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.