I must admit, I had trouble writing this review, because I had difficulty in explaining the feelings I had towards this car. Out of the handful of cars that I have reviewed as a road test editor for an up-and-coming enthusiast site, this car is quite possibly one I will miss the most thus far. Yes, I really enjoyed some of the other cars for their practicality, versatility, technology, or even their sporting intentions, but this one is just something a bit more…well, special. I’m finding it hard to be objective about this car because I find it to be just right. Much like Goldilocks in search of the bowl of porridge that tastes “just right,” I believe I have found mine…and, no, I don’t have blond hair.
I received the car on a very rainy Wednesday afternoon. I got a phone call from Kirk, who works for the company that loans us the cars, on behalf of the automakers. He was lost and cell phone coverage was abysmal. Welcome to the middle-of-freaking-nowhere, Connecticut. I was able to get the directions across to him, and within ten minutes, I could see the bright LED trim from the headlights eventually give way to the sexy silhouette through the trees, slowly approaching the beginning of my street. The car turned into my driveway, and as he pulled up, I couldn’t help but to start being enamored with the car. I’m a sucker for coupes, and good looking ones at that.
Kirk dropped the car off, and after signing over some paper work, I glanced inside, and noticed that the car was a manual. My eyes widened and my heart raced…finally, I get a car with a manual to review, and its not an econobox!
Before I even got in, I knew I was going to put a hurting on this car. I did my usual walk around to take it all in, to hell with the rain. I always hear the typical “It looks like every other Audi” comment. Very astute, Captain Obvious! Still, I don’t care. I know black cars are a pain to keep clean, but it just looked right with the rain drops rolling down its sculpted body.
To the right of the Audi logo is the S badging, denoting that the car is bit more serious than the regular A5 models.
The front grille is surrounded by aluminum, with horizontal strips of the trendy metal on the vent rails. To the right of the Audi logo is the S badging, denoting that the car is bit more serious than the regular A5 models. The aforementioned LED headlights now utilize what looks to be fiber optic LED light bars, instead of the minuscule dotted LED bulbs. The lower air dam extends further on the S model, and you will find more aluminum trim on the lower grille openings, as well as a set of fog lights.
The sides of the Audi are beautifully sculpted, with a high belt line that softly flows along the front fenders, through the doors, and above the handles, as it raises subtly over the hips of the car, ending with the merger of the tail lights. The front fenders are slightly flared for an athletic, yet sexy look and it gives the front end a much squatter appearance. The fenders also carry the “V6 T” badge, denoting the type of engine, but we’ll touch on that later. The heated and dimming side mirrors are finished in satin aluminum, and the window surrounds (also trimmed out in aluminum) have an elegant look to it. The rear of the car is kept very simple and clean, with an integrated spoiler into the decklid, which extends outward ever so slightly. This car is as far from the “boy racer” look as you can get, while still managing to exude aggressiveness. The tail lights also have LED trim and integrated fog lights. Topping it all off is another S badge on the lower left hand corner of the trunk.
Lastly, the rear bumper is accented with dual tipped dual exhaust outlets on both sides, and are surrounded by a dark gray plastic molding. Our test car came equipped with the 19” 5-Segment spoke wheels, as opposed to the standard 18” Parallel spoke wheels. The 19” wheels come wrapped in summer tires…however, our tester were fitted with Pirelli Sottozero 255/35R19 winter tires. Simplicity and elegance go a long way, and Audi seems to have figured it out quite well with this dapper coupe.
There is a conservative amount of plastic, but it is all smooth and appears to be high quality.
I have always found German interiors to be a bit on the boring side, and the all-black interior didn’t do much to help the S5’s case. However, the fit and finish of the materials, as well as the overall quality, are all top notch. There is leather everywhere, and everything that you can touch is padded. There is a conservative amount of plastic, but it is all smooth and appears to be high quality, and the carbon fiber atlas inlays (which is an extra $500 option), are all nicely put together. The S5 coupe comes standard with a glass panel roof that will tilt, but I would have preferred that it have the ability to slide back also. The trunk was a bit larger than I had expected for a coupe. It is deep but not very wide although the 60/40 split rear seats can be folded down for additional space.
