2013 Audi S5 Review

Two fewer cylinders do little to diminish the S5's charm

2013 Audi S5 Review
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It’s a change more questionable than the song you sang as a kid debating the merits of black socks. For those of you too engrained in adulthood, the song goes something like this: “Black socks, they never get dirty, the longer you where them the stronger they get. Sometimes I think I should change them but something keeps telling me no, no. Not yet.”

FAST FACTS

1. New supercharged 3.0L V6 replaces V8 with 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque.

2. Power is down slightly while torque comes on earlier.

3. Fuel economy is 18/28 mpg (city/highway) with a 7-speed DSG.

4. $51,795 to start and $65,145 as tested.

Well, as childish as V8s may seem to certain people, it’s hard not to breathe a nostalgic breath when being passed by the 2013 S5’s naturally aspirated predecessor – a car we advised you to buy last year when Audi announced it would retire the eight-cylinder engine.

That’s assuming you’re going to be getting passed, though.

SUPERCHARGED TORQUE TUGS RIGHT OFF THE LINE

 

You see, along with hacking away two cylinders, all 325 lb-ft of torque is routed to the car’s four round feet via Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system. That’s several hundred revolutions-per-minute sooner than the sacrificed V8, meaning you’d actually have the advantage from a stoplight.

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Audi did send a few ponies to the glue factory this year, though. The supercharged six makes 333 hp at peak output (5500 rpm) compared to 354 at 7000 last year. How frequently both of those figures work into daily driving is between you and the boys in blue, but there’s a good chance you’ll never mind the difference.

What you’re sure to notice, on the other hand, is the difference in how the two cars sound. As AutoGuide.com’s fond assessment of the 2012 model can attest, there’s really no replacing the 4.2-liter motor. On the other hand, the finely tuned V6 is a decent stand in. The car’s seven-speed dual sequential gearbox tests the engine’s limits with a passionate howl before catching its breath with a low snarl.

By some strange stroke of luck, the seven-speed DSG isn’t the only option for North American buyers. A six-speed manual is still available despite being slashed in Europe.

BUMP IN FUEL ECONOMY

 

That could have something to do with the fact that performance improves with the self-shifter and it could also have something to do with its slightly improved fuel economy. The MPGs are going up regardless of which transmission you pick, but the DSG offers 18 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

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Turn on cruise control and the car will hum along at near-idle to offer necessary reassurance that those numbers aren’t lies. On the other hand, a little indiscretion with the throttle and you’ll sink south of the claimed numbers quickly. In fact, managing that mileage is a little like doing chores for a merciless parent. You might get the reward, but it’s going to be tough.

Audi will help you get there, though. The car features selectable drive modes, and in the “comfort” setting you’ll find a dulled throttle and softer steering geared toward less wasteful transportation.

There’s also a customizable “individual” setting that raises a vengeful side in the S5 better left for secluded stints of spirited driving. Stabs at the gas pedal send the car surging while steering can be stiffened for sportier handling.

BEAUTIFUL CABIN FILLED WITH ANNOYING DETAILS

 

That all goes toward making the S5 a true pleasure to drive — fast or slow. As you would expect from an Audi product, the seats are comfortable and well suited to the car’s spirited purpose. Adjustable side bolstering would be a nice addition, but it hardly hurts the fun factor.

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Carbon fiber inserts further emphasize that this isn’t an A5, as does a shift knob with the S5 emblem built in.

Outfitted with a Bang and Olufsen stereo system, it’s hard not to crank the music up, just to feel the rich bass reverberating through the cabin. Never fear if you don’t naturally gravitate toward noise. Sound deadening is strong enough here to keep any curbside caterwauling where it belongs.

Finding something to whine about with the S5 cabin is a hard job. Despite that, there are a few (admittedly) nitpicky things that could be much better.

Audi’s navigation system is hands-down the worst among its competitors. The map is frustrating to use and finding any novelty about driving a cool car wears off after a few minutes of lost meandering.

The sunroof doesn’t fully retract. It only cracks open, which is a downer considering the soft top comes at a $7,000 premium over the DSG-equipped coupe.

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Connecting an iPod or iPhone is also a frustrating experience. You’ll be forced to use Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) in the glove box, without so much as a single USB port. The road is no place to fiddle with a phone, but leaning far over the passenger’s seat is frustrating nonetheless.

Finally — and this almost goes without saying — the back seats aren’t for people. Sure, there are seatbelts, but the hunkered-down rear buckets are best forgotten.

STUNNING EXTERIOR STYLE

 

Most people won’t be able to recognize the difference between the 2012 and 2013 S5 on looks alone. Pull off the 3.0T badges, and it would be hard to blame them. After all, Audi isn’t known for creative style changes model-to-model.

Regardless, the S5 has one of the best-looking bodies under six figures bar none. The headlights, gaping grille, lower lip accents to the front fascia and high beltline are subtle yet imposing. Revised head and taillights go further than ever before toward bolstering the car’s Spartan look, as do the optional 19-inch split five-spoke wheels.

There’s no question that the S5 is a fantastic car. It’s a head-turner, it still comes with a stick and quattro all-wheel drive makes it livable in cold climates. Still, at $51,795 before any options, it’s important to realize there are other cars that might be of better value.

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IS IT REALLY THE BEST CHOICE?

 

BMW’s 335xi coupe is the closest German competitor. Its turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder makes 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque and when comparably equipped costs about $3,500 less than the AutoGuide test car, which rang in at $68,145 including delivery.

If options don’t matter to you, the BMW is a better deal. Scrapping the extras, a basic 335i with all-wheel drive is $17,450 less expensive than the entry-level S5. Pick between a manual and automatic transmission without extra fees and enjoy comparable performance specifications.

The cheapest S5 comes with nicer interior materials, but you’ll be stuck with a stick while still spending $4,100 more.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, a fully loaded S5 costs about as much as an entry-level M3, but isn’t anywhere near the performer. For that, you’ll need an RS5, which also comes with a V8. Ferocious as it is, the RS5 is in an entirely different price league.

THE VERDICT

 

Given all that, the 2013 Audi S5 is a pleasure to drive. Its supercharged six-cylinder is more than enough to get your heart pumping. High-quality interior trim makes it hard to hate this German muscle car, but it’s awkward pricing makes buying it the only thing harder than disliking it.

LOVE IT
  • Exhaust sounds awesome
  • Supercharger delivers loads of torque
  • Stunning exterior styling
  • High-quality cabin materials
LEAVE IT
  • Frustratingly restrictive MP3 / phone connection
  • Map interface needs work
  • Sunroof only vents, doesn’t open
  • Priced too high for its segment

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