2017 Audi A5 First Drive

It might not look it, but behind the 2017 Audi A5’s evolutionary styling update there’s a new platform and a host of mechanical and technological upgrades that make it the most advanced offering in its class. We got to sample the new A5 on the windy roads outside of Porto, Portugal, which gave us an in-depth look at the car underneath the unremarkable exterior.

The A5 may no longer be the haute couture choice in this segment ­­– that title goes to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe – but there isn’t a bad line on the new car, and it’s more creased and toned than before. Given the bulging hood and chunky C-pillar, we’d say its gym membership is paying off. This might look more like a mid-cycle update, but what’s underneath is new: a scalable architecture known internally at VW Group as MLB Evo, an optional seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and the third-generation EA888 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine.

This engine debuted in the A6 and is rated at 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. That’s a healthy 32 hp and 15 lb-ft more than the 2016 A5’s 2.0-liter offered, and it showed on our spirited drive through Portugal’s grape-growing region. A handful of A5s will leave the factory with six-speed manuals, but most buyers will find a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in place of last year’s eight-speed conventional automatic. Audi worked hard to improve initial throttle response to eliminate the clunkiness endemic to torque-converter-free transmissions. In urban slogging, the gearbox does a very convincing impression of a traditional automatic. In sport mode, the transmission livens up and delivers the rapid-fire shifts we expect from this type of gearbox. We did not have the opportunity to sample the stick.

Our test car had Audi’s Euro-spec version of this engine, which utilizes both direct and port fuel injection. American models will forgo the latter. Brisk acceleration is matched by a subtle growl piped in from under the hood at higher rpm – about the only noise you’ll hear. The A5 is astonishingly quiet. In fact, it was that quietness that encouraged us to leave the coupe in the Drive Select’s comfort setting for much of our drive. Drive Select tweaks the car’s steering, throttle response, and, on cars so equipped, the optional adaptive suspension. Truth be told, Comfort rides a little too plush and Dynamic a little too firm. Goldilocks will be most happy with the Auto setting, which chooses the appropriate mode for the current situation, providing a pleasant middle ground.

Like all Audis, Quattro-equipped or not, the A5 is nose-heavy, and it tends to understeer. That trait is present before the Hankook summer tires protest and torque vectoring helps out by pulsing the inside wheel’s brakes. Get into trouble and the four-piston front calipers bring things to a halt in a hurry – although our test car’s Euro-market brake pads quickly soiled its wheels. (Hey, dark-finish rims are stylish now, aren’t they?) More entertaining to drive than the C300, the A5 should also raise some attention in Munich where BMW is readying a face-lifted 4 Series Coupe.

2017 Audi A5 interior

If the A5 is too subdued outside, its interior makes up for it. Lifted almost directly from the A4, the well-appointed cabin is remarkably intuitive yet technology-rich. Even a base A5 will come with leather seats and a moonroof at a price Audi hints will undercut the C300 4Matic’s. And no C300 can be loaded up with as many goodies. Our favorite is the user-configurable Virtual Cockpit, a 12.3-inch LCD instrument panel that can be set to look like basic gauges, a borderline sensory overload map with Google satellite imagery, or a combination of the two. Buttons on the three-spoke steering wheel cycle through various screens with ease, but much of the information is repeated on a similarly crisp, iPad-esque display above the central air vents. That monitor is for Audi’s MMI Plus infotainment system controlled by an enormous rotary knob topped with a touchpad located just behind eight welcome preset buttons. Owners can communicate with MMI Plus via a smartphone app, and when they’re in the car there are two USB ports available for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connection; Qi-equipped devices can be charged wirelessly on an inductive pad. An optional Driver Assistance package for the A5 will allow some degree of autonomous driving for those who buy a sporty coupe but don’t actually want to drive it all the time.

And that’s a shame, because although this two-door doesn’t look much different at first glance than it did last year, the improved dynamics and seriously upgraded tech package make it a serious contender. Still, we wonder if Audi’s choice to stay the course on styling was a wise decision up against the gorgeous C-Class coupe. Ultimately, the Mercedes doesn’t impress as much once you get to know it, but it sure does look good. The Audi, on the other hand, moderates expectations with its handsome exterior and then overdelivers on content and engagement. Two different approaches, but we think the new Audi A5’s appeal will endure longer than its flashier competition.

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2017 Audi A5

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