Audi S5 review

BMW has long held bragging rights to the upper echelon of the compact sports market with its high-performance M3 series. The Audi S5 coupe challenges the M3’s authority with a powerful V8 engine and other assorted upgrades over the model upon which its based, the A5. That model is essentially a two-door version of the A4 sedan. A Cabriolet convertible version of the S5 was added to the line for model-year 2010, packing an only nominally less powerful supercharged V6 engine.

Audi S5

Much of the S5’s sleek styling – which was inspired by the striking Nuvolari Quattro concept coupe that graced the auto show circuit in 2003 – is carried over from the A5, but with a few touches that add up to a more-aggressive look. Here the brand’s signature outsized trapezoidal grille is finished in platinum grey and is fitted with vertical chrome inlays. It’s flanked by wide headlamps and larger lower air intakes, with bulging wheel wells and a flowing beltline at the sides and a squared-off rear-end treatment; the latter features a more-pronounced rear spoiler lip than on the A5, with quad exhausts below.

For 2011, the coupe offers a new Titanium Package that includes titanium-finish wheels, and specific black grille, window and interior trim treatments.

The coupe’s direct-injection 4.2-liter V8 engine produces 354 horsepower and can it to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, which makes it a full tick quicker than the V6-powered A5. The convertible and its 333-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine is nearly as speedy, with its 325 pound-feet of low-end torque helping to afford a 5.1-second 0-60 mph sprint. The V8 can be mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed Tiptronic automatic with manual gear selection. The sole gearbox offered with the V6 is a sophisticated quick-shifting dual-clutch seven-speed gearbox that caneither operate in full manual mode or be shifted manually via steering wheel-mounted paddles. This transmission is a welcome addition to the line and we can only hope it eventually finds its way into the standard A5 as well.

The Audi S5’s design places the engine closer to the center of the vehicle than in the S4. In addition to allowing a shorter front overhang, the automaker says this configuration results in better front-to-rear balance and improved driving dynamics. To that end the S5 rides on a specially tuned sports suspension and 19-inch wheels and performance tires; while this setup maximizes the car’s handling abilities, it does so at the expense of a rougher ride than the A5 affords.

The S5’s performance is further enhanced by the automaker’s standard “quattro” all-wheel-drive system. Here it’s rear-biased on a 40/60 front-to-rear ratio for sportier handling than the usual 50/50 setup affords; the system can send additional power front or rear as needed on a continuous basis, both for added foul- weather traction and to maximize the car’s dry-pavement cornering abilities. The S5’s standard stability control system can be deactivated in two stages to allow a varying degree of wheel spin for more-aggressive cornering without intervention. Beefed-up four-wheel-disc antilock brakes come with black-painted calipers.

Audi’s Drive Select Control system is optional, and is more or less the automaker’s answer to BMW’s M Drive. It allows a driver to adjust the operating character of the engine, automatic transmission, steering system and the included active-damping suspension to emphasize either a smoother ride or more-tenacious handling. It’s packaged with a speed-dependent variable gear-ratio steering system that adjusts ratios on a continuous basis for optimum performance; it can also make rapid, minor steering adjustments to the front wheels under certain circumstances automatically for increased control.

The S5’s leather-clad interior is handsomely cast with a cockpit-like dashboard design and a choice of wood, carbon, aluminum or stainless steel trim. It’s distinguished from the A5 by virtue of its grey gauges, aluminum sill plates and supportive sport seats. Two passengers can ride in the rear, though taller riders will have issues with the diminished headroom that’s a byproduct of the car’s sharply sloping roofline. Front, front-side and side-curtain airbags that cover both rows of seats are standard on the Audi S5.

The latest version of the automaker’s MultiMedia Interface is included, which uses a joystick-like knob and LCD display screen to control things like the audio, climate control and optional navigation system. It’s not as confounding as past versions of BMW’s iDrive system, but it’s still more complex to operate than would be a conventional array of buttons and knobs. An auxiliary input to play portable music devices through the car’s audio system is included.

Coming fully featured, the S5 includes an Advanced Key keyless entry starting system that stores select vehicle data, such as warning messages from the vehicle’s information center and the car’s current mileage, to make servicing easier. Top-shelf options include Adaptive Cruise Control (to maintain a set speed and distance from the traffic ahead), Audi’s Side Assist blind-spot detection system, a rear backup camera, HD radio, and a 14-speaker premium audio system from Danish hi-fi specialist Bang & Olufsen.

The S5 has great appeal, both to performance enthusiasts who don’t otherwise want a low-slung sports car and are looking for an enlightened alternative to a BMW M or Mercedes-Benz AMG. The only drawback is a steep sticker price.

Audi S5 Quick Facts

Engine: 4.2 Liter V8, 3.0-liter Supercharged V6
Horsepower: 354 @ 6,800 rpm, 333 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 325 @ 3500 rpm, 325 @ 2,900 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 16/24
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 6-Spd Automatic, 7-Spd Auto Manual
Drive: AWD
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Overall Length: 182.1 in
Width: 73.0 in
Height: 54.0 in
Curb Weight: 3,858 lbs
MSRP: $53,650-$59,050

Did You Know?

Established by August Horch in Zwickau, Germany in 1910 as a builder of luxury motorcars, Audi derives its name from a Latin translation of its founder’s moniker  which, in German, means “to listen.”