2011 Audi S5 Expert Review:Autoblog
Taking a great looking performance car and chopping off its roof is risky business – compromises are inevitable. That's especially true in this modern age of unibody structures. Removing a big chunk of a vehicle's architecture without adequately reinforcing what's left can yield a chassis incapable of managing the position of the wheels, let alone result in a vehicle that loses its level of driver engagement and enthusiasm. On the other hand, reinforcements add mass – often lots of it. It's a treacherous path, as both flaccid body control and weight are the mortal enemy of performance.
You can understand our trepidation, then, upon learning that Audi was planning on introducing its S5 Cabriolet at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show. By our reckoning, the German debutante's rollout was cause for both consternation and celebration. When the A5 and S5 coupes arrived in 2007, they were hailed as being among the best looking cars ever to wear the brand's Four Rings. The new Cabriolet models would bring with them the euphoria of open-air motoring, but we had to wonder – would Audi's rakish new hardtop be turned into a floppy flier just by giving it a roofectomy? Equally as important, would the model's newly downsized engine drop the performance? There was only one thing to do: Put the range-topping S5 Cabriolet through a week-long test.
Photos by Sam Abuelsamid / Max Abuelsamid / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
The first decision that Audi's engineers faced in designing their new A5/S5 cabrio was deciding what kind of roof to specify. The trend over the last decade has been toward complex folding hardtop mechanisms, as they tend to provide the same sort of quiet interior as a regular coupe, along with a bit more security. Unfortunately, these hardtops simply don't like to fold up as compactly as fabric lids. As a result, cars equipped with folding tin tops tend to have excessively long rear decks and greatly compromised trunk space – particularly when the top is down.
Thus, the al fresco driving fans among us were thrilled to see that Audi instead opted to specify a more traditional fabric top for its A5 and S5. This pays huge dividends for both the utility and aesthetics of these models. When Audi developed the B8 platform that underpins the A5/S5 and A4, it stretched the wheelbase, in the process moving the front axle forward about six inches compared to the (somewhat frumpy looking) outgoing A4 Cabriolet. As a result, the new coupe had a much more balanced and cab rearward profile than its predecessor. Going with a softtop has helped Audi largely maintain the coupe's winning profile while avoiding the big-butt appearance of cars like the Lexus SC 430 and IS 350 convertible.
The other half of the hard/soft top debate is utility. Even with an extended rear deck, a folding hardtop usually consumes much of the available trunk space. For example, cargo space in the Lexus IS C contracts from 10.8 cubic feet with the top up to less than 2.4 cubic feet top down. The S5 retains the same 10.2 cubic feet regardless of its roof's orientation. Of course, rear seat volume always shrinks regardless of the top mechanism, and while the S5's rear headroom goes down by less than an inch, available leg and shoulder room each drop by about six inches. As a result, the second row of S5 Cabrio is best reserved for short jaunts, or for consenting adults under about five-feet, four-inches.
Aside from the abbreviated rear seat capacity, the interior of the S5 Cabrio is essentially carried over from the coupe and ought to be instantly familiar to anyone who has spent time in an Audi over the last half-dozen years. While the interior appearance doesn't offer any breakthroughs, we really couldn't find much of anything to complain about aside from our usual gripes with the brand's fiddly all-in-one MMI infotainment interface. The materials used are typically first-rate, with excellent fit and finish. To the left of the cupholders are two additional switches that look like oversized versions of the usual power window buttons. The forward switch allows the top to be raised or lowered, and the transformation can occur even while in motion at speeds up to about 15 mph – useful when crawling along in a traffic jam or while at a stop light when the rain sets in. The second switch allows all four windows to be lifted or dropped with a single touch.
The Audi S5 Cabrio also has the same, more aggressive sport seats found in the coupe, with fixed headrests and adjustable thigh bolsters for those with longer legs. On our test car, the seats were finished in an attractive mix of black and Tuscan brown leather. Like several other premium German convertibles and coupes that lack a conventional B-pillar, Audi compensates for the loss of a seatbelt mounting point with mechanized arms that automatically present the belts to front seat occupants upon entry. If you do happen to convince one or more of your friends to squeeze into the back, they will find a switch on the back of the front chairs that enables them to power those seats forward on their own, an inclusion that helps with ease of exit, particularly when the top is up. Even still, ingress and egress to the second row is hardly a graceful process, but it isn't demonstrably worse than it is in the coupe.
