Sitting in traffic, an E550 Coupe crawls onto the highway and parks just a few cars ahead and a few lanes over. It certainly is original looking, but you can’t help but feel a little sorry for the folks at Mercedes. How can you compete with a car as beautiful as the Audi S5?
1. A 4.2L V8 makes 345-hp to deliver a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds.
2. Available transmissions include a 6-speed manual or automatic. Audi’s impressive 7-speed DSG is only available on the S5 Cabriolet.
3. The optional Audi Drive Select package includes a Sport Differential and allows the driver to select three different settings for throttle response, steering feel and suspension firmness.
4. 2012 is expected to be the last year for the V8 in the Coupe before it is replaced by the supercharged V6 currently used in the Cabriolet.
It’s beauty in many ways lies in its simplicity, with a textbook coupe profile, yet with all the right creases, proportions and highlighted by a massive front grille that asserts what a world class grand touring machine this is.
And yet there is so much more to the S5 than its near-perfect proportions. The cabin is a blend of pure luxury with sporting cues, plus, there’s that engine.
THRILLING V8 ENGINE, BUT NO DUAL-CLUTCH GEARBOX
While the Cabriolet gets Audi’s new supercharged V6 the Coupe continues to make use of a less-modern, yet infinitely better, V8. Displacing 4.2-liters it produces 354-hp all the way up at 7000 rpm, with 325 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm, delivering an excellent balance of low-end grunt and naturally aspirated rev-happy motoring. It also sounds the part with a raspy growl outside, and a whoosh (perhaps too subdued) in the cabin.
With standard quattro all-wheel drive the S5 will hit 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds and with V8 power there’s no need to stop there.
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If you’re prefer your German coupe excitement with a touch of purist nostalgia, Audi will even equip it with a 6-speed manual transmission. True, few will ever order it so, but it’s a nod to the enthusiasts and it might keep a few bums out of M3 seats. It’s not the best slick-and-pedal combo on the market, with a rather long clutch, but the joy of rowing your own gears on a naturally aspirated V8 is worth this small trade off.
For those who don’t go the manual transmission route, we’re sorry. And not just because of what they’re missing out on, but because of what they’re stuck with. The optional transmission for the S5 Coupe is a traditional 6-speed automatic, a carry-over from a past generation of Audi cars. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the box; it’s just that if you ordered-up a Cabriolet, there’s the choice of a 7-speed DSG unit, a perfect no-compromise option that delivers lightning quick gear shifts and a solid amount of emotion, as well as the practicality to keep the most subdued driver happy during a daily commute.
SERIOUS LEVELS OF GRIP
Putting power down is no problem at all thanks to the standard quattro AWD, not to mention the Sport Differential, which comes included in the optional Audi Drive Select package ($3,950). The diff means that not only is power sent front to rear in the quattro system, but also left to right in the rear. Spinning the outside tire faster and slowing the speed of the inside tire, it helps the car track closer to the direction of the front tires, eliminating much of the understeer – a trait Audis have become known for. Diving into a corner with plenty of speed the S5 can feel a bit unsettled, but apply the throttle just as you expect it to start pushing and the ideal distribution of power between all four tires pulls the car out of the turn with grip-filled confidence.
Also included in the Audi Drive Select package are three-way adjustable settings for the steering and suspension as well as throttle response, and the transmission settings for the automatic.
Despite improvements to steering gear over the years, the S5 still comes up short of a BMW in this important tangible factor. The issue isn’t with numbness or a lack of feel, rather, it’s an over reaction, particularly when in Sport mode. Pull away from a stop on a corner and as you accelerate the system tightens-up quickly meaning you have to reduce your steering input as you corner. Once at speed it’s no longer an issue, so for performance driving or bombing around a track we wouldn’t have any complaints, but as a daily driver it takes some getting used to.
STUNNING LUXURY, BUT MAKE SURE YOU GET ALL THE OPTIONS
This is particularly important considering any S5 will spend far more time as a luxury commuter car than a corner carver. As much of a performance machine as it is, it’s perhaps better suited to the former, with a comfortable ride, a silent cabin and heaps of luxury sharpened into a sports car point.
Of particular note are the wide yet supportive seats, coated in a Silk Nappa leather and embossed with S5 logos. Plus there’s the optional ($500) carbon fiber trip – an absolute must!
Starting at $53,000 for the Premium Plus model, the optional Prestige version is almost a given, even if it will set you back a significant $5,900. Included in that are several items you’d expect on a car of this level, like keyless access with a start/stop button, plus you get a memory seat, navigation and a backup camera with sensors. And if there’s any doubt in your mind about the package, just turn up the speakers on the Bang & Olufsen audio system (also a $850 stand alone option) and any such thoughts will be blasted clear out of your head with excessive levels of concert-quality audio.
We did, however, note several features absent on the S5 that should at least be optional on a vehicle of this caliber. For starters, there’s no hill-hold system, which really should be equipped on any manual transmission car at this price point. Cooled seats would also be ideal.
About our only other critique involves the MMI (Multi Media Interface) system. Updated and improved over the years it’s still not as intuitive as BMW’s iDrive and the control knob is too far back on the center console, making it less than idea from an ergonomics standpoint. We do appreciate that unlike past systems the four buttons used to access features on each corner of the screen have been moved to surround the knob to improve ease of use. On the other hand, it’s inherently backwards that you have to turn the knob counter clockwise to zoom in on the map. The top of the knob now also features a joystick-like control mechanism, although it’s awkward to use.
Positioned against its German rivals the S5 represents the most well-rounded package, with solid sporting qualifications and a lavish cockpit coated in stunning bodywork. The BMWs (anywhere from a 335 to an M3) are still the preferred choice for the true driving enthusiast, but don’t look the part inside or out. A comparatively priced Mercedes E550 Coupe stacks up nicely in terms of price and acceleration, and while there is a certain cache to that tri-pointed star, the S5 has a solid earned-it-myself new-money ethos. True, Audi might not have the brand cred that the Benz has, but the S badge can hold its own.
The Audi S5 is a perfect daily driver for those who enjoy luxury, speed and beauty. And with the clock ticking for the 4.2-liter V8, which is expected to be replaced by a supercharged V6 next year, it’s best to act now.
- Powerful V8 sounds great and goes fast
- AWD mated to Sport Differential makes you a driving pro
- No DSG
- MMI ergonomics and operation still need work
- Contrived steering feel