It’s not as if we didn’t know what to expect of the 2018 Audi A5. Underneath, it’s the same as the 2017 Audi A4 we recently tested, which we summed up in this way: “It doesn’t make much noise about it, but the A4 possesses a quiet competence that is as wonderful as it is easily misunderstood.”
The same could be said of its two-door brother, with the caveat that it has a more polarizing exterior design even as it strives to look sportier. As we noted in our review of its hotter sibling coupe, the S5, the A5 takes the outgoing car’s shape—one that was among the aesthetic highlights of early 21st-century automotive design—and amps up the contours until our visual VU meters flirt with the red zone.
Audi’s second-generation MLB platform underpins the A5, so when it gets here next year as a 2018 model in U.S. trim, it will share the A4’s 252-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and that’s no bad thing. (European models also offer a complement of diesel powerplants and a lower-power version of the 2.0-liter gasoline four-banger.) If you’ve spent time in most any recent Volkswagen product, the character of the engine will seem familiar. But mat the throttle, and when the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission grabs a gear and the engine finds the fat part of its powerband, there’s a legitimate pants-kicking punt that goes beyond what the previous 220-horse engine could provide. And, oddly, the new A5 still offers that dual-clutch gearbox, while the supposedly sportier S5 now relies on a conventional eight-speed automatic.
Audi’s new coupe demonstrates a willingness to go around corners, and quickly to boot, but it never quite feels like it wants to play in them. When the curves open up, long sweepers beckon deep prods of the loud pedal, even if the result isn’t exactly a boisterous symphony. Unlike the exterior, the A5’s on-road behavior is subtle, and if the steering feels light and a tad numb, the chassis still telegraphs what’s happening down at the wheels with legitimate accuracy. When it comes time to scrub speed, the brakes offer linear and just-firm-enough modulation, giving the driver fine degrees of control as they go about their business of converting momentum into heat.
Inside, the A5 follows the TT, the Q7, and the A4 into the maxi-electronic-dash era, providing myriad ways to display pertinent visual information, including in the TFT screen in the instrument panel, directly ahead of the driver. While some of us love this, others would be just as content with Audi’s fine head-up display and the nav screen off to the right. The interior itself, largely shared with the A4, suggests that Audi may cede its long-standing lead in materials quality to an ascendant Mercedes-Benz. Comfort, however, is excellent in both front seats, and outward visibility has not been sacrificed on the altar of style.
Style, however, does mean giving up rear-seat headroom and accessibility; figure the back seats are for occasional use only. The rear seatback folds to expand the 16-cubic-foot cargo area, which allows for plenty of luggage with room to spare for purchases made on an extended road trip, so this is a useful coupe. Those who share our initial reaction of being underwhelmed by the design effort will find that the chassis’ numerous strengths are not tarnished in the least by the addition of two doors—and that a buyer is likely to save a little money by opting for the A4.