When it comes to luxury cars, are we spoilt for choice or confused by options? Audi claims the former as it launches its updated 21-model range of A5 Coupes, Cabriolets and Sportbacks with six engines, three transmissions, 15 exterior colours, 10 wheel designs and a staggering list of options to "customise" your car. That's up from 12 variants previously, and together with the A4 sedan and wagon, Audi now has as many model variants as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class.
The range, which began in 2007, now features a new entry level 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder model at $66,990 which slots in closer to the BMW entry model coupe. Importantly, the new range features 13 variants with fuel consumption under seven litres per 100km which means they avoid all or a portion of the punitive luxury car tax.
Audi has also "repositioned" its pricing which means some models are cheaper and some are slightly more expensive than before, but all sport more creature features and driver aids, improving overall value.
Audi Australia boss Uwe Hagen says customers are moving to smaller engines and believes the new entry model 1.8-litre TFSI could become the top seller. The new A5 range will be available in May with the flagship RS5 coming mid-year.
As usual there is a wide range of not-inexpensive options such as satnav and infotainment systems for $4550 and three-zone climate air for $1250. But the most unpalatable is $1695 for metallic paint which may be lustrous but is difficult to justify when Subaru charges no extra and includes anti-theft Data Dot technology.
There are no longer any naturally aspirated models and the six forced-induction line-up now include two new four-cylinder models; the 1.8 TFSI with 125kW and 2.0 TDI with 130kW. All feature improved fuel economy, thanks to stop-start technology which is standard in all engines, new gear ratios, reduced engine friction, more efficient airconditioning and a new lightweight electro-mechanical steering.
But Audi product planning spokesman Peter Strudwicke says the most impressive aspect of all the engines is the improved torque, up as much as 21 per cent in the 3.0 TFSI which replaces the naturally aspirated 3.2. Even the 1.8-litre TFSI has "diesel-like torque" of 320Nm which is 30Nm more than a 3.0-litre V6 Commodore.
"Most of our customers got their licence in a Commodore and love the extra torque," Strudwicke says.
At the same time, the entry model sips fuel at just 5.8L/100km and has greenhouse emissions of 134g/km.
Like the new BMW 3 Series, there are now driver modes available, both with an economy mode for fuel-efficient motoring.
The economy mode changes the airconditioning, throttle response and even effects cruise control bringing the car up to the set speed more smoothly and slowly. In dynamic mode, even the headlights are affected, turning quicker.
But while the BMW offers four driver modes, Audi Drive Select offers five.
There is also a choice of six-speed manual, eight-speed multitronic (CVT) or seven-speed S tronic, quattro with torque vectoring and a sport differential in the 3.0 TDI quattro, 3.0 TFSI quattro and all S models.
Strudwicke says other technological improvements include better voice control for the phone system, iPod cover art display in the audio system and a digital radio option.
Italian designer Walter de Silva says his favourite design is the A5.
"The key reason people buy the A5 is design," says Strudwicke.
It's certainly much more striking than the rather boring A4 and the new model features slightly bolder bits and pieces, including wedge-shaped Xenon headlights with LEDs now front and rear, high-gloss black single-frame grille and a new bumper. The horizontal front end makes it look more screwed down to the road.
Inside is a revised instrument cluster, more simplified controller with fewer buttons and a new steering wheel with optional flat-bottomed wheels now available. Strudwicke says these have been a popular option.
Apart from the three body shapes, six engine choices and three transmissions, Strudwicke says there is a wide range of colours, trims and options to personalise the vehicle.
"We think it's important that we offer a huge amount of choice. Customers tell us this," he says. "We can even paint the car almost any colour you want." But expect to pay as much as $4500 for the privilege.
The A5 Cabriolet's three-layer soft top is available in black while the acoustic roof, which has an extra layer of polyurethane foam, is also available in grey, red or brown. Both soft tops are lightweight and open in 15 seconds and close in 17.
As expected, the A5 has an extensive array of primary and secondary safety gear. One interesting item that is standard in all models is the new driver information system with break recommendation that monitors the driver's behaviour to detect if they are getting tired and then warns them. Audi side assist uses radar to monitor the blind spot for drivers changing lanes while active lane assist will not only shake the steering wheel if you move across a lane without indicating, but will also intervene and steer the vehicle around a corner.
Audi's optional adaptive cruise control will now apply the brakes even below 30km/h, pulling the car to a stop in an emergency. However, safety standards are compromised by the provision of a spacesaver spare tyre under the cargo floor instead of a full-size spare.