While the S5 coupe retains Audi's marvelous high-revving 4.2-liter naturally aspirated V8, the Cabrio is instead propelled by the automaker's newer 3.0-liter TFSI V6 that debuted in the S4 sedan. Despite what the "T" in the name implies, the direct injected V6 isn't turbocharged – it's boosted by a mechanically driven supercharger that provides instant response to throttle commands. The V6 offers the same 325 pound-feet of torque as the larger engine, and while the V8 peaks at 3,500 rpm, the V6 produces maximum torque from 2,900 rpm all the way to 5,300 rpm. That said, the V8 has a 21-horsepower advantage, producing a maximum output of 354 horses to the V6's 333.
One other big difference between the two: The V8 in the coupe is available with either manual or Tiptronic automatic six-speed transmissions, but the only gearbox available with the V6 in the S5 Cabrio is Audi's new seven-speed S-Tronic dual clutch unit. All S5s pack the brand's signature Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and like all models built on the B8 platform, it's the company's more performance-oriented rear-biased variant. Under nominal driving conditions, the torque is split 40 percent front and 60 percent rear, a strategy that helps alleviate some of the persistent understeer that has plagued most Quattros for three decades. After spending time with the S-Tronic S5, we can only say that Audi desperately needs to adapt this gearbox to its R8 supercar and ditch that model's awful automated R-Tronic unit.
Our test car was also fitted with the optional Prestige package, a grouping that includes Audi Drive Select, a system that lets the driver choose from comfort, automatic, dynamic or individual modes. The first three settings are self explanatory, but the latter lets the driver set the damping, throttle response, steering and shift calibrations independently. We mainly just selected the dynamic mode that sets everything to the highest performance-oriented settings, although comfort mode came in handy on some of the more abusive sections of pavement around Ann Arbor, MI.
By not offering a traditional three-pedal setup, it might seem that Audi sees the S5 Cabrio as more of a cruiser than an all-out performance car. This may be true to some extent, but frankly, this 'box is so quick and competent that we can't fully agree with that assessment. The S5 Cabrio is definitely not as aggressive as the coupe – carrying nearly 500 pounds of avoirdupois everywhere it goes is never a good thing for performance. At a curb weight of 4,310 pounds, this droptop is actually downright porky. However, driving those aforementioned Michigan roads clearly demonstrates what some of that extra poundage has been used for. The last Audi convertible this writer drove was an RS4 nearly two years ago, and it was not exactly a paragon of structural integrity. To be honest, the cowl shake in that rare bird was actually distressing considering the amount of power lurking underhood. The S5 Cabrio, while still not quite bank vault solid is far better than the RS4, and one of the stiffest convertibles we've tried recently – especially for a four-seater.
One of the claimed advantages of a hardtop is a quieter, more refined interior with the lid on. Yet at any legal highway speeds, we found the fully lined top of the S5 to offer a driving environment very nearly as serene as its coupe brethren, with very little wind noise and no noticeable fluttering of the fabric. Having said that, we firmly believe that any car with a retractable top should be driven with the roof down whenever possible. Thus, in spite of early morning temps in the low-30s while we had the car, we dropped the fully automatic lid before pulling out the driveway. And we never bothered to pull the fold-out wind-blocker out of the trunk, because with the windows up, buffeting is well controlled.
"Refinement" is the operative word all around for the S5 Cabrio, a revelation that actually left us a bit disappointed in at least one respect. The coupe's 4.2-liter V8 has a wonderfully sonorous engine note and exhaust tone that constantly urges you to feed the beast more high-test gasoline. The blown V6, on the other hand, is pleasant enough, but a bit on the muted side – even at wide-open throttle.
Audi officially lists a 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds for the Cabrio compared to a 5.1 seconds for the automatic coupe and 4.9 for the manual. Our own informal runs actually got us to 60 in just under the five second mark. As those figures attest, speed builds rapidly and the dual-clutch transmission adds to the seamless nature of the S5. The S-Tronic gearbox offers lightning quick ratio changes with no throttle lift and almost no perceptible cessation in acceleration. The blend of the S5's seamless acceleration and its relative lack of noise means that the Cabrio actually doesn't feel as quick or involving as it actually is. It's more like being teleported from one speed to another with little of the commotion or the aural excitement that performance-minded drivers tend to favor. The combination of the V6 engine's vibration-free revving all the way to its 7,000 rpm redline and its somewhat anodyne soundtrack may point to its efficiency and good manners, but part of the reason we like convertibles is because going topless is a great way to hear a car's mechanicals working. In this regard, the S5's blown V6 is just too quiet for its own good, particularly compared to the coupe.
