Think back to exactly two years ago, and pulling into a gas station to fill up. To most everyone’s horror, all the prices on the pump began with the number 4 and it routinely cost around $100 to fill up many family vehicles.
The battle cry at the time was that somebody needs to do something. First, drivers did something by driving less, which reduced demand for petroleum. That had somewhat of an effect on oil prices, which eased a bit as the summer of 2008 wore on. Then, Congress got busy and mandated more fuel efficiency from cars and trucks sold in this country.
Auto makers have various choices when it comes to getting more miles per gallon from vehicles. We all know that hybrid electric cars get better mileage in typical comparisons to non-hybrids, but at an up-front cost that adds a lot to the sticker price. Diesel engines are another fuel efficient power delivery choice, but again they cost more to make.
Another way designers and engineers are achieving higher mpg numbers is to put smaller, more efficient gasoline engines in cars that traditionally might have had larger ones. Ford Motor Company, for example, has put almost all its vehicle lines on a plan for smaller engines with turbochargers which keep power delivery acceptable while eking out a few more miles per gallon.
Turbocharging isn’t new to the automotive landscape, and Audi has had quite a head start in this area. As model year 2016 looms with its stricter CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) requirements, the German company is applying smaller turbocharged or supercharged engines wherever possible.
The A5 sport coupe is a great example. Coming out a little more than two years ago, the sleek 2-door came with a V6 engine as standard equipment. For those wanting a higher level of performance, the S5 variant had a thumping V8 under its hood. In each example, performance was very good, but fuel economy wasn’t.
So the A5 is now offered with a smaller, direct injected 2.0 liter four cylinder engine (as well as the now-optional V6), and the mighty S5 will likely go on a gasoline diet as well, with its 340 horsepower V8 replaced by a supercharged V6 as has been done in the 4-door S4 model.
In the case of the A5, the smaller engine seems perfectly suited to it. The little turbo motor isn’t new, having served duty in other Audi and Volkswagen models for some time. Power is strong at 211 horsepower, and its smoothness and quietness belie its size and cylinder count. The car also starts at a $4700 lower base price than the previous entry version (a V6 with manual transmission which has now been discontinued).
The coupe itself is one of those just-right sizes, casting almost the same shadow as a BMW 3-Series. True, the back seat is small and a little hard to get to, but that’s the case with most coupes these days. For two people and their luggage, or the occasional journey by a couple of kids or smaller adults in the rear, it’s just right.
I was eager to try this new combination of car and engine. The A5 with the V6 was already a favorite of mine in recent years, and the 2.0 turbo engine powers various cars I really like, such as the VW GTI. From the first time I pulled out into traffic in this new A5, I was not disappointed. Smooth power, abundant torque, and the 6-speed manual transmission in this particular car was a delight to move through the gears.
You can also choose Audi’s excellent Tiptronic 6-speed automatic transmission if you’d prefer the car shift its own gears, and like the manual, it comes standard with Audi’s Quattro all wheel drive.
Fuel economy ratings are listed at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for the manual transmission car, and 21 and 27 for the automatic. In my casual observation during typical around town driving I got between 17 and 20, so that city estimate may be a little optimistic. Nevertheless, Audi says the A5 2.0 gets better fuel economy than any of its direct competitors from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Sticker prices are right in line with the completion too, with the base car starting at an even $36,000. Typical of cars in the luxury realm, option packages carry four-digit tariffs, so the smattering of upgrades on the car I drove shot the price to $45,150. If you’d still prefer the V6 A5, it wears a starting price of $44,000
Beyond the raw numbers, the A5 is proof that the future isn’t bleak for attractive, fun-to-drive cars that also use fuel sparingly. This Audi coupe is one of the nicer shapes on the market today, and the engineering underneath the skin makes for a great driving experience.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He can also be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. You can reach Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.