Sunday 23 April 2017

Why Audi's A5 is like a good wine - it ages well but lacks fizz

Most changes to new Audi are under the skin

Audi A5 SportB
Audi A5 SportB
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I bet you know people who never seem to age. I know a few. The evergreens, as I call them, seem to effortlessly remain young, fit, lively and only grudgingly yield to the march of time by tolerating a few stray grey hairs.

If you hadn't met them for 30 years, you'd still instantly recognise them in a crowd. Others among us seem to alter shape and appearance and require a second or third look to be recognised at the wedding or school gathering.

The Audi A5 is a bit like the evergreens. There's no fear of it looking older. Unfortunately, there's not much chance of it looking that much newer, either. This is the evolution of looks at walking pace. It's as if they're taking their time and, like a good wine, assuredly waiting for your taste to align with theirs. I'd prefer they took a chance, but logic is not my strongest trait.

I'm making the point because the A5's looks don't reflect the progress under the skin - it is technically all new and based on the lighter A4 saloon platform.

As luck would have it, I parked it beside a couple of newish previous models - on different occasions - and I was hard pressed to pick out one outstanding stylistic departure.

Indeed, I quite liked the dark-red one which the nice lady moved to better accommodate my test motor in a tight parking spot.

Yes, there is a wider, not-so-deep grille and the bonnet has a little lift. Apart from a styling line down the sides, the profile is similar to the previous, and only a new set of lights in any way impact on the back.

So why would you buy it when there are others of greater visual appeal?

They may not all be four-doors based on coupés - such as the eye-catching BMW 4-series Coupé - but they look better in my opinion. Maybe visually they have dyed their hair and overused the sunbed a bit, but they are far cheerier prospects on first acquaintance.

If you are going to spend money on something brand new, don't you want to see some tangible proof of it?

It's a question I mulled over a lot in the course of 500km of mixed driving. And after lots of chat with one passenger especially, I concluded it is all about the mindset you bring to it. I'd want more; others will be happy with the ageless, seamless shift from one generation to another.

Anyway, away from the aesthetics, at a practical level it scores particularly well, I think. There's plenty of space for two back-seat passengers (the middle bump for the third is not for your average adult occupier) and the boot is among the best I've seen in a car of this size and calibre. I wish they had a few more small storage spaces around the cabin, though.

I was delighted with how much headroom there was, considering the sloping crescent of the roofline. For all my criticisms about looks, I am at the other end of the scale with the cabin and dash where the (optional) Virtual Cockpit, for me, is an age-defying piece of interactive ingenuity.

It not only looks brilliant and lifts the front of the interior, but it works so well and so easily. I'd love if it were standard. Peugeot have something similar (better?) on their 3008 SUV and it is standard at all levels. Nudge, nudge, Audi.

Which prompts me to remind you that the A5 can get quite expensive quite quickly when you add a few extras of that nature.

There was a 2-litre diesel under the bonnet with 190bhp and I had a 7spd automatic gearbox. That sounded like a good combination, and after initial misgivings, I found it decently sharp in Dynamic mode, though it never transmitted any fiery sense of dynamics to me as such.

And there was impressive smoothness, quietness, comfort and a high-level slickness about the drive and handling. But if you're looking for wow factor, look elsewhere.

That, I suggest, is the mindset you have to bring to it. If you do, you'll enjoy its sophistication, how accomplished it is on the back roads and through tighter bends where it never showed a flit of fluster.

If, on the other hand, you approach it ­looking for something dramatic, a bit of driving fun and fizz, you will feel a tad disappointed.

Compared with the likes of the 4-series Coupé, it is the evergreen that keeps to the healthy, the straight and narrow, not the life's-for-living-now compulsion of the Beemer.

Audi will argue - and rightly so - that the A5 is more a grand tourer than a performance motor. I agree, but I don't believe both attributes are mutually exclusive.

I just think it could be a lot more because, in this guise, it easily had the ingredients to be a bit of a devil as well as embellishing the evergreen virtues of the tried and trusted.

Facts & figures

Audi A5 Sportback 4dr, 2.0TDI, 190bhp, 109g/km, €190 tax, 7spd S-tronic, 6.3l/100km. Standard spec includes: cruise control, 18ins alloys, Audi Drive Select, CD drive, front/rear parking sensors, LED headlamps/day-time running lights, MMI navigation, Pre-Sense City safety, sports seats, sports suspension.

Options: virtual cockpit, 4-way lumbar support, Assistance package, adaptive cruise control, camera-based recognition system. Audi Connect, larger fuel tank, Matrix LED headlights, MMI Nav Plus, 3-zone climate control.

Price: €55,150; with options: €63,072. Range starts: €46,500.

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