With that in mind, in order to maximize driver engagement, you'll want to tap the shift lever over into its manual gate, which allows you to pretend you are Tom Kristensen. The paddles on the back side of the leather-wrapped three-spoke wheel provide instant control over the gearbox. The engine revs are auto-magically synced and the simultaneous clutch-declutch virtually eliminates that flat spot you typically find in the acceleration curve. Many vehicles with either CVTs or torque converter automatics register your paddle inputs, yet only swap their cogs when they are good and ready – the S5's gearbox, by contrast, is all but instantaneous.
Bend the S5 into a curve and the electrically assisted steering provides surprisingly clear communication about what is going on at the front corners. All that extra mass and the snow tires that were still fitted to our test Cabrio when we got it means that it didn't feel quite as precise or nimble as the coupe, but that observation could be attributable to the winter rubber as much as anything else.
Aside from elevating the Audi's ride quality over bad roads like most driver selectable control systems, the behavioral differences between comfort and dynamic on Audi's Drive Select were not particularly dramatic in street driving – these sorts of things often really only come into play when the car is pushed toward its limits, as they might be on a track or a particularly sinewy stretch of tarmac. The 40:60 split quattro system means that the car's overall balance is better than the RS4 Cabrio was, and the car's much improved structure makes it feel more confident.
Of course, the S5 Cabrio is not inexpensive, carrying an opening MSRP of $59,550 delivered. Our navigation and Drive Select-equipped version tacked over ten grand onto the base price, for a bottom line of $69,625. Is the S5 Cabrio worth 70 grand? Only you can decide, but given our automotive proclivities, we'll probably hold out in the hope of an RS5 Cabrio with that marvelous V8 and the S-Tronic, all while hoping for a nice inheritance check to appear from somewhere. In the meantime, those looking for a more aggressive drive will probably want to get the lighter manual transmission coupe with its more exuberant V8 engine – or wait for the RS5 to (possibly-maybe) arrive. If what you want is a quick, luxurious convertible that offers seating for four, gorgeous styling with the top up or down, a usable trunk and confident, all-weather capability, the S5 Cabriolet may well be the car for you. Audi has done an admirable job of keeping this convertible's compromises to a minimum, and it shows.
Photos by Sam Abuelsamid / Max Abuelsamid / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Great coupes that drive as good as they look.
The Audi A5 and the high-performance S5 are mid-size coupes, larger than the TT. A handsome, distinctive shape identifies the A5 and S5 models from virtually any angle, with flowing curves bringing musculature to sleek, aerodynamic forms and arresting light patterns. Viewed from behind there's a chance of mistaking an A5 or S5 for a British GT, but from any other angle it's unmistakably Audi.
These are grand touring cars designed to cover lots of ground at high speed while coddling a pair of occupants. They seat two-plus-two; the rear seats are for the occasional adult passengers or for bringing small kids along. The A5 involves the driver physically, audibly, and mentally though never to the point of making it a chore or less than inviting. The Audi S5 can be hustled down virtually any road at a good clip, but it is unfair to expect these coupes to behave like small sports cars.
Audi interiors have been racking up awards for a long time and the A5 (and S5) is in the same mold. It has the features expected, good ergonomics, a central interface system that won't drive you to cursing, and it's all assembled to a high standard using appropriate materials. Despite the standard all-wheel drive it also has more trunk space than some Lexus sedans, so you can enjoy a road trip of just about any length or destination.
An A5 delivers confidence and luxury in a package not likely to be seen at every intersection and very likely to come across as a good value; the S5 delivers more performance and luxury yet still has a certain value quotient to argue.
By price, concept, and execution one of the S5's nearest competitors is the Mercedes-Benz CLK550, with a bit more power but no choice of transmission, no all-wheel drive, and costing about $5,000 more. While the $40,700 A5 and $51,400 S5 may be judged on paper against the Infiniti G37, CLK350, or BMW 335i coupe, the amenities, cabin finish and room are such that the Audis may also be shopped against the Jaguar XK, BMW 650i, or Porsche 911. And while each is a fine car and may offer more speed or perhaps technological gadgetry, only the 911 matches the Audi with the availability of all-wheel drive, and for a $6,000 premium.
The A5 and S5 were launched as 2008 models and have been on the market for only a short time, so there are no significant changes for 2009.
The Audi A5 ($41,700) features a 265-hp V6 engine, six-speed manual gearbox and quattro all-wheel drive. The 2008 Audi S5 ($51,400) uses a 354-hp V8 engine. Both versions are available with a six-speed automatic transmission ($1,300).
