Supple and sleek, the Audi A5 coupe and convertible get more rational to us as they reach into S5 and RS 5 territory.
Now in its seventh year, the 2014 Audi A5 remains one of the most classic and stylish two-door cars on sale today. Both the coupe and the convertible are considered some of the best-looking cars of the decade, and they pair timeless looks with engaging on-road character and more than a little luxury. We're partial to the high-performance S5, but the lineup ranges from the stylish yet understated base A5 to the brawny and ballistic RS5 that bracket our S5 choice.
With a minimum of extraneous detail and careful attention to its surfaces, the two-door Audi A5 was a stunner and a halo car for the luxury brand when it launched for 2008. The coupe and the convertible are equally handsome--not always the case, and no mean feat--though the added insouciance of the droptop garners more stares and admiring glances. Only at the front end, where Audi's deep horse-collar grille appears overly large and perhaps too abstract, does the A5 fall down a bit. This year, the designers have slimmed down the headlamps and subdued the frame of the grille. The cabin strikes a coordinating chord, with soothing shapes and a high level of fit and finish, and new choices of trim ranging from carbon to stainless steel to good old-fashioned wood.
With the standard A5, Audi has its summer cruiser. Both the A5 coupe and cabriolet are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that now delivers 220 horsepower. The Cabriolet taps out of any performance intent in its most basic form, where it's fitted with front-drive and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that generates decent gas mileage numbers but the typical CVT sluggishness. Skip the CVT for any other edition: they all have all-wheel drive, with a choice of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic, either of which makes the most of the four's ample power band.
The A5 lineup is a car for a couple and their luggage to travel in, though one or two additional riders can fit in the rear. It's close-coupled but not cruel. The cabin is well laid out as well as finely built, and the controls are lighter than those of other German coupes. Leg and shoulder room are generous, and the seats are well-padded and bolstered. The rear seats, on the other hand, are too short in the legs for adults. From the driver's seat, visibility rearward is on the poor side due to the chunky C-pillars that look so good on the outside (the Cabriolet avoids this criticism with the top down). Interior storage space is generally good, with a locking glove box and console, one-liter bottle holders in the doors, and a larger-than-average trunk with fold-flat rear seats.
Sharing much of its underpinnings with the A4, the A5's handling and ride are dialed to comfort, though the optional Drive Select system allows owners to change steering, throttle, suspension and transmission programming for a more responsive feel that can be paired with variable-ratio Dynamic Steering. We'd pass on both, and opt instead for the sport suspension offered on coupe models for its predictable, slightly firm road feel.
Truth be told, we'd really pass the A5 entirely for the S5 coupe and cabriolet, their 333-hp supercharged V-6, and their choice of manual six-speed or seven-speed dual-clutch transmissions. A sport suspension, better brakes and bigger wheels and tires give it tauter handling with less understeer than the basic A5; Drive Select and Dynamic Steering are on the menu as well. The champion of the lineup is undoubtedly the RS 5, available this year either as a coupe or as a cabriolet. Its 4.2-liter V-8 has 450 ripe-sounding horsepower, its dual-clutch transmission is effortlessly quick to shift, and its available sport differential turns it into a rival for the likes of the C63 AMG, M3, and CTS-V.
The S5 and its Cabriolet counterpart, like most luxury performance cars, haven't been crash-tested, but they do offer an extensive list of safety features. The list includes dual front, side, and side curtain airbags; knee airbags, traction and stability control; anti-lock brakes; active pop-up roll bars in the Cabriolet; and a rearview camera with parking sensors.
Luxury features are similarly exhaustive, with all of the usual luxury suspects on board, including all the power and heated accessories you can think of, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. Optional add-ons include the excellent Bang & Olfusen sound system, navigation, and iPhone integration. The latest-generation MMI controller is also employed, making it easy to control audio, navigation, and other on-screen functions with its joystick-like controller. New Google Earth and Street View mapping provides some of the clearest, most beautiful renderings we've seen on a GPS.
Of all the models, the A5 and S5 convertibles shine brightest. Their well-insulated tops can be dropped in a matter of seconds, and they'll rise quickly enough that you won't get drenched when you stop in a sudden shower. Sure, the cloth top blurs some of the coupe's crisp roofline--not to mention eating further into the rear seat space--but the sensation of sun in the face and (a little bit of) wind in the hair makes those quibbles fade into insignificance.