The 2013 Audi A5 and Audi S5 get leaner, sleeker and more muscular. That's physically true, with a new nose, and true to the line, with the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 bumping the 4.2-liter V8 out of the S5.
With the new V6, the 2013 Audi S5 accelerates as quickly as last year's V8 version and gets better fuel mileage. But the game isn't over for the V8: The V8 stays on top of the performance pile by bumping itself to 450 horsepower for use in the 2013 Audi RS5.
Audi has the engine line down. The 2013 Audi A5 comes with the venerable silky 211-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, which has long been the king of four-cylinder engines. While the 246-horsepower BMW, 247-horsepower Ford, and 220-horsepower Hyundai, all 2.0-liter turbo fours, have been letting Audi know the reign is over, Audi's 2.0 is still a great base engine for the A5.
And Audi quattro all-wheel drive is at the top of its class, adept and experienced in snow, mud and wet or icy streets. It seems a same to buy an Audi with front-wheel drive and miss out on quattro.
It's hard to find a direct statistical competitor to the four-seat A5 or S5, considered a grand touring coupe or cabriolet. The Infiniti G37 Coupe is quite similar, but after that you'll find differences in the number of doors or seats. The Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series coupe or convertible with all-wheel drive (both with 5 seats) might be cross-shopped, or the Nissan Maxima (4 seats, 4 doors). When all is said and done, we'd say the Mercedes C250, if similarly equipped, most closely compares to the Audi A5 in size, powertrain and price. If you were to consider leaving the realm of grand touring to look at cars of a similar size, you'd find a bewildering long list of sedans including Lexus ES, Acura TL, Buick LaCrosse, Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 200, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Impala, Ford Fusion, and even the Audi A4. All of them priced lower than the A5.
Worth considering, however, is that Kelley Blue Book announced the 2012 cars with best resale value, and Audi A5 won the luxury class, going away. According to KBB.com, the 2012 A5 is worth 64.7 percent of its new cost after 36 months, and 41 percent of its cost after 60 months. Second place after 60 months was the Mercedes SLK, way down at 34 percent.
The A5 is subtly beautiful. Its clean contours eliminate the need for stylists to tack on character lines as with many other cars. We think Audi is better looking than BMW here.
The A5 and S5 got a facelift for 2013, and it's a lovely job. The grille is rounded at the upper edges and narrowed at the bottom, to make it more shapely and less aggressive. New headlamps are sleek, small, and artful, with available LED running lights tracing a line around their dancing sharp edges.
Welcome changes to the 2013 A5 also include streamlining of the MMI Navigation system and controls, reducing the number of buttons from eight to four. The three-zone climate control system has also been slightly simplified. There's also more connectivity, with available Audi Connect, including Google Earth for navigation and Wi-Fi for surfing.
The cabin is sophisticated but simple, and nicely functional. A choice of leather is available along with different types of wood, carbon fiber, aluminum or stainless steel trim. Without exception, the materials are pleasant. The standard A5 leather seats are excellent, a nice level of firmness and bolstering. However heated seats, navigation, and rearview camera are all optional equipment, an extra bite on top of the healthy luxury price.
The instruments are clean and clear, including a trip information display that's easily scrolled through. A big clear white digital speed number can be displayed there. The leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel is tidy, with grips at the right places and thumbwheel controls on each side spoke. It tilts and telescopes for drivers of different sizes and preferences.
At night the cabin is pretty, with deep amber illumination, smoked-lens lamps mounted in the roof, and shaded map lights. However in direct sunlight, the display screen at the top of the center stack is unreadable, even with its shade. In our Cabriolet with the top down, we couldn't tune the radio because we couldn't read the orange numbers on the screen.
Rear passengers are catered to, with a wide armrest that folds down over central storage trays, reading lights, two speakers per side, coat hooks, outboard storage pockets, cupholders, and a pair of vents with adjustable temperature control. Legroom is in short supply but better than that of the Infiniti G Coupe.
Trunk space is relatively small, but larger than that of the G37 Coupe or Mercedes C-Class coupe. The A5 rear seat folds, allowing access to the trunk, although not in the Cabriolet, whose trunk loses 2 cubic feet of space with the top down and folded.
The MMI (multi-media interface) controls many of the car's functions with a central control knob, somewhat like BMW iDrive and Mercedes COMAND systems, only MMI is quicker because it demands fewer clicks. The screen at the top center of the dashboard displays audio information and the optional navigation and rear camera. But having driven BMWs with 10-inch screens that can display navigation and audio at the same time, we now like them big. With Audi Connect, the navigation can be overlayed on Google Earth mapping.
