2013 Audi A5/S5

The elegantly refined Audi coupes, in A5 and S5 guise, have undergone their first thorough update. Is it enough to compete with the established players and BMW’s forthcoming 4-series?

The evidence from the outside is clearly in Audi’s favor. Their two-door is still a beautiful machine, though in a more timeless way than such overt machines as Cadillac’s CTS coupe. BMW was obviously inspired by it, as can be seen in the more fastback slope to rear window if its F30-based, 3-series replacement, not to mention name change. Changes to the Audi are very conservative in comparison, being mainly restricted to the front fascia, with its chamfered off grill and even more dramatic headlight LEDs.

Inside, the A5/S5 is more than a match for anything in the class. Polished trim and piano black highlight trim changes; quality is still first-rate, the seats still very comfortable in front (though the current, optional BMW sports seats offer more adjustments and lateral support). In back, the A5/S5 still are a very tight fit, and their sunroofs don’t slide. But trunk room remains generous and the back seats fold, making for a good pre- or postfamily vehicle for a couple.

Audi’s MMI interface remains one of the two best in the business, with improved graphics, available Google tie-ins, and its latest generation nav. It shows how to do a driver interface.

These two are positioned against BMW’s 328 and 335 models (though the S5 typical cost more than the six-cylinder Bavarian machine). Audi was there first with a 2-liter, direct-injected turbocharged four cylinder in the A5, coupled to a slick eight-speed auto, and it remains a competent powertrain: smooth and refined, frugal and torquey. But BMW has moved the game on in the new 328 four-door, with an extra 29hp and rush to redline give it more character; this engine will go in the 428 as well. The S5’s 3-liter V6 pumps out 333 ponies and 325 supercharged pound-feet of torque. It replaces the wonderfully vocal but profligate V8, giving the S5 the chance to actually get over 20mpg. It sounds good (and upper model S5s give you the option to tweak its engine note); combined with the masterful twin-clutch seven-speed S-tronic transmission, it makes a compelling case. The only real knock that can be made on it is that there is no true manual mode for that great gearbox—it often overrides the driver’s wishes and instructions.

Both are competitive in performance with the class, with the A5 running mid-sixes to 60mph and the S5 knocking a second or more off that. The Audis engine offerings beat the Cadillac’s and Infiniti’s harsh V6s and Mercedes’ C250/350 for character as well, and the all-wheel drive Quattro system (optional on the A5, standard on the S5) has been improved with faster-acting distribution of power flow and more efficiency.

Add in the S5’s available Sport differential and you get a car capable of beautifully neutral handling and even four-wheel drifts. The A5 is more composed than that, never becoming overtly sporty. Both cars updated electric power assist steering systems are excellent, better than the BMW’s and much better than what they replace.

A trump card for the coupes from Ingolstadt is their ride. They are much better than cars wearing such low profile rubber have any right to be, chamfering off broken pavement, transverse ridges, and all the other defects that blight American roads in a way that is quite astonishing. The BMW (while better than it was) isn’t there yet, nor are the others. This attribute alone is reason to choose from the Audi pair if you’re an urban dweller. That body control remains so good and refinement is also excellent seals the deal for those looking for refinement in their sports coupe. Another dynamic surprise from the Audis was how firm feeling their brakes were—there’s no dead zone at the top of the pedal, and the precision with which you can modulate their application is a lesson to others.

There are many choices for those looking for a slinky two-door car, from three continents. Cadillac covers the audacious end of the spectrum, BMW has historically tilted conservative. The Audi A5 and S5visually strike a fine balance between them. That the pair also land near at or near the top of the class dynamically bodes well for their continued relevance and success.

2013 Audi A4
EPA ratings: 20/30; 24mpg combined
Price as tested: $48,560
Here is what Audi has to say about the A5

2013 Audi S5
EPA ratings: 18/28; 21mpg combined
Price as tested: $66,895
Here is what Audi has to say about the S5

Isaac Bouchard is the automotive journalist for Colorado AvidGolfer; the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.com.