Audi AG and its go-fast co-conspirators spent a decade and equal to the GDP of a small nation demonstrating via endurance motorsport that diesel power equals performance. Extreme, hyper performance at that.
And yet the concern from Ingolstadt has been timid about nailing its oily allegiance to its passenger and sports car masts with a degree of confidence to hang it its ‘S’ let alone its illustrious ‘RS’ nameplates.
Oh, there’s been flirtation. V6 oiler engines have been shoehorned into Audi’s dizzying array of body styles for a long while, and an RS5 TDI coupe concept was teased (and tested) a few years back, but to date it’s been SUVs that have benefitted from the flagship oiler powerplants: the SQ5, with its excellent ‘high-power’ 3.0 TDI bi-turbo engine, and the V8 diesel-powered SQ7 producing 320Kw/900Nm.
There was once a Q7 years ago packing a 368kW 6.0-litre V12 producing a daunting 1000Nm of torque, its engine related to the Le Mans racecar. And yet there’ll be no R8 diesel supercar – I stopped asking years ago – and when broaching the obvious diesel-performance question today Audi responds that electrification, wholly or in part, is its performance-enhancing future.
Most Audi diesel passenger cars, then, are cut from a similar cloth to the 2017 A5 2.0 TDI Coupe quattro S tronic Sport: smart and likeable packages with make-do, two-litre four-cylinder oiler propulsion. The mid-sized four-seater, though, fully embodies a stance that looks fast standing still, yet goes merely okay when it isn’t.
That basically underpins my assessment of the newly launch second-generation version of the two-door after living with an example for a week.
Driven by style, regardless of underpinnings, is something the new Audi A5, in either two-door coupe or five-door Sportback guise, does with utmost confidence. The coupe, especially, is a great looking car, with a high-brow exterior that’s subtle in execution, not a dramatic departure from its first-gen forebear and best appreciated in the company of rival coupes, where its deftly penned lines and creases are most noticeable.
The standard-issue ‘5-Arm-Star’ 18-inch wheels fitted to our test car, to my eyes at least, are a little undersized, though there are four different 19-inch optional wheels to choose from, each adding 10mm of rubber footprint (255mm total) at each corner. In fact, there are no extra-cost aesthetic spruce-ups at play: our test car's only options are Assistance Package Tour ($1900) - bundling adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, lane assist with steering intervention, Pre Sense Front collision mitigation, auto high-beam headlights, and Turn Assist - and Monsoon Grey metallic paint ($1420). Call it $77,728 with LCT before on-roads, up from $73,900 list.
With a longer (by 17mm) wheel base, a broader nose, a so-called ‘domed’ bonnet and a generally more angular if carefully ‘evolved’ approach to moving the A5 form forward, there’s a lot to like. Neat details include the neat alloy-look spears in the front guards, dynamic indicator lights and, in fine coupe tradition, frameless side windows.
A suitable different form, then, than the A4 2.0 TDI quattro sedan with which it shares so much under that handsome coupe skin - skin that undoubtedly justifies some of the $7000 premium you pay over the quattro-equipped diesel four-door’s $66,900 list price. And while the aesthetics don’t necessarily imply ‘performance’ – the domain of S5 and forthcoming RS5 versions – per say, it’s not unreasonably to expect that the swoopy coupe brings with it a certain degree of sportiness, be it in ability, in vibe, or in both.
Inside, the A5 gets the most angular design, signified by the horizontal air vent as mirrored on the A4 and larger Audis up to and including the Q7, rather than the plainer ‘circular vent’ approach of smaller stablemates such as A3 and TT.
The treatment is tasteful, premium and oh-so Audi in appearance, tactility and material choice, though designers have missed a trick in that it’s so damn predictable. If there are differences between this and the A4 cabin, they’re quite difficult to spot.
It’s not much sportier a cabin. Sure, you can tick S Line Style ($3900) or S Line Sport ($7400) cost-optional packages, but those spruce-ups can also be had on other Audi models bereft of sporting pretensions. Ditto the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital driver’s instrumentation – while its standard fitment weighs in positively with overall value, the unit is near identical, graphically and in software, to one that can optioned into in an A3 hatchback.
Audi’s twinning of Virtual Cockpit with the 7.0-inch dash-top MMI Navigation Plus infotainment will suit some buyer tastes better than others. It can verge on information overload, depending on how the two screens are configured at a given time, though the MMI interface, with its useful handwriting recognition pad on the rotary controller, is an intuitive system once you acclimate to it.
At one point, the navigation input system flummoxed the Missus so comprehensively inputting an address that, after many minutes and much swearing, she simply used her iPhone instead. Yes, Apple and Android smartphone interface is bundled in, but without touchscreen functionality it’s clunky to access functions quickly. Still, the bells and whistles are there for the patient: wi-fi hotspot, Google Maps display and services, Bluetooth and audio streaming and DAB+ digital radio.
The front buckets are supportive and comfy and the four-way electric lumbar support affords tailor fitment, but the leather/leatherette seat trim is far from the last word in suppleness and the nicer Milano grade – or Nappa as featured in S Line Sport - comes at an extra cost. There are, however, some neat touches, such as three-zone climate control, a slick frameless rear-view mirror, ambient lighting and concave headlining that affords ample headroom.