The strength of the A5 is its smoothness at speed. The overachieving 2.0-liter turbocharged engine feels fastest from 50 to 70 mph, where you need it; that's part due to the excellent Tiptronic 8-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode. The engine delivers strong torque over a wide range from 1500 to 4200 rpm, to propel the car from intersections and up hills. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in 6.2 seconds.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 20/30 mpg City/Highway for an A5 Coupe with quattro and 8-speed automatic, or 22/32 mpg with 6-speed manual. The A5 Cabriolet is rated 24/31 mpg. The A5 models all require Premium gasoline.
The A5 chassis and suspension are an excellent package, perfectly comfortable around town on patchy pavement, while being totally capable on winding roads, and we can't say that about many cars. The handling is responsive and firm, when pushed to the reasonable limit. The A5 is one of the best in this area. And there are options and upgrades to make the handling even better in the curves. Audi Drive Select allows programmable modes of performance.
The Audi S5 is another animal. It's powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 producing 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. It's fueled by direct injection and breathes through a two-stage intake manifold. It's mated to a 7-speed twin-clutch transmission that shifts in .2 seconds. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds. S8 gets an EPA-rated 18/28 mpg with automatic, 17/26 mpg with manual. An optional active rear differential overdrives the outside rear tire in corners, forcing the front end to turn in more quickly. It also communicates with the vehicle's Drive Select system and stability control to help maintain control in emergency maneuvers.
And there's nothing quite like the Audi RS5 with the lusty torque from its powerful V8 engine. It's EPA-rated at 16/23 mpg.
The Audi A5 is really a luscious machine. It grabs the attention subtly. Classy and elegant are accurate words to describe the A5, never mind that they sound like cliches because they're used so much to describe other cars, including by us.
Audi stylists got the shape right, from the profile. And they've done it all with fenders, wheelwells, rockers and shoulders. Who needs character lines when your shape has character? The new nose shows well in profile, artfully rounded as it rolls back to a gentle arc over the front wheels, then straight back to morph into shoulders that continue rapidly rearward, dropping back down ever so slightly to the taillamps. The rockers start high and slope upward toward the rear deck to suggest flying, or at least speed. At the tail, an area where others (namely BMW) lose their distinction, that slight shoulder drop to the taillamps makes room for an arc at the lip of the deck that, along with the badge of four linked rings, unmistakably says Audi.
The facelift on the 2013 A5 is a beautiful job. It looks like the whole face was buffed and rounded to perfection, like a stone sculpture, before the headlamps, grille and vents were carved out. The grille has been rounded at the upper edges and narrowed at the bottom, to make it more shapely than bold, as it used to be. We think the grille looks best in black, and not chrome, like on our gorgeous white A5 Cabriolet. There's a slim air intake below the grille, whose top is the same width as the grille but it's wider at the bottom, so it looks like a platform for the grille. There are larger faux air intakes at the bottom corners of the front fascia, that also look better without the chrome trim.
The bi-xenon headlamps with available LED running lights around their edges are artfully done. The crisp white LED lights run along the bottoms and outer edges of the headlamps, originators of a higher standard for appearance and function. Adaptive headlights, on models so equipped, swivel to illuminate the road in corners by reacting to steering wheel movement. And these are among the best, as they precisely follow the wheel and don't jerk from side to side as some do, better illuminating the road than making a distracting light show.
The S5 shows more power, with a stance that's lower in front thanks to a sport suspension, more aggressive air intakes on the front fascia, a black grille, a splitter below the front bumper, and four tailpipes coming out of a rear diffuser at the rear.
There are eight wheel designs, three standard with the A5, S5 and RS5, and five optional. The graceful shape of the body doesn't quite make it to the wheels, but the good news is that the standard A5 five-V-spoke wheel is quite nice, and the standard RS5 wagon-wheel 10-spoke wheel is the hottest. But the other wheel designs try too hard, and don't appear compatible with the car.
The cabin is clean and simple overall, which is not to say everything is perfectly easy and intuitive (Volkswagen Jetta is the only car we can recall saying that about), but it's close enough to be relaxing, not stressing out the driver with confusing dials or electronic systems.
