Haven’t you driven the Audi A5 before?
We have, but only in S5 guise, and not on UK roads. Back in April we drove the 354bhp V8 but that was Audi’s attempt to steal a little limelight from the BMW M3; now we’ve got behind the wheel of the 3.0-litre diesel. Audi hasn’t been in the big coupe game for 11 years, not since the S2 went out of production in 1996. Now it’s back, and with an all-new platform – dubbed MLP.
Is that the modular longitudinal platform we’ve been hearing about?
It is, although MLP is less of a mouthful. Audi believes that in order to compete successfully as a premium manufacturer it needs some driving credibility; the MLP is supposed to herald a change in dynamic philosophy at Ingolstadt. The front axle has been moved 120mm further forward, extending the wheelbase and moving the engine back in the chassis. The A5 is our first chance to try the new platform that will be the basis for the next A4, Q5, A7 and many more. It’s all part of Audi’s plan to sell 1.5 million cars by 2015. The company is on target, too, with sales up sixfold from 1991 to 2006, and up 20 percent year on year in the first quarter of 2007.
Does the Audi A5’s new platform mean rear-wheel drive then?
Not a chance – some things never change. On the lowlier models front-wheel drive is standard, though the 3.0-litre diesel comes with Quattro as standard to handle the torque. Conversely, the 2.7 diesel won’t come with four-wheel drive at all. When it is available the Quattro system splits torque 40:60 front to rear, as we first saw on the RS4. As usual this means great all-weather traction and little chance to spin the A5’s wheels.
So is the interior also a mix of something old and something new?
Yes. Audi have set the standard over the past decade and the A5 is nothing new. It’s still impeccably built, but it also looks modern and classy with a gorgeous sweep of aluminium around the dials and sat-nav screen. The optional sports seats are great though lacking a little side support. In the back there are only two perches, and that’s what they really are. There’s only room for two and it’s a little cramped and claustrophobic. Then again, every coupe in the class is like that.
Is it really the most beautiful car Walter de’ Silva has ever designed?
Apparently so, but maybe he no longer likes the look of the Alfa Romeo 156, and nor is the A5 as stunning as the 2003 Nuvolari concept on which it is based. However, on the move the A5 looks stunning and very modern. And with its LED daytime running lights ablaze, there are few more aggressive-looking cars that can appear in your rear-view mirror. The LEDs ape the R8’s and are so bright you only know which is which once it has passed you.
With an all-new platform what’s it like from behind the wheel?
Very good, and a decent step forward for Audi. Our car came with the optional £950 Sport pack, which means uprated, lowered and stiffened suspension. Ten-spoke 18-inch wheels (17s are standard) complete the package, but even on these the car looks under-wheeled. Nevertheless, it rides well, and a lot better than the equivalent (and run-flat equipped) BMW 3-series Coupe. The engine is a little noisier than BMW’s 3.0-litre straight six diesel but it’s also more powerful. The Three has 368lb ft at 1750rpm but the Audi has the same from 1500-3000rpm. Its 237bhp also pips the BMW by six ponies. Price-wise the BMW is cheaper at £32,220 to the Audi’s £33,430. Add the Sport pack and it comes level with the M-Sport equipped 3-series which is £34,775.
What else should I know about the car?
Audi’s target customer is ‘masculine and wealthy’, according to the marketing bumf, but the A5 feels like it was designed for the more deadly of the species. The steering, gearbox and clutch move about with very little effort and unless you’re driving spiritedly it feels little different from an A3. The BMW on the other hand has a heavy clutch, weighty steering and a notchy gearbox, and feels not only like a car designed for a man, but a proper driver’s car as well. Go for the Audi and you’ll also lose out at the pumps; 39.3mpg and 191g/km versus the BMW’s 43.5mpg and 174g/km.
Audi wants to shift 8000 A5s in the UK next year, the first full year of production. That should be no problem for them; the car drives well, looks great and at last provides a credible alternative to the BMW 3-series coupe. It’s no more compromised than its rivals, the Audi brand is incredibly strong and it is a worthy rival to Munich’s offering. Just don’t expect to see too many 3.0-litre diesels on the streets; the majority of sales are expected to come from the forthcoming 1.8T petrol and an as-yet-unannounced 2.0-litre diesel.