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2012 Audi A5 2.0T Road Test

A whole lotta heart, but this Audi ain't got no soul.

What It Is
Sexy, stylish, and detail-oriented, the Audi A5 is a coupe for those who think all that Nurburgring racing stuff is simply racerboy shenanigans.
Best Thing
Quality? Attention to detail? Check, and check.
Worst Thing
For $45,000, you expect it to drive like more than just another run-of-the-mill Volkswagen.
Snap Judgment
If it drove as well as it looked, we'd tell you to buy three. Instead, we're recommending you save up for something else if you're a driving enthusiast.


Coupes like the 2012 Audi A5 2.0T are not for rational people. The people who buy coupes do so impulsively, for fun, because they want to be seen as young or hip. They want to be seen as stylish. For the impulsive and style conscious, the 2012 Audi A5 2.0T might just be the car to get.

It's a car in which you feel like turning up the audio system, letting it blast with the windows down as you cruise through Southern California's beach cities. You don't have a care in the world because it looks cool. The car makes you look cool, too. The Audi A5 is arguably the best-looking car the German luxury automaker produces, with its soft, curving lines bending over the straight edges.

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With the 2012 Audi A5 2.0T, we wanted to see if it was worth the money. We wanted to see if it had a semblance of youth appeal. And, most importantly, we wanted to see if it was a car we could come back to, time after time, with a grin on our faces and an eagerness to drive. After all, while curb appeal and amenities are big draws of luxury cars, rational draws, in a way. But they're not the reasons you pay more for a coupe over a similar sedan. Coupes are emotional, and if you don't feel like you're getting that sensation of exceptionalness when you drive it, you miss out on part of their appeal.

So does the Audi A5 have it?

What We Drove

The 2012 Audi A5 comes only with Audi's 211-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder; the V-6 has been dropped to create some horsepower space between the A5 and the pricier 333-horsepower Audi S5. If you're going to get an Audi A5 optioned up, you might as well do it the right way. Our A5 2.0T came with the best features Audi could throw into it, bundled into its "Premium Plus" package. For that base $41,895 price (increased $400 for 2013), Audi throws in xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, auto-dimming mirrors, heated front seats with memory settings, and tri-zone climate control. Additionally, the Audi MMI navigation plus package ($2,000) added voice control, navigation, and a color screen in the dash. Audi also threw in the $1,200 six-speed manual instead of the eight-speed automatic that comes standard. We also had the sport package ($1,000), keyless "advanced key" ignition ($550), and polished exhaust tips ($130) for a grand total of $45,555. Audi updated the styling of the A5 for 2013 to match the rest of the automaker's lineup, adjusting prices in the process. A 2013 A5 2.0T outfitted similarly to ours would cost $46,985 with no additional equipment. One rung up, Audi offers the car with its Prestige package, equipping it with all of the extras we had as well as a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system and lane-departure warning for just $1,210 more.

Safety-wise, our car came outfitted with driver and passenger front and side airbags, knee airbags, a side curtain airbag for front and rear passengers, and two LATCH child seat anchors for the rear seat. The A5 has not been crash test rated by either the government or independent Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

Coming standard in our Audi A5 were rain-sensing wipers, a massive glass sunroof that tilts but doesn't slide back, leather seats, automatic climate control, satellite radio, and LED tail lights among a long list of other features. Our car certainly came well-equipped, indicative of a realistically ordered car.

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The Commute

Fact: You can reach speeds in excess of 50 mph in second gear. We're sure that's good to Autobahn cruising on the way to its 130-mph top speed. And it probably helps in some way with fuel economy. But it's inefficiently set up for the real world in the U.S. The most that factoid will get you here is 30 seconds of attention during a dinnertime conversion from someone pretending to care.

In heavy traffic driving, that second gear is next to useless.

In slow traffic, most manual transmission-equipped cars can crawl along in second gear. But because the A5 is optimized for fuel efficiency, its little 2.0-liter engine struggles to pull the nearly 3,700-pound car around, forcing its driver to go back to first gear and row between the two to keep it from stalling. It becomes tiring because of the car's long-travel clutch pedal and rubbery shifter, which feel like they came straight from an older Volkswagen. That's not a good thing. As it is, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI has a more direct shifter and clutch feel, which gives Audi no excuse for not being able to deliver a more enjoyable experience in its supposedly sporty coupe.