The standard A5 leather seats are excellent, a nice level of firmness and bolstering. The S5 seats are better, with thigh extensions for long-legged drivers, and a good dead pedal. Heated seats are not standard equipment on the A5, they're a $450 option. Rearview camera is not standard either.
A choice of leather is available along with different types of wood, carbon fiber, aluminum or stainless steel trim. The materials all feel pleasant. The S5 cabin is done in mostly dark materials, including the woven headliner and sunshade. Black lacquer trim appears, including at the console behind the shifter.
The base leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel is sweet and tidy, with grips at the right places and thumbwheel controls on each side spoke. It tilts and telescopes for different drivers. Oft-used controls like cruise, signals, flash-to-pass/main beams, and wipe/wash are all on stalks.
The instruments are clean and beautiful, not quite at the pristine level of BMW, but still praiseworthy for their clarity, tach on left and speedo on right, small temp lower left and gas lower right, tidy aluminum rings around each. The driver information display lies between them, directly in front of the driver's eyes, with the info easily scrolled through. A big clear white digital speed number can be displayed, along with trip info, such as fuel mileage and distance to empty. Our DTE got inaccurate for the next 30 miles, after we ran down to reserve and refilled.
At night the cabin is pretty, with deep amber illumination that offers the fastest recovery time for your eyes, smoked-lens vanity mirror lamps mounted in the roof, and shaded map lights that light your lap, not your eyes. Outward visibility is quite good, with narrow pillars that don't interfere with glances over the shoulder.
There's standard dual zone climate control with manual operation that works better than auto because auto tries too hard. There are rear vents located in the back of the center console, and under the front seats. There are three 12-volt outlets and four cupholders. The center armrest slides forward and back.
The display screen is shaded but still can't be seen in the sun. The radio is easy to tune, but not when you can't see the station numbers. The white numbers on the screen are easy to see; but the orange numbers are impossible. We think this is the kind of thing a manufacturer should foresee, and catch. BMW has a new screen that's readable in the sun.
Because the A5 is a four-seat GT, it wouldn't be fair to compare rear seat legroom with other cars of that overall size. But we did it anyhow, compared 14 of them, and the A5 came in 13th, with 31.7 inches. It beat the Infiniti G37 Coupe, which offers 29.8 inches. So the Audi wins first in class.
A wide armrest folds down over central storage trays in the rear, where passengers are catered to with reading lights, two speakers per side, coat hooks, outboard storage pockets, cupholders, and a pair of vents with adjustable temperature control. Their legs will be the first to give out.
The rear seat folds in a 50/50-split, allowing access to the trunk, although not in the Cabriolet, whose trunk loses two cubic feet of space with the top down and folded.
With 12.2 cubic feet of trunk space, the A5 coupe finishes in 12th place out of the 14 we looked at. Its competition, the G37 Coupe, is last again, with 7.4 cubic feet. The G37 Coupe is essentially a stretched Nissan Z. Audi beats the 5-seat Mercedes C-Class coupe, which has 11.7 cubic feet.
The convertible top in the Cabriolet is like the best in the world. From the inside you'd swear it's a hard top. It raises and lowers in a fast 15 seconds, at speeds up to 31 mph, a patience-saving feature. The manual wind deflector is stored in the trunk and goes up easily, over the rear seat; it works really well to keep the wind off the necks of the driver and passenger. The available ventilated front seats may also be equipped with neck heating.
The MMI (multi-media interface) controls many of the car's functions and displays navigation maps and the rear camera view (both nav and rear camera are options). MMI has a central control knob, somewhat like BMW iDrive and Mercedes COMAND systems. This is the third generation of MMI, and we like that its buttons are reduced from eight to four. It's always been easier than BMW's iDrive and it's now easier than before. It has a new complete-word input capability, optional three-dimensional map displays, and a music jukebox on the internal hard disc drive.
The S5 gets bolstered seats in Alcantara leather with contrast stitching, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and piano black trim with stainless steel inlays.
One standout strength of the Audi A5 is smoothness at speed, up there around 80 mph. And the overachieving engine, a 2.0-liter turbo making 211 horsepower, feels fastest from 50 to 70, exactly where you need it. It produces strong torque over a wide range from 1500 to 4200 rpm, to propel the car from intersections and up hills. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds. Occasionally around town, you hear the engine growl-moan like the four-banger it is, but the rest of the time you never know it.
We spent most of our week's seat time in an A5 Cabriolet with the top down in the Pacific Northwest, plus more time in an S5 in the Colorado mountains.
