The if-it-ain’t-broke approach to fixing things apparently translates well into German because you have to squint your eyes to see how Audi has altered the A5 with this new-for-2018 redesign. Wheelbase and overall length are a touch longer, while height is the same and width is down by a mere 0.3 inch. The grille, headlamps, and taillamps all have broader proportions, and those zeppelin-like creases in the hood are apparently how Audi’s metal benders earn their pay. The clamshell hood is a lovely touch, and we’re also fond of the subtle upward and outward sweep of the rear fender creases. If your lifestyle hungers for low-key elegance, this A5 delivers.
The best stuff is inside. While the turbocharged, intercooled, and direct-injected 2.0-liter inline-four carries over its iron block and longitudinal orientation, there are worthwhile gains in both power (up from 220 to 252 horsepower) and torque (which increases from 258 to 273 lb-ft). As before, Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, and buyers may choose between a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with three operating modes and paddle shifters. Audi claims the new multilink front suspension improves steering precision and that weight has been methodically trimmed throughout the car. Dropping one gear from the automatic transmission, adopting new aluminum front-suspension components, and other measures yielded a 65-pound weight savings over a similarly equipped 2016 Audi A5 we tested.
This 2018 edition has Quattro all-wheel drive, a huge sunroof, three-zone automatic climate control, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as standard equipment. Interestingly, Audi charges the same $43,775 base price for both manual and automatic versions. Our two-pedal test car was a Premium Plus model, which is a $3000 step up from the base Prestige (adding heated 10-way adjustable front seats, LED headlights, heated exterior mirrors, satellite radio, audio-visual parking aids, and other equipment). It was outfitted with a $2600 navigation package (which includes Audi’s Virtual Cockpit electronic instrument cluster), a $1250 S line Sport package (front sport seats with four-way lumbar adjustments, sport suspension, and a few décor items), a $950 Bang & Olufsen audio system, an $800 19-inch wheel and low-profile summer-tire package, and Florett Silver Metallic paint costing an extra $575. The full $52,950 tab is less than you’d spend for a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350.
The indulgent option load didn’t hamper the new A5 at the test track. Its combination of lighter weight, more power, and greater torque multiplication in the first three gears clipped more than a second from both the 6.1-second zero-to-60-mph acceleration and the 14.7-second quarter-mile elapsed time we measured for the aforementioned 2016 A5. In fact, this A5’s 5.0-second-flat rush to 60 beats every 2.0-liter-turbo direct competitor we’ve clocked—a BMW 428i, a Cadillac ATS 2.0T, a Mercedes-Benz C300, and a Lexus RC200t—plus a few notable six-cylinder rivals—a BMW 435i, a Cadillac ATS 3.6, a 3.6-liter Chevy Camaro, and a Ford Mustang packing 3.7 liters. Chalk it up not so much to the A5’s 252 horsepower but to the dual-clutch automatic’s quick handoffs during upshifts and the Quattro driveline that squanders not one iota of energy on wheelspin. (The listed competitors all were rear-drive, and three were equipped with manual transmissions.)
Proving it’s no one-trick pony, the new A5 excelled in other track tests. The Continental ContiSportContact 5P radials hung tight on the skidpad to the tune of 0.93 g, topping the field by 0.01 to 0.05 g. Fade-free stopping from 70 mph in 152 feet bested BMW’s 428i by 12 feet and the Lexus RC by 19. Its 76-decibel noise level during flat-out acceleration is quieter than Cadillac’s ATS coupe by three to seven decibels.
What’s more impressive is how the A5 blends its dynamic skills with a thoughtfully configured cabin to deliver impressive back-road strafing ability. You’re well restrained by a laterally firm seat, properly supported from shoulder to knee, and hanging onto a perfectly contoured and leather-clad three-spoke wheel. If you’re tardy clicking the plastic upshift paddle, the transmission delivers a crisp upshift at the 6750-rpm redline. The brake pedal goes to work at the top of its swing and is calibrated to deliver predictable stopping force for each incremental increase in pressure. Body roll is tightly constrained, yet the wheels never go stiff-legged over bumps and swells.
When you crowd the adhesion limit, the front tires let you know what’s up with a soft moan. Dial in more steering lock and the rears begin drifting wide half a step after the fronts. Quick, well-weighted steering offering hints of what’s going on at the pavement helps nail your desired line. But the S line Sport package and the 19-inch wheels with summer tires—options totaling $2050—are essential if you’re serious about exploiting all of this coupe’s agility.
That investment also empowers the A5’s street-stealth mode. You can bomb around town expeditiously because the engine is quiet at work, the tires never shriek, and body roll is so tightly contained. While some sports coupes are a spectacle even at modest velocities, this silver bullet vectors through traffic like an unmarked patrol car.
Thanks to its yawning trunk space and split-folding rear seatbacks, the A5 is a fine weekend warrior; cargo up to six feet in length lies flat. And although its roofline suggests otherwise, this coupe will accommodate four adults on date night. High-mounted switches on the front bucket seats release the backrests and power the front seats to their forward stops. Squeezing through the entry crevice requires a yogi’s flexibility, but the griping quickly subsides when rear passengers discover all the head-, leg-, and elbow room at their disposal. The bottom cushions are contoured for comfort and raised high enough that knees aren’t jammed into chins. Claustrophobia isn’t a concern due to the svelte pillars and large expanses of side glass. Unfortunately, the gap between front and rear center consoles is so tight that if a rear occupant wishes to change sides, they’re better off exiting the A5 and repeating the entry rigmarole via the opposite door.
While panel gaps and overall interior quality were flawless in our test car, in terms of design, this A5 is more a placeholder than a great stride forward rivaling those Audi has achieved in the past. Some staff members felt the matte-black leather and plastic surfaces accented by strategic bits of polished, knurled, or etched metal lacked warmth. To appease those who feel the contempo-tech look doesn’t jibe with the $50,000-plus price, the A5’s options list includes three alternative leather hues and walnut or oak paneling in place of the etched aluminum.
At least every paddle, switch, and control knob is well placed and works in an intuitive manner. The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is reconfigurable to accommodate crystal-clear instruments and navigation displays. The 7.0-inch center screen that begs to be touched is in fact commanded quite nicely by a large, console-mounted rotary knob with a couple of switches on the steering wheel to help with audio adjustments.
It’s a shame this A5 isn’t more of an extrovert because its class-leading performance warrants a serious look from anyone shopping premium coupes. At least Audi is nurturing the A5 family with convertible and Sportback (four-door hatchback) editions, plus a 450-hp RS5 due next year to backstop the currently available 354-hp S5. Clearly, those growing up and out of rowdy V-8 coupes have never had it so good.