The “S” embossed seats are covered in rich Nappa leather, and have the perfect amount of bolstering for my size. It wasn’t a tight fit, but was wide enough, so that someone a bit bigger than I am wouldn’t be uncomfortable. The thigh extender can be extended manually to provide the level of support needed for the driver’s and passenger’s liking. The rear seats however…are pointless. There is no head room in the back due to the low slung roof, which makes the addition of the seats seem like it was done merely for insurance purposes only. With having the driver’s seat set to a comfortable position, I found that my right hand fell perfectly on top of the shifter. The leather covered flat bottom steering wheel looks sharp, and just in case you forgot, the bottom spoke has the “S” logo on a piano black fascia…just to remind you that this is no ordinary 5. The buttons on the steering wheel are also of the same smooth, high-quality plastic, and contain your typical stereo controls, voice controls, and informational controls that will cycle through different menus in the gauge cluster.
Speaking of the gauge cluster, the tachometer (which also has the “S” logo) and speedometer are clear and easy to read. Separating the two is the aforementioned informational screen that will cycle through navigation, audio, phone, and car settings. The climate control is straight forward, and has clearly identified buttons and two dials that control temperature for either the driver or the passenger.
There is leather everywhere, and everything that you can touch is padded.
It takes a little getting use to in order to figure out the screens, as well as to set up your presets.
Aft of the shift knob are the controls for the Audi’s MMI, which is displayed on the central screen at the top of the dash. The system in the S5 uses a rotary dial with a directional knob that is inset. You can cycle through the menus and folders by turning the dial either left or right. The silver buttons surrounding the dial control, control four menu options that show up on the corners of the screen. It takes a little getting use to in order to figure out the screens, as well as to set up your presets. Unfortunately, there is no quicker way, and the central LCD screen is not a touch screen, so you are going to have to hit the back button below the dial a few times to get into the categories menu, in order to get to the category you want.
The navigation system utilizes Google Maps. When first using the navigation system after you start the car, you need to wait for a brief moment for the maps to load, before you give it a command. It shows the satellite view, and can be zoomed in and out using the dial. The inset directional knob can be used to scan ahead in the map or to select an option. If you find the whole MMI system a bit of a handful with the dial, you can use voice commands by pressing the voice button on right spoke on the steering wheel.
Our tester came equipped with sweet-sounding Bang & Olufsen sound system. Unfortunately, this car doesn’t have the cool tweeters that rise up out of the dashboard, but that is a minor complaint. The car is equipped with a single disc CD player located in the center stack, and has an iPod interface located in the glove box. Unfortunately, the Audi could not recognize my iPod, and even froze it once. I was unable to figure out why, but all was not lost, as the S5 also had a subscription to Sirius Satellite Radio. Another issue with the system was its inability to properly sync with my phone. So far this was the only car that had issue with my antiquated Blackberry. In the end, it didn’t bother me because I enjoyed driving the car so much, that I wouldn’t have picked up my phone anyway.
Unfortunately, this car doesn’t have the cool tweeters that rise up out of the dashboard, but that is a minor complaint.
Apparently for Audi speak the “T” now means supercharging when it comes to the S5 models.
Despite the “V6 T” badging, this engine is supercharged. Apparently for Audi speak the “T” now means supercharging when it comes to the S5 models. Don’t ask. There was much commotion over Audi’s decision to replace the venerable and beautifully sounding 4.2L V8 with a force-fed supercharged V6. Many people, including myself, felt it to be unwise of Audi to replace the V8. Don’t fret, the blown six-cylinder is all the rage. The all aluminum 3.0L V6 is good for 333 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 325 lb.-ft at 2900 rpm. With the use of direct injection and a lofty 10.3:1 compression ratio, the S5 is good for an EPA estimate of 17/26 mpg city/highway. It is mated to a 6-speed manual, and puts the power to the ground with Audi’s own Quattro all-wheel drive system. Audi claims that the S5 Coupe hits 60 mph from a stand still in 4.9 seconds. After a 5000 rpm clutch drop, I’m inclined to think it is faster. There was no indication of wheel slip from the Quattro system, even with the winter tires that were equipped on the car. Unreal!
