2008 Audi A5

2008 Audi A5

The Audi A5 is a very good, very safe car.

The first part of that sentence can be confirmed by my driving experience in a manual-transmission, six-speed model with a 3.2 TFSI motor. (Important aside: This motor and transmission combination goes away for 2010 and the 3.2 TFSI will only be mated to the six-speed Tiptronic, starting at $44,000; the good news is the arrival a more efficient, high-torque-at-low revs 2.0, TFSI motor model that will retail for $36,000, $8k cheaper than the car I drove; more on that below.)

The second part of my lede can also be confirmed by experience, unfortunately.

I was driving the A5 home mid-Saturday morning. It was a bright, blue-sky summer day. I’d been out bike riding, and the conveniently folding 50/50 split, flat folding rear seats and hatchback design of the A5 made it simple to bring a mountain bike to the trail head, and bring it home afterward; hell, I could’ve put two bikes in the hatch had I had pedaling company. (Cyclists know this is no easy task in any car with sporting aspirations.)

A few miles from home I came to a four-way stop. I stopped, as one should. There were no cars visible at the intersection and so I hit the gas.

At that instant, a Pontiac Vibe was hurtling toward the four-way. I couldn’t see the car because there’s a bend just before the stop sign. Clearly one reason for the all-way stop is because of decreased visibility from that direction. Just as I lifted off the clutch, the Vibe was upon me.

And then I was reacting, not thinking, trying to get the Audi parallel to the Vibe that I’d only just glimpsed out of the corner of my eye as a flash of red. It was a harrowing millisecond, loud as cymbals struck next to my ears, a clash of metal and glass—and then very, very quiet. I was dumbfounded. At least my last-ditch effort to turn the car had caused the Vibe to hit the Audi at less than a perfect right angle, allowing the Pontiac to ricochet off the A5; the Vibe came to rest in front and to the left of the A5, narrowly missing the apple trees in the adjacent orchard.

And I was fine. Absolutely, completely unscathed.

The Audi took the hit so I didn’t have to. Had all four seats been occupied everyone would’ve been fine as well - the safety cell of the passenger compartment was completely preserved. Still, the A5 wasn’t going to run ever again. The force of the accident had been so strong that the entire frame bent. I knew this because my side of the car, the driver’s side that hadn’t been struck, had the door pinned shut. I clambered over and out the passenger side, pushing that door open with both both feet and saw that the Vibe’s driver, a middle-aged woman, was holding her head. She’d apparently banged it on the steering wheel and despite hitting me at a fierce rate of speed, her airbag didn’t blow. She was hurt—whiplash, perhaps a concussion—and hysterical and I did my best to calm her down and call 911.

The rest I’ll reconstruct for you briefly.

She never braked. There were no skid marks from her vehicle on the road. She admitted to the police that she blew the stop sign. I have a strong suspicion she’d been texting or making a call on her cell. I cannot confirm this, nor did I challenge her—her day was already going badly enough. The point is, at a four-way stop, quite near her home, she wasn’t paying attention. This is a 40-mph road, and given that I never even saw her approach, she was going at least that speed.

The entire front end of her car was smashed in, flush with the fire wall.

The Lessons:

Bad: Texting while driving. In case you missed it, Car and Driver’s comparisons of drinking and driving vs. texting and driving are horrifying evidence of the perils. Please, put the phone down.

Good: The A5. Good and safe. Also good: Now you don’t have to total one yourself. I’ve done the work for you.

Now can I tell you what the A5 is like?

Luckily, before this accident I had five days to appreciate the A5's attributes that have nothing whatsoever to do with saving one’s skin, some of which I’ll enumerate briefly here.

It’s gorgeous. One thing Audi has nailed is how to translate the R8’s tremendous, hunkered stance and massage that essential strength throughout its entire line. I’ve rarely driven a car that’s so affordable yet so attractive. Women, men, kids - everyone smiled or waved or chatted me up about the car. If anything explains the A5/S5’s nearly 50-percent rise in sales (through August 2009) in a positively dismal economy it’s definitely that anyone with eyes seems to think it’s sharp and sexy.

The steering, which I’ve seen dinged by other reviewers as too weighty, is excellent and communicative. After way too many years of Audis with over-boosted steering I think Audi’s finally dialed back its Servotronic system so that the “speed-sensitive” promise is realized, adding help only when you need it, and reducing aid enough so that you can feel the road. Further bespokery is available if you get one with Audi Drive Select, which lets you customize throttle mapping, suspension damping, and the twitchiness of the steering. The transmission function here is less critical in the manual shift car, but useful in the Tiptronic model. And a word on that: While Audi at last offers standard-shift cars that are approaching the competition (namely BMW), its Tiptronic cars are already superb, and while you sadly cannot have your A5 with Audi’s new, faster double-clutch S Tronic seven-speed (largely preserved for its European market vehicles and the forthcoming S5 Cabrio, costing $58,250), an A5 with the six-speed Tiptronic will be plenty of fun.

For one thing, Tiptronic shifts quickly enough, and with Audi Drive Select, you can make it shift very fast. Add to this equation the new 2.0 TFSI engine to get into an A5 for less dough and you’re talking about a really winning formula for Audi. Incidentally, that motor trades a higher horsepower rating (211 hp vs. 265 the outgoing 3.2 TFSI), for better torque off the line: 243 pound-feet @ 3250 rpm vs. 258 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm. The smaller engine will move the Audi swiftly, and even if 60 mph takes 6.4 seconds vs. 5.8 for the larger-motor model, you’ll also get 25 percent better fuel economy (25 mpg combined EPA vs. 20 mpg combined for the 3.2 TFSI), which makes this a very good bargain.

Also very good—in fact exceptional, is the cockpit of the A5. Few car companies put together interiors as well crafted and downright sexy as Audi. The simplest example: Brushed metal frames subtly outline vents, switches and gauges, while the feel and look of the latter is sharp, intelligent, not garish. Bell & Ross watch faces provide a valid analogy. There is so much less gimmickry at work in the interior design of an Audi than, say, a Kia. The purpose, Audi conveys, isn’t the light show, but what the lights illuminate.

Lastly, with quattro AWD and a rear-wheel-biased torque split the A5 is a year-round livable sports coupe. It doesn’t punish you with an overstiff ride; the car is darn near gentle, but handles very well and is communicative and fun. Add in the pragmatic hatch and you have a real winner.

Now if we could only get them to bring that 4-door Sportback option Stateside.