If you've opted for the automatic, of course, the six-speed manual's problems are a moot point, and there are worse places one could spend his or her time than the Audi A5. The interior is decorated in rich, high-quality plastics and leathers, and every point you touch -- the steering wheel, the control knobs, and the arm rests -- feels substantial. Long lauded for its no-expense-spared interior layout and feel, Audis have deserved every bit of praise they've gotten for their decor.

The Grocery Run

As good as the Audi A5 looks, it's good to know it's also a decently practical car, too. The back seat isn't huge, but it should allow enough space for most people less than 5 feet 10 inches to sit back there without much issue. Like most coupes, it's not much of a family car; there's only room for two rear seat passengers, and the buckets are too deep for boosters. Surprisingly enough, the Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system doesn't inhibit much in the way of usable trunk space, as it provides 12.2 cubic feet of storage. We found that more than enough for a full load of groceries. By comparison, the BMW 3 Series coupe offers 11 cubic feet of cargo space, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe offers 12.4.

Driving the Audi to our local grocery store, we found it a pretty faultless process. Of course, because of the coupe's thick rear pillars and sloping roofline, we'd recommend opting for the MMI navigation plus package, which comes with a backup camera and sensors. Rear visibility in this thing isn't great otherwise.

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The Weekend Fun

When you're behind the wheel in the Audi A5, it's hard to not like the scenery. It's easy to acclimate yourself to the interior's German idiosyncrasies, like the volume control knob being next to the MMI knob in the center console. Get past that, and everything you'll need is within an arm's reach, and ergonomics are all pretty good. And the car just looks the part of a modern, sleek luxury coupe.

In Los Angeles County's Manhattan Beach, you see a fair amount of Audi A5s driving around, and it makes you want to pull up next to them, perhaps exchanging nods of confidence with each of their drivers. But when you pull up, window to window, you see most are driven by retirees going to bingo. They're driven by people who said, "You know, I would totally go for that cushy Lexus ES if it came as a neato coupe."

And then you start driving the A5 with a little more aggression and realize why. It's not a sporty car. And it's not meant for sporty people, or anyone who really enjoys driving cars.

No matter what road you drive it on, the Audi A5 feels quiet and composed. But it doesn't feel fun; it feels like a chore. Its steering is too light, and doesn't feel connected to the road in any meaningful way. And the aforementioned dull shifter and clutch feel don't rouse any driving excitement, either.

The lone bright spot with the A5's driving character is its engine when the turbocharger kicks in, sending plenty of power to all four wheels. But you constantly have to downshift to get it to keep going, as it doesn't turn on until about 2,000 rpm. We averaged 25 mpg with it, matching the EPA's mixed fuel economy rating.

On the highway, it's a comfortable car. But every car in its class is comfortable and well-appointed anymore. With the A5, you keep hoping its ability to keep the driver entertained will do it some justice and help separate it from other cars in its class, but it doesn't. Instead of getting a luxury car, all you're getting is a really well-appointed Volkswagen.

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Summary

By all indications, it sounds like the A5 overpromises with its style and under-delivers with its driving experience. It sounds like the Audi A5 is a total letdown. For a driver's car, it is. But for most everyone else, it should do just fine.

Albeit lacking in driving excitement, you'll be lucky to find a better looking car on the road. And you're going to be lucky to find a better-built coupe at its price point. The Audi A5 really is more of a cruiser than a bruiser, and as such, if you're smitten by its looks, we recommend finding one with an automatic transmission.

But why can't you have your cake and eat it, too? You can get leather in a Hyundai Elantra for crying out loud. A nice interior and some good looks do not a $45,000 car make. Luxury should be about effortless confidence and that premium price point should have a built-in "I want to drive it more" factor to it rather than just driving it because it has a badge on the front. Several competitors, from Cadillac to BMW, offer everything the Audi A5 does for roughly the same money, but they add something the A5 lacks: soul.

What was perhaps most telling about the A5 was seeing who in the immediate, financially comfortable area drove what. As mentioned earlier, AARP members drove the A5 in herds. I saw an Audi A4 Avant with some surfboards strapped to its roof, a couple younger guys with expensive sunglasses inside. But the cool people -- the people with their windows down, blaring electronica music -- they were the people I wanted to be like.

They were driving BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Classes.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $45,555
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 21 mpg
EPA Highway 31 mpg
EPA Combined 25 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 402 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Excellent

Notebook Quotes

"After driving almost 90 miles in the A5, I never really got used to the awkward clutch and pedal positioning. A shame because the rest of the car was fantastic." -- Jason Davis, Associate Editor
"I was stunned by the amount of pull the four-cylinder engine had." -- Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor

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