The manual wind deflector in the Cabriolet works well. Girlfriend was able to take her hoody down on a September day, when the wind deflector went up. Carry it around in the trunk in its zippered bag, it doesn't take up that much space; or leave it home if you don't use it.
In about 450 miles of freeway, around-town, and backroads, our A5 Cabriolet with 8-speed Tiptronic automatic averaged 23.8 miles per gallon. It got us 27 mpg with the cruise control set at 73 mpg, over some long hills. The EPA rates it at 25 mpg Combined city and highway.
We took our A5 Cabriolet up and down fast winding mountain roads, and it always gave us what we needed driving hard. The Tiptronic 8-speed transmission is as tight as an automatic gets. In a good set of curves you use 3rd gear a lot, with frequent dips to 2nd and sometimes even 1st, plus charges up to 4th. (Seventh and 8th gears are for freeway cruising, improving fuel mileage by lowering the rpm.) It took those shifts perfectly, including aggressive downshifts that some transmissions reject.
With no paddle shifters, we used the unfortunately fat shift lever that's also flawed. The gate for manual mode, sliding the lever forward and back, is on the far side, so your arm has to stretch. The ergonomics of the design aren't driver-oriented, and that seems unlike Audi. We asked Audi why, and they basically said: We know it sucks, the best thing is to just spend the extra $750 and buy the Sport Package with available paddle shifters, sport seats and lowered sport suspension.
The chassis and suspension stand out, like the smoothness of the engine. Such a nice package, difficult to achieve, but Audi's been at it for years. It's perfectly comfortable around town on patchy pavement, while being totally capable on winding roads. It's responsive and firm, pushed to the reasonable limit. Quattro all-wheel drive helps this sure-footedness. With quattro, 60 percent of the drive goes to the rear wheels and 40 percent to the front (until a wheel starts slipping). That 60/40 rear/front is a good dynamic, achieving both balance and grip. Quattro also locks the differential, for best low-speed traction.
At the highest level, the available Drive Select system with dynamic steering and variable damping that calculates shock rates 1000 times/second gives the widest spectrum of ride and handling.
When you bring the 333-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V6 into the Audi S5, you've got a machine. Audi is hammering the competition with good engines. Not that BMW's 315-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6, or Ford's 365-hp, 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 (and others) aren't exceptional.
The S5 is another animal altogether. The supercharged V6 is mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission or available 7-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission, which uses dual input shafts and dual clutch packs to execute computer-controlled gear changes in just .2 seconds.
The S5's supercharged V6 is fueled by direct injection and breathes through a two-stage intake manifold. It's got big brakes, sticky 19-inch tires, and an optional active rear differential overdrives the outside rear tire in corners, forcing the front end to turn in more quickly. It also communicates with the vehicle's Drive Select system and stability control to help maintain control in emergency maneuvers.
The A5/S5 was the first recent Audi in which the front differential is mounted between the engine and the transmission, taking some weight off the front wheels, and better balancing the weight. But because the S5 weighs nearly 4000 pounds, it's no Porsche. The ride is never punishing, but models with adjustable suspension offer a bit more compliance over rough pavement.
The RS5 leaps from 354 to 450 horsepower for 2013, using valve technology from Audi's 5.2-liter V10. With a strong new differential, it's still all-wheel drive. It uses a paddle-shifting twin-clutch 7-speed transmission. Ironically, the flexible 4.2-liter V8 used to make 450 horsepower back in 2008 when it was the RS4. This powerplant has a special feeling, almost like a Japanese sport bike, but its sound is gloriously beefy. When it comes on the cam at more than 5000 rpm you want to shout in excitement. It will accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds (notice that's only .4 quicker than the S5 with the V6 engine), and its top speed is 174 miles per hour, limited by electronics if not your courage and/or sanity.
The Audi A5 is a rarity as an all-wheel-drive four-seat coupe or convertible. Its 2.0-liter turbo engine is strong, its 8-speed transmission impeccable, and ride and handling flawless for the mission. The A5 is not inexpensive, but it's still less than Mercedes or BMW. The S5 ups the game and is hard to beat in its class, with a satisfying supercharged V6 engine and available 7-speed twin clutch transmission, with big brakes and firmer suspension. For those who must have a beefy V8, there's the RS5, now with 450 horsepower. Nothing feels like the RS5.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of A5 and S5 models in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado, with additional reporting by G.R. Whale in Southern California.