. The coupe is striking, and the notebook for the A5 was filled with exclamation-point enhanced comments about its beauty. The only possible catch is the sharply angled rear side window cutout; stylists call this sort of thing "tension," but we know funny looking when we see it. Still, it's a minor complaint.
Inside the A5, Audi once again shows its superiority in interior design. The style is dramatic, the materials are better than first-rate, and it's incredibly comfortable to boot. Everyone among us was able to find a comfortable driving position, and thanks to the cabin's clever use of space, we also found plenty of room for the various knickknacks of life, from cell phones to coffee cups to liter bottles of water. We were surprised by the A5's trunk, partly by its size – 16.1 cu. ft. is nothing to sneeze at – but also by the fact that the rear seatbacks fold down, unusual in luxury cars.
Yet scratch the surface and all is not perfect in the A5's interior. The rear seat is much tighter than we expected or think it should be given the car's long wheelbase and roofline. It was also difficult to access -- maybe you should just leave those seatbacks folded down. The large glass sunroof sounds like a good idea, until you