The car has three select modes that the driver can choose from, not including a personal mode chosen by the driver. A selection of any of these modes changes the electronic steering feel, engine noise, response, as well as the active rear limited slip differential. Comfort mode provides you with lazy throttle inputs, light steering feel and lowers the engine note via some form of devilry. Dynamic mode stiffens up the steering, allows more engine sound to enter the cabin and sharpens up throttle response. Automatic mode will cycle through the two aforementioned settings based on your driving.
I found the steering feel in Dynamic mode to be a bit too artificial so I had the car set to my own personal settings with the Sports Differential in Dynamic, Engine in Dynamic, Steering in Comfort, Engine Sound in Dynamic, and I left the Adaptive Cruise Control in Auto. For my tastes, this was the best sport to comfort ratio that felt natural. I’m not a fan of slow responding throttle inputs, hushed sounds, and lower levels of performance. I also do not like having to select each drive mode based on what I am experiencing in traffic and would rather have a car set to my personal settings and never touch them again.
With that being said, I found the shifter to be a little rubbery. Throws were short enough, without it feeling as if you were driving a race car, and the gates were spaced evenly…however, when changing a gear, the shifter never felt like it was locked in due to the dampening. The steering is precise and has decent heft to it in Comfort mode, however the was no feedback on center. Dynamic didn’t help much either. The suspension is well damped and the car rides well as a whole. At nearly 4000lbs, you can definitely feel its weight, but the suspension and chassis are well tuned to make the car drive and feel smaller and lighter than it really is. Body roll is kept to a minimum and mid corner bumps do not upset the stability of the car. Road imperfections don’t rattle the chassis nor the occupants, and it will provide confidence when you decide to hoon around.
From corner exit to corner entry, the S5 pulls like a freight train.
The rev-matched down-shifts are perfect. Oh, I’m sorry, those are courtesy of me. The pedals are perfectly spaced for it however, the accelerator pedal is a bit too close to the transmission tunnel, which needed me to shift my foot over from its usual position.
From corner exit to corner entry, the S5 pulls like a freight train. Around the tight turns of Bear Mountain, New York, the S5 was just too much fun. Leave it in 3rd gear and just play around with the throttle and the car charges up hills with authority. The aggressive engine note and the hint of supercharger whine just beckons you to push it even more. I found myself flooring it from a stop just to get the engine to roar. Even a minivan should have its engine sound find its way through the cabin. The 3.0L V6 is a smooth revver, and will happily sing all the way to its redline should you want it to.
Heel-and-toe downshifting from 5th to 4th to 3rd and even into second is just audibly pleasing and well…TORQUE!
The brakes are touchy, and take a little getting used to, but when you do, they are easy to modulate. They feel fade free, even with the crazy shenanigans I put it through. You can use left foot braking but the brake override feature will quickly stop the fun as part of a safety precaution. It will cut the engine power and only take the brake input. The clutch pedal travel is long but requires little effort. Heel-and-toe downshifting from 5th to 4th to 3rd and even into second is just audibly pleasing and well…TORQUE! Going into second gear for a hair pin is almost overkill, just leave it in third and mash the go-pedal just after the apex of a turn, adjust the steering and let the car do the rest. The Quattro AWD system and sport differential relegates power to the where its needed at all times so you can go on having fun, within reason. The S5’s Quattro 40/60 front/rear split does a good job getting the rear to come around, but as with all AWD cars, there is a decent amount of understeer. The system does a great job of hiding it, but not even Audi cannot beat the laws of physics. The traction control does a good job of staying out of the way, but it will interfere if it feels you are going too far out of line. I left it off for the most part.
