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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Audi’s classy new A5
  coupé is an accomp-
  lished and beautifully-
  built machine that’s
  admirable not just for
  what it has and for
  what it does, but also
  for what it doesn’t
  have — bling! Tasty,
  Yes. In the nicest
  possible way...”

AUDI'S DISTINCTIVE, HIGH-WAISTED AND BROAD-SHOULDERED NEW A5 COUPÉ offers yet another choice — not only to customers loyal to the 'four-ring' marque, but also to BMW and Mercedes owners looking for a change. Sporting a handsome 'hunkered-down', two-door body that masks four-seat practic-ality, the new A5/S5 range also comes with a driver-oriented chassis and some very persuasive engines. Tested here is the 236bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged diesel unit that, despite its oil-burning DNA, serves up some pretty hardcore performance: a 155mph top speed and a storming 5.9 second 0-62mph time which is second only to Audi's mighty Q7 V12 TDI in the diesel performance hierarchy.

Despite this amount of 'grunt', the A5 3.0 TDI nevertheless manages to cover up to 39.2mpg on the combined cycle. Our 'real world' average — over seven hundred miles of mixed driving — came out at 35.2mpg with a best of 41.4mpg. For the record, the official figures are 28.5 around the houses and 49.6mg touring. More light-footed A5 owners should be able to match Audi's consumption figures. CO2 emissions are 191g/km — the lowest in its class — and running costs shouldn't break the bank.

And neither will the A5's purchase price. At £33,430, Audi's new coupé is priced neatly between the equivalent models from BMW and Mer-cedes. However, it goes without saying that all these three marques offer long lists of desirable extras. Our test car, for example, was fitted with almost £8,000 of extra-cost options, over half of which was racked up by 19-inch wheels, electric Sports seats, GSM mobile 'phone preparation in the front armrest, the best SatNav and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. Compared to the BMW and Mercedes, the A5 comes with the best standard specification.

Included on the A5 are smart seven-blade 17-inch alloys, MP3-com-patible audio system with single CD player with 6.5-inch colour monitor and ten speakers and a six-channel amplifier, four individual seats and leather upholstery, electromechanical parking brake, electrically-operated and heated door mirrors, light and rain sensors, first aid kit, rear acoustic parking system, Xenon headlights with automatic range adjustment, LED daytime running lights, headlight washer system, a superb perforated leather-clad, multi-function, three-spoke Sports steering wheel, auto drive-off central locking, three-zone (driver, front passenger and rear passenger compartment) climate control, driver's information system in colour, electric front windows, auto-opening boot lid and front and rear ISOFIX with front passenger airbag de-activation switch.

Also standard is Audi's renowned quattro permanent four-wheel drive, along with a comprehensive safety package of front, side and head airbags along with a comprehensive ESP-based driving dynamics assistance system that incorporates ABS, brake assist, electronic differential lock and traction control. It also cleans the brake discs at regular intervals when driving in the rain and counters the dreaded 'trailer snake' if you're towing.

Audi have thoughtfully provided a two-stage ESP deactivation switch so just the traction control can be turned off to allow wheel spin — advantageous in snow if you have to drive with snow chains. The second stage completely deactivates the ESP and is for skilled drivers wishing to make full use of the A5's handling potential. Well worth a mention on the safety front are the adaptive lights — a reasonably-priced option at £325. At speeds between 6mph and 68mph, dipped and main beams of these swivelling headlights follow the line of the road and bends for improved illumination to both the front and sides. Very effective, and well worth the money.

There's as much presence inside as there is outside and a quick glance around the top-notch interior is all it takes to know you're in an Audi. Yet while current Audi drivers will find the A5's cabin design familiar, a second glance tells you it's a step-up to anything that's gone before. The detailing is first class, as too are the ergonomics and presentation. The cabin has it all: ambience, class and an indulgent cosiness. Natur-ally there are sumptuous leather seats (the optional, every-which-way powered Sports seats fitted to our test car were brilliant), 'micro-metallic platinum' trim inlays and Audi's Multi Media Interface (in con-junction with DVD SatNav) — the best and most intuitive of any on the market today.

Tick the box, as many customers undoubtedly will, for the optional 'advanced key' (£495) and you'll never have to remove the key from your pocket to lock or unlock your A5. As soon as you're within 1.5 metres of the car door you're detected. Then, as soon as the sensor surfaces of the door handle or the button on the boot lid are touched, the lock is released — this happens so fast that the normal movement of opening the door is not interrupted. Once inside, you simply press the start button next to the gear lever. What is it about these start buttons that you just can't wait to use it?

