2008 Audi A5

The 2008 Audi A5 is powered by a 265-horsepower 3.2-liter FSI V6 engine. Power is delivered through a 6-speed manual transmission and Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel-drive system, with a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic optional. During normal conditions, quattro distributes torque 40 percent to the front and 60 percent to the rear, but can adjust the distribution to deliver more torque to the wheels with the most available traction. Technology includes partial LED lighting, an electromechanical parking brake, an all-plastic key and three-zone climate control.

For a start, this car is indeed “all new.” Its platform will underpin the next A4, though that car won’t necessarily be as wide as this one. A new transaxle design places the differential ahead of the clutch or torque converter, so that the front-axle centerline is now just 1.7 inches behind the engine (the A8 and Bentley Continental have a similar layout, but their axles are almost an inch farther aft). This arrangement extends the wheelbase for improved ride and reduces the front weight bias for crisper handling (S5 quattro models scale in at 54/46 percent front/rear).

The A5’s direct-injected 3.2-liter FSI engine launches a novel new variable valve-lift system (see sidebar) to produce 265 horsepower with improved fuel efficiency. The S5’s 4.2-liter FSI V-8 is derived from those in the RS4 and R8 and tuned for 353 horsepower. Chassis highlights include a new braking system, with automatic hill-holding and electronic parking-brake application, and a change to a front-mounted steering rack positioned near the height of the wheel centers for improved steering feel. An electronic novelty-the so-called Smart Key-stores vital information about the car every time it’s used, including the odometer reading and any fault codes to expedite the service-writer’s job at the dealership.

But chassis dimensions, electronic gizmos, and valvetrain gimmicks don’t inspire buyers to drop big bucks on a personal luxury coupe. This is an emotional right-brain decision driven by irrational aesthetic concerns, and toward that end Audi’s Italian-born former design chief Walter de’Silva has penned a mighty appealing shape here. Seen first as the Nuvolari concept in 2003, the production version looks even better from all angles-less massive, more graceful, and not at all like a super-size TT.

One particularly delectable design flourish is the strip of white LEDs that underlines each headlight, serving as daytime running lights (drawing 40 percent less power than halogen DRLs). The only aesthetic trick the new car misses is the pillarless hardtop greenhouse, and given that a cabrio version is expected to join the lineup it could’ve been accomplished easily, but the underbody reinforcements needed for side-impact protection would’ve added too much weight. S5s are distinguished by more aggressive fascias, quad instead of dual tailpipes, a lowered suspension, aluminum mirror housings, and standard 18-inch wheels, up from the A5’s 17s (though 19s are available on either model).

On our brief drive of the A5 and S5, both with manual transmissions, we were thrilled. Audi’s 0-to-60-mph acceleration claims of 6.1 seconds for the A5 and 5.1 for the S5 are more than believable. Adding to the fun was the S5’s exhaust note, which was alarmingly (and addictively) loud, bellowing its song at a volume no one would expect from a car so well dressed (maybe it could teach the RS 4 to sing).

Even better, the engine’s longitudinal orientation and relocation farther back in the chassis optimize weight distribution, resulting in markedly better behavior than offered by the current nose-heavy A4/S4 sedans. Interestingly, however, in spite of its stickier tires and larger wheels, the heavier S5 seems to push a touch more in corners. Moreover, the standard-fare A5 surprised us with a more satisfying steering effort than provided by its more powerful brother, which is somewhat lighter than we’d like at any given speed. Brakes, as expected in any car of this caliber, are entirely competent and exhibited not a trace of fade along northern Italy’s twisty declines, where many an ancient Alfa (or lumbering livestock) might be asserting its God-given right to park itself in the middle of the road around any given bend.

The A5 will be priced around $45,000, plus options, when it lands next year. If you absolutely have to have one by the end of the year, prepare to shell out well over $50,000 for an S5, which, frankly, is a bargain for such a high-level combination of speed, style, luxury, and sex appeal.

Scribbled on June 3rd 2008 in Audi A5, Pictures
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