Due to the abundance of torque, you don’t need to use every single gear available. In town driving I was able to skip around and could keep up with traffic while attaining over 27 mpg. One oddity was that 6th gear revved higher than I had expected when cruising at highway speeds. My fuel economy dropped to around 22-23 mpg when maintaining traffic speeds around the 75 mph mark. Drop the speed down to about 60 mph and the fuel economy rises back up again. I was able to attain the 27 mpg in city driving with speeds less than 45 mph, by skipping gears to reach lowest allowed rpm. Call it hypermiling if you wish, but with the surge of torque that’s available, you won’t ever be holding up traffic.
Our test car came in at a grand total of $60,045, which includes the destination charge of $895.00. The options included the Audi MMI Navigation Plus Package ($3,050) which comes with the single disc CD/DVD player, the navigational unit, the color driver’s information display, parking sensors with rear view camera, as well as Bluetooth. The Nappa leather ($1,250), Quattro with sports differential ($1,250), Bang & Olufsen Sound System ($850), the 19” wheels with summer tires ($800), Audi Advanced key ($550), and the Carbon Atlas Inlays ($500), were all additional options that rounded out our model.
Apart from the lack of steering feedback and shifter feel, there were only two things about the car that would bother me if I had owned one. The coupe doesn’t have a frame that surrounds the windows so in order to open the door, you want to wait for the window to slide down so it doesn’t get caught in the rubber seal. I’m used to just opening the doors and not having to worry about it so it would take some time for me to adjust. The other being that there was condensation building up in the left rear taillight. For a car with a sticker price of $60K, I’m left scratching my head. Sure it happens, but not on a brand new car with less than 5,000 miles on the odometer!
Is $60K for this car too much money? I feel it is justified. There are cars that will give you more performance and are better driver’s cars, or cars that have more comfort, but I have yet to drive one that blends both athleticism, comfort, and class into one svelte package so well. Is this for everyone? Absolutely not, but for someone who has more mature tastes, but still likes to have fun, look no further. You can cruise the boulevard in style, or disturb the peace in your quiet town, rain or shine. If I only had the money…
Is $60K for this car too much money? I feel it is justified.
Editor’s Notes by John Ringwald:
While Rich, our photographer, was taking some detail shots, Kumar and I took a chance to drive each other’s test cars for a quick blast up-and-down Bear Mountain Park road. I haven’t driven a manual transmission in quite a while, but this one was excellent. Kumar spends more time self-shifting than I do so I’ll let his comment about the rubbery feel of the shifter stand, but other than once getting an upshift to fifth gear when I wanted to downshift to third because the gates are very close, I have no complaints about the two door Audi’s shift action. The throw was about as perfect as I could wish for and the clutch actuation matches that description. There was no learning curve in getting the shift right. At low speeds, there was no off throttle bounce that you can feel in some cars, either. I left the S5’s drive settings where Kumar had them, which were basically Dynamic everything except steering, which I would also set on Dynamic because I like the heavier feel.
I could definitely feel the weight difference between the two Audis. At over 4400 lbs, the S6 is no welterweight. Despite a 90 horsepower deficit the 3800 pound S5 accelerated strongly. It also braked quicker but handling was surprisingly similar to the S6 with minimal body roll and perhaps a bit less understeer when braking. In corners where I could add fuel to the fire, I could feel the back end dancing out, but never so much to alarm me. Another place where the weight difference revealed itself was in the transfer of higher frequency vibrations. While the road surface we were driving on was almost impeccable there was a spot where it was rough coming around the circle at the bottom of the road. Those ripples and patches transferred through the body directly, it felt, to the seat which might be slightly firmer than the one in the S6, but I think the heavier S6 absorbed some of those imperfections. With more time in the car perhaps I could find a few things to complain about, but for now, I’m thrilled with it.