The second row, by mid-sized coupe measurements, is quite decent: a good fit for kids or teens yet with decent short-haul comfort for two adults. Handily, the rear seatback is 40:20:40 split-foldable providing load-through for all manner of bulky objects, and the elasticized luggage net is very handy for securing smaller items to the boot floor. Yes, it’s not the most practical of people and cargo haulers, which is why Audi offers a more practical five-door A5 Sportback version for an extra $3355 ($76,255 list price)…
…which is why you opt for the two-door for its sportiness, right? Right?
The 2.0-litre diesel four and seven-speed dual-clutch combination isn’t the finest weapon in Audi’s powertrain arsenal. Frankly, it’s a bit of a loose cannon. It’s far from terrible and certainly has its positives – 400Nm from 1750rpm upwards, for example – but, for all-round goodness, it’s an average performer at best.
The big issue is lag – or, more accurately, the combination of tardy throttle response with lazy transmission calibration. The pause is so noticeable that once the powertrain clocks on from smoko break, you right-foot bury so deep in frustration that 400Nm lunges the coupe forward alarmingly. Tap the transmission controller for Sport? Sure, though it alleviates on some of the lag, and then powertrain responses are too hyperactive for smooth around town driving. A no-win situation, then.
The added pause of stop-start, which rattles the whole car on restart, and the delay off the mark is so pronounced that it’s concerning. Or worse. Twice in a week, at intersections, I had to jump on the brakes to avoid another car where its driver presumed I was giving way when I was in fact already well deep into the throttle trying to get a move on. The same went for overtaking opportunities: sinking the right boot returned no response from the powertrain, and, once it did, any gap I was lunging for was closing or fully shut.
Around town, it’s a bit of a chore, not because of any expected heroic performance, but because the advantages you expect from a small diesel - decent torque, impressive frugality – disseminates with the busy, attacking driving style demanded for normal urban cut and thrust. Audi claims 4.6 litres for the combined cycle, whereas our test car returned fives on the highway and as high as eights around town.
This is also despite the sailing mode, which regularly activates to ‘freewheel’ the coupe in neutral to save fuel, thought when it does activate, which is frequently, it eliminates all engine braking and you’re forced to uncomfortably hover the right foot over the brake pedal. It’ll also creep the road speed up, if only by a few kilometres an hour, along downhill runs before reengaging drive to affect engine braking.
And still the quirks continue to reveal themselves. Audis love an in-dash warning symbol, but our A5 incessantly indicating that I was tailgating while keeping an acceptable distance from the car in front and its Pre Sense anti-collision system chimes in with an unnecessarily cautious calibration. I learnt long ago to ignore the advisory ‘throttle lift’ symbol – presumably another fuel-saving operative – but this is the first Audi I’ve driven to display an in-dash message telling my lift off the loud pedal while entering roundabouts in commentary about my personal driving style. Yes, seriously.
If the 2.0 TDI and seven-speed S Tronic had been cooperative and compelling, I might’ve wanted to hardness the best from the all-wheel drive system. Instead, the quattro infrastructure effectively adds negatively in weight and the powertrain inhibits much in way of relative positivity. Indeed, the 2.0 TDI Quattro, at 1640kg, is 145kg heavier than the petrol 2.0 TFSI front-drive version.
So despite the extra torque (400Nm plays 320Nm) and all-paw traction from the identically powered (140kW) A5s, the pricier TDI version is just 0.1sec quicker to 100km/h. And at 7.2 seconds as its maker’s best claim, it’s certainly no traffic-light firebrand in outright terms. And whether you dig or under idle, there’s no mistaking its oiler four format due to the noticeable if muted diesel ‘rattle’.
Moving on, and in the corners, it’s a capable if workmanlike experience, with directly if slightly artificial steering and dynamics that are surefooted if hardly playful or infused with fun. The standard-issue ride and handling balance is nicely struck, though, erring on the firm side and a bit busy over corrugations despite a decent amount (40 series) tyre sidewall to cushion imperfections. Push on and, as we found at the local launch, the suspension can get a little unsettled over less-than-smooth surfaces when cornering.
Want more pep in its step? It’s available if you must tick options boxes for Sport suspension, adaptive suspension, or the aforementioned S Line Sport package (separately) or wheel upgrades to add handling purpose and extra grip. Or alternatively, rustle up an extra $22k for the genuinely sporting and performance laden S5 ($105,800 before on-roads), a car that passed through the CarAdvice garage recently and managed to sweep more than a few reviewers off their feet.
It’s fair to say that, despite expectations of the coupe format adding extra sportiness, some buyers simply want two doors and handsome flowing bodylines – in a choice of 15 different body colours at that - to add some extra halo-like shine to the drollest day-to-day motoring. Nothing wrong with that.
But our advice is that the A5 2.0 TDI quattro is really a more appropriate fit for regional buyers who predominantly clock a lot of highway kilometres and can leverage the small diesel’s long-haul frugality and who tend to avoid the urban and city experience where shortcomings and annoyances present themselves thick and fast.
Despite glowing positivity over this new B9 range at its international launch – an 8.5 from 10 rating for the broader A5/S5 range – the local launch revealed the A5 crop to be closer to a 7.5 prospect where it “fell short of expectations” along Tasmania’s finer curves.
Around the less exotic climes, under colder and harder light, across the inner and outer Sydney environment over the period of a week, the TDI version proved itself a 7.0 prospect at best.