Review, the lighter, techier new Audi A5 Coupe

The new Audi A5 eh? I’d never have guessed.

Styling is very subjective, but as the A5 is a coupe and coupes sell on looks, we should have a chat about it. Here are a three quick points before you rage about the same-again bodywork.

One: it’s exactly what you’d do if you were chief designer at Audi, because the old A5 was very pretty, remained fresh, and sold like another icon of minimalist design-tweaking, the iPhone. Wasn’t broke, ain’t been fixed. Predictable argument, sure, but can you honestly tell me (and yourself) it’s incorrect?

Two: the subtly crisper creases and Tesla Model S nose do look way more modern when you see it in the metal; it’s still handsome.

Three: keep an eye on Audi’s configurator and see what a new A5 looks like when shorn of S-line trim wearing small wheels, missing trick LED headlights and so on. If it’s anything like the A4, it’ll suddenly appear quite dowdy when stripped of its jewellery. Good news for Audi’s options list coffers, then.

Looks like an A4 inside too, I’ve spotted.

Well it would, with an ice-cool cockpit straight out of the saloon and wagon that shares the A5’s MLB-codenamed platform. Excellent sat-nav is standard, the virtual dials optional. You sit higher than in a BMW 4-Series or Mercedes C-Class coupe, with the steering wheel slightly less vertical.

The overstuffed seats are superbly comfortable – almost Volvo-like, in fact, though don’t spec the massage function as it’s complete pants – and the horizontal strakes of the dash do a clever job of making a car that’s actually 8mm narrower than the old A5 feel generously spacious.

In the back, the A5’s more cramped than its rivals, save for perhaps the Lexus RC. The seats spring forward briskly enough, but headroom is marginal if you’re approaching six feet in height, and my feet felt cramped under the front seats – weird given that as I’ve said, they’re a bit too high. The boot’s 10 litres bigger than before, though. All of Audi’s latest, greatest self-driving, anti-crash all-seeing-eyes are selectable for a fee. Visibility is surprisingly generous given how thick the pillars look from outside.

Talking about autonomous takeover before we’ve got to the driving part are you? Can’t bode well for the A5 being very exciting…

A shedload of A5s will be sold with Audi’s 2.0 TDI engine purely because it makes financial sense – Audi claims 68.9mpg and 114g/km which’ll look terribly healthy on the company car tax assessment spreadsheet. We’re plenty familiar with that powertrain in the A4, so I thought we’d concentrate on the alternatives the A5 offers, starting with the big fast diesel one.

How big and fast?

Old S5 fast. The turbocharged V6 develops 282bhp and 457lb ftb ft from 1500-3000rpm, channeled through an eight-speed automatic to full-time Quattro AWD. It’s a mighty powertrain, this. It hurls the A5 – which is 60kg lighter than its dad – and builds with such smooth acceleration it’s almost – almost – reminiscent of an EV. Audi hasn’t released a 0-62mph time yet but it’s got to be dipping six seconds, and that’s just the amuse-bouche for the in-gear pace. I’d fancy my chances dropping a BMW M4 in this. So long as it’s wet.

The V6 doesn’t get the electric anti-lag compressor of the new SQ7’s V8, but as a point-to-point bludgeon-cum-cruiser that’ll settle well into the high-forties on a gallon, it’s as fast as you’d ever need. Interesting, unlike the S5, the petrol and Audi’s other diesel coupe, the TT, there’s no active sound augmentation autotuning the V6. So while it’s not an unpleasant rattle, you are aware of the motor tightening up and puffing as the revs build.

Fast it is, but where a BMW 435d makes you grin, the A5’s driver is grimacing. It’s nose-heavy and the steering has no more interest in bothering to let you know it’s understeering than the A4’s. Fine in the family saloon, but surely a coupe should be more game?

All the test cars had optional adaptive suspension and rode extremely pliantly. Audi says it’s tightened everything up for the A5 versus its four-door sisters, but besides some more clatter and patter in Dynamic mode and a bit more of a shudder on speckled roads, you’d barely notice, and we’re not complaining.

Maybe a smaller, lighter engine will be more engaging?

Great minds. So I swapped into the petrol A5, which uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. You can buy it with 187bhp, but this one’s the 248bhp candidate, connected this time to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and optionally added full-time Quattro four-wheel drive. As standard, the engine just turns the front wheels.

Regardless, this is by far the most enjoyable A5. The engine’s effervescent and hugely powerful, pulling strongly enough to zip to 62mph in 5.8 seconds. It’s torquey and responsive too; almost reminds me of the Golf R’s engine, which remains the benchmark for four-pot turbos.

It’s in a happy marriage with the S-tronic box too, and best of all, you can tip in into corners and instantly register a monumental weight loss on the front axle, so the A5’s keener to tighten its line and generally change direction. It still lacks the ultimate focus of a 4-Series, but if you’d already been swung by the A5’s far smarter cabin and uncannily silent cruising ace card, this mildly biddable A5 is an entertaining as it gets.

All of our test cars were fitted with optional Dynamic steering, which changes the rack speed depending on your road speed and is up to its old tricks again here. It’s simply too difficult to judge how much turn you require bend by bend, and it just hates long sweepers, taking untidy chunks out of the corner like you’re driving around a fifty pence piece. It’s quite vague. The system’s retuned for the S-cars, and much better for it, but you still shouldn’t touch it with a telescopic bargepole.

I imagine I’ll need to go easy on the options as it is?

Not sure yet. Prices for all of the above are still being mulled by Audi, so best bet is to look at the current range and add a bit. If you’re trading up from an old A5, I’d say the refinement and light years ahead cabin are worth it alone, but from another coupe? Hmm…

Go on…

We’ve possibly reached peak Audi here, for the usual good and not-so-good reasons. Sharp but possibly anonymous looks, a world-class, rival-nuking interior, irreproachably relaxing NVH, stellar powertrains…with anodyne handling and suspect options that ultimately won’t worry thousands of people who desire this badge, this cabin, this tech, and this status. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.