I always feel that cars such as the Audi A5 Sportback divide opinion. Some people really love them because they are ‘understated’ in their looks – and smooth to drive.
Others wouldn’t give them a second glance because they want a bit of real crackle from their executive motor.
I think the A5 I had on test is understated alright. It’s so laid back that calling it understated may even be an overstatement.
But that’s me being a bit impatient as, looking at the engineering and technology on board, I always felt this could have been a right bit of old-fashioned fun.
Of course, I have to be sensible and balanced and admit it depends hugely on what perspective you bring to this new four-door coupe.
It can be:
* too conservative and badly reflects the money spent on it or;
* exactly the sort of car you want because it won’t have others feeling you are flaunting something that costs €50,000+.
I can understand both viewpoints but, even allowing for them, I still can’t understand why Audi didn’t ring more than minimal visual changes, to reflect, if not your spending power, then their own overhaul of the car’s mechanicals and engineering. Because they excel in the latter departments; of that there is no doubt. After all their motto is Vorsprung durch Technik, meaning advancement through technology.
And the A5 Sportback is a brand new car, you see. It is based on a lighter platform which underpins the latest A4 saloon too (a car that again changed so little visually you’d wonder why they bothered with designers and didn’t just order ‘the same again’).
Frankly, I can only imagine what it would be like to have €50,000+ to spend on a car. All I know is I’d want something more than minimal to differentiate between the new one and the old. But then again that’s what comes with not having money – you see things differently. Perhaps when you do have the wherewithal, you want less attention on your latest purchase. Apart from a change of reg numbers, your secret would be fairly safe with the A5.
I’m dwelling on the point – my apologies – to highlight the contrast between the look and the engineering. The latter has made for a much improved combination of handling and ride, though neither will set your pulses racing. This is a car that’s more about minimum effort than trail-blazing performance. The power, the drive, the feel are all quietly, efficiently directed. It’s not a car to get excited about. It doesn’t have you buzzing, yet you’ll not feel the kilometres pass, nor the rough and tumble of poor roads. It is as I’ve said elsewhere a smooth operator.
I’d see it as a Gran Tourer alternative to the A4 saloon for example, as it has a nicer profile and a svelte, typical Audi look.
And you needn’t worry about the practicalities you might feel you are losing if you eschew the A4.
This has plenty of room – if you plan for two at the back. And I was impressed with the size of the boot which seems to go for ages.
Even though the car looks quite low, there was a generous amount of headroom too; getting into the back wasn’t the crouch-and-bear-it exercise I’d feared.
One of the persistent criticisms of Audi over the years has been how quickly and how far a few extras/options push up the price. I’m afraid that is the case with the A5 too. Yet I would pay the extra for the optional Virtual Cockpit. This allows you, with utter simplicity, to prioritise the information you want. You can juggle between a list of what the car is doing, or watch the world go by (Google Earth) or whatever catches your fancy.
It is, for me, a singularly good example of what interaction between driver and car can achieve. Well worth asking for a demonstration. The graphics are so clear and simple. Not only does it work for sat nav, audio, phone etc it also enhances the look of the dash-front as well. In an ideal world the Virtual Cockpit would be standard but I’ve no doubt that pricing strategy – even people with €50,000 have budgets they’d rather not breach – played a key part in it being optional.
Inevitably, the car was powered by a 2-litre diesel with a potentially fair old punch lying quietly in its innards. Helping dispense it was a 7spd automatic transmission. The only thing was I had to use Dynamic mode to get a bit of bite out of the combination. Yes, the end result was a swift enough response and a decent level of pull in the lower revs when overtaking.
But there was no sense of a power surge, that feeling of raw propulsion; nor did the chassis, although supple, convey the sort of excitement I thought the engine/transmission was capable of generating.
Everything was smooth, reasonably quiet and we travelled in comfort. And that is where it wins and loses. It wins because it is exactly what some people want. It loses to more energetic-feeling motors from BMW especially (4-series Coupe is one that sprang to mind).
And that is why I believe, on a scale of one to five, the new Audi will be A1 for some and A5 for others.