This is an Audi, so it seems almost superfluous to tell you that the driving position is excellent and the controls are well sited; and the instruments (with droplet-shaped surrounds) and switchgear are flawlessly clear and intuitively easy to use. But I will anyway. Clever touches include switchgear settings (for example, the heated seats or the highly efficient climate control) automatically displayed on the colour monitor while you alter them — so there's no more dangerous looking down while you make your changes. Another great feature is the digital speed display that is shown on the display sited between the analogue 180mph-speedometer and the rev-counter. The inch-high, crisp white numerals keep you advised of your exact speed at all times and require only the briefest of glances to register. Everything
in this great Audi cabin is just dandy.

Impressive cabin aside, there's something equally imposing installed under the A5's long bonnet. In keeping with other large capacity Audi diesel units, the V6 3.0 TDI unit feels and sounds refined and without a hint that it's a diesel as it goes about its business of dishing up sports car performance. From standstill to the benchmark 62mph takes under six seconds, and sounding more like a potent petrol-quaffing 'six', it serves up the power seamlessly. The V6 not only revs cleanly, but it is well matched by a smooth accelerator pedal and a crisp-changing six-speed close ratio manual 'box.

Thanks to the muscular 369lb ft of torque on tap from just 1,500rpm, pick-up and acceleration in all gears and at all speeds is both satisfying and very impressive: push hard on the 'loud' pedal and the shove in your lower back tells you that there will always be more than enough power for quick, fast, safe overtaking — as well as for powering out of corners. The A5's powerplant stays committed and eager, even closing on its high-ish (for a diesel) 4,800rpm red-line, although with such strong reserves of power mid-range there's really no need to cane it, making it an effortless companion for motorway trips and long-distance touring.

Undeniably it's a sophisticated and 'sporting' diesel. But there's still more good news to come. Due to the new five-link front suspension and a revised trapezoidal link rear set-up, the A5's dynamic talents run deeper than the elegant coupé metalwork and are now good enough to make it a credible rival to BMW's 3-Series coupé. The new platform makes a good fist of handling the performance, riding flat and level even on tighter corners where, of course, its quattro permanent four-wheel drive set-up (40:60 front-to-rear torque split) ensures masses of traction on all surfaces and in all weather conditions as well as clean, tidy exits — both dynamically, and from the lo-pro 255/35 Michelin tyres wrapped around the striking five-'bladed' 19-inch alloys wheels.

Not only is the handling sharp enough to satisfy enthusiastic drivers, but the supple ride — assuredly that of a fine Grand Touring coupé — will also impress. Overall the A5 feels agile; it's keen to change direct-ion and there's palpable pleasure to be had hustling it through bends. Some of the credit for this refreshing agility must go to the rack-and-pinion power-assisted steering that has been completely re-engineered and repositioned ahead of the front axle for improved response.

Consequently it's more accurate than on previous mid-sized Audis — the A5's turn-in is smooth and neat and weights up nicely at speed. Factor in light major controls and progressive brakes (aluminium callipers; 6-pot at the front and 4-pot at the rear) with a seriously powerful bite and you have a very tasty recipe for driving a la carte.

The A5 is billed as a 'four-seat coupé' although, up to a point, this does depend on the stature of those occupying the four seats. Certainly the A5 is capable of transporting four adults, and if they are all under six-feet tall and of average build then so much the better. Access to the back is easy and once in, legroom is more than adequate for all but the longest-legged passengers — although the sloping roofline does mean the hair of six-foot-plus passengers can brush the headlining. Rear passengers enjoy sculpted individual back seats with side and centre armrests, dedicated climate controls and a restful backrest angle. All characteristics that confirm the A5's core role as a full-sized touring car.

Most coupé buyers rarely carry more than two adults, purchasing them principally for their looks and the lifestyle statement they make more than to perform the 'family taxi' role that generally falls to less alluring saloons. Talking of which, the A5's metre-wide (well-filled golf bags will fit in sideways!), 445-litre boot benefits from split/folding rear seat back rest that provides additional load-carrying flexibility by expanding the usable storage space to 829 litres. Yet another thoughtful touch is the foolproof levers in the boot that easily release the fold-forward rear seat backs.

The electric parking brake not only saves space but offers two modes: an ordinary 'manual' one for applying/releasing the parking brake but using the button (if you forget to release it, it will release automatically as you drive off); and a convenient 'hold assist' facility that auto-matically detects when the vehicle is stationary and prevents the car rolling away — handy when you're trying to get out of an uphill junction or in messy stop-start traffic.

As an all-in package the A5 takes some beating. Superficial buyers init-ially attracted by the great-looking coupé lines will quickly find they've got more than they bargained for. Because the A5 is exceptionally well built, with a comfortably cocooning cabin that makes every journey — no matter how mundane — a genuine pleasure. And it handles, too. Add to that it is extremely functional, winningly quick, has four-wheel drive all-weather security and a refined V6 turbodiesel engine that demonstrates that six into five not only goes, but it goes perfectly!

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Audi A5 3.0 TDI quattro | £33,430
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 35.2mpg | Power: 236bhp | Torque: 369lb ft

CO2 191g/km | Insurance group 17
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