Unfortunately, Audi's freshening up of the A5 range comes as BMW has released its new 3 Series which bodes well for the coming coupe and cab variants. While the BMW provides a quantum leap forward in driving dynamics, refinement and ride comfort, the A5 presents only an incremental improvement in these areas. Much of the past criticism has been about the lifeless steering and heavy understeer. These have both been watered down by the new model. However, ride comfort and certainly suspension noise, are not the equal of the new BMW.
On the national launch across some good and bad country roads around Bathurst this week, the cars handled with confidence and the new raft of engines provided plenty of drivable power, although the 1.8 TFSI is only adequate - just. There is now a lot of technology in the vehicle and most seemed to work well, but the optional active lane assistance only operated intermittently.
Strudwicke says it needs solid white lines on either side of the vehicle to operate properly, but even when we had those lines, it didn't always work. When it did, it was brilliant. Rather than a heavy handed tug, it gently pushed the steering wheel in the appropriate direction. It may be difficult for some people to swallow such intervention but those who choose the option will appreciate it - when it works.
The Sportback is the body shape to get if you want generous rear room and access, practical hatch carrying capacity and the sportiness of the coupe-like roof line. As for the preferred power plant, we'd go for the 2.0 TDI which is less than $2000 more than the rather lifeless entry model 1.8 TFSI.
Prices: $66,900 (1.8 TFSI Coupe/Sportback) to $161,900 (RS5 Coupe)
Warranty: 3 yrs unlimited km
Service interval: 15,000km
Engines: 1.8, 2.0 and 3.0 TFSI and 2.0 and 3.0 TDI, 125kW-331kW
Transmissions: 8-speed multitronic, 6-speed manual, 7-speed S tronic, FWD and AWD
Dimensions: 4.71m (Sportback), 4.63m (Coupe, Cabrio), 1,85m (W), 1.37-1.39m (H)
Safety: 5-star Euro NCAP, 6-8 airbags, stability control, ABS, optional lane assist, side assist, adaptive cruise
Thirst: 4.7L/100km (2.0 TDI Coupe) to 8.5L/100km (3.0 TFSI Cab)
|A5 Sportback 1.8 TFSI Multitronic||125kW||5.9L/100km||$66,900|
|A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI Multitronic||130kW||4.8L/100km||$68,700|
|A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI Quattro manual||155kW||6.8L/100km||$80,900|
|A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI Quattro S tronic||155kW||7L/100km||$83,200|
|A5 Sportback 3.0 TDI Quattro S tronic||180kW||5.7L/100km||$95,900|
|A5 Sportback 3.0 TFSI Quattro S tronic||200kW||8.1L/100km||$100,800|
|S5 Sportback 3.0 TFSI S tronic||245kW||8.1L/100km||$135,900|
|A5 Coupe 1.8 TFSI Multitronic||125kW||5.8L/100km||$66,900|
|A5 Coupe 2.0 TDI Multitronic||130kW||4.7L/100km||$68,700|
|A5 Coupe 2.0 TFSI Quattro manual||155kW||6.8L/100km||$80,900|
|A5 Coupe 2.0 TFSI Quattro S tronic||155kW||7L/100km||$83,200|
|A5 Coupe 3.0 TDI Quattro S tronic||180kW||5.7L/100km||$95,900|
|A5 Coupe 3.0 TFSI Quattro S tronic||200kW||8.1L/100km||$100,800|
|S5 Coupe 3.0 TFSI Quattro S tronic||245kW||8.1L/100km||$135,900|
|RS 5 Coupe 4.2 FSI V8 S tronic||331kW||$161,900|
|A5 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI Multitronic||125kW||6.2L/100km||$78,500|
|A5 Cabriolet 2.0 TDI Multitronic||130kW||5L/100km||$80,900|
|A5 Cabriolet 2.0 TFSI Quattro S tronic||155kW||7.2L/100km||$96,900|
|A5 Cabriolet 3.0 TDI Quattro S tronic||180kW||5.9L/100km||$108,800|
|A5 Cabriolet 3.0 TFSI Quattro S tronic||200kW||8.5L/100km||$112,900|
|S5 Cabriolet 3.0 TFSI S tronic||245kW||8.5L/100km||$146,500|
- Alfa Romeo Brera coupe (from $64,900)
- BMW 3 Series coupe (from $66,500)
- Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe (from $58,900).