The A5 comes with leather upholstery, including the steering wheel and shifter, and wood trim. Also standard are three-zone climate control, power front seats, 60/40 split-fold rear seat with ski bag/pass-through, tilt/telescoping steering column, glass roof with shade, four-way adjustable center console, monochrome driver info center, AM/FM/CD/satellite/SD-card 180-watt 10-speaker stereo, fog lights, 18-inch wheels, heated windshield washers, cruise control, power windows/locks/mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers.
A5 options include a Premium Package ($1,900), which includes a garage-door opener, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, power folding mirrors, heated front seats, and memory for the driver’s seat and mirrors. Another option is the S line Package ($2,900), with firmer suspension, 19-inch wheels, different trim in and out, sport seats, aluminum trim, and a multi-function, leather-wrapped steering wheel. To get the S line Package you must also have the Premium Package.
Optional on both A5 and S5 are metallic paint, adaptive headlamps, Advanced Key (stays in your pocket), Audi side assist, navigation, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.
The S5 includes everything on the A5 plus 19-inch wheels and 255/35YR19 tires, bigger brakes, rear spoiler, Silk Nappa leather sport seats with integral headrests and optional Alcantara inserts, two-position driver memory system, color screen driver info center, bi-xenon headlamps and LED daytime running lights, auto-dimming power-folding mirrors, headlight washers, heated front seats, and aluminum interior trim with carbon, wood, or stainless steel available. The S5 manual transmission model carries the mandated U.S. gas guzzler tax ($1,300).
Safety gear that comes standard on all A5 and S5 models consists of two-stage driver and adaptive passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, Backguard headrests, electronic stability control, ABS, EBD, all-wheel drive, and tire pressure monitors.
Audi A5 and S5 are arguably among the better looking cars on the road, appearing at once formal and sporting. On each side a strong character line arches over the front wheel and carries all the way to the tail, but apart from the bottom of the door and sides of the panoramic glass roof there's hardly a straight line to be found.
Proportions are classic coupe with minimal bodywork ahead of the front wheels, a substantial rear roof pillar, moderate trunk lid and a longer tail than snout. The door windows are frameless and visual strength is added by a central pillar that hides as a dark panel behind the rear side glass.
Out in the open the A5 appears larger than it really is; almost the same length as a BMW 3 Series coupe or a Mercedes CLK, which is narrower; the Audi is half a foot shorter than Jaguar's XK, BMW's 650 or Bentley's GTC and just half a foot longer than a 911, yet it comes across at least as spacious inside as any of those.
In terms of styling, the A5 is the cleanest, the S5 the most aggressive, and the A5 with S-line package splits the difference. The leading edges of the car are the inner points of the lower grilles that separate the central grille section from the lights and side grilles, much like the leading points of a manta ray. On the S5 aluminum-look trim is used at the lower edge of the grille, on the outside mirrors, and at the bottom of the rear bumper between the S-cue four exhaust outlets.
Bi-xenon headlamps give these cars that wild-animal-stalking-prey look. Crisp, white LED daytime running lamps run along the bottoms and outer edges of these headlamps, setting a higher standard for appearance and function; they can be turned off if you wish, automatically dim for use as parking lights, and are off on whichever side the turn signal is blinking for better vision of said signal. Most car companies could learn something from this design.
All wheels are five-spoke or a derivative, like the two-by-five propeller-blade shaped spokes on the S5 which use a fingered center cap to cover all the lug nuts.
The designer of the A5/S5, who may well be biased, calls the car the most beautiful he has ever designed. Maybe, or maybe not. But the A5 made it onto Hagerty's Hot List, so a leading insurer of collector cars believes the A5 may become more desirable over the next 20 years.
Climb into an Audi S5 and you're immediately convinced this is a driver's car, albeit a nicely finished one that you could easily see using as a daily driver. It is modern Teutonic luxury in the vein of multiple finishes that complement each other well, with stark efficiency or warmth determined by color choices and trim components; together the A5 and S5 offer three leather fabrics and seven selections for trim including four types of wood, carbon fiber, aluminum or stainless steel. Every surface has a pleasant feel, regardless of the material from which it's constructed.
The S5 cabin is done in mostly dark materials, including the woven headliner and sunshade. Lighter trim highlights the roof panel pull (it slides forward from the rear), gauge nacelles, vents, speaker grilles, and control knobs with piano black centers. The black lacquer also surrounds the primary control area aft of the shifter.
A three-spoke leather-wrapped wheel has hand grips at all the right places and just two controls on each side spoke. However, each side has a thumbwheel that serves multiple functions by scrolling up or down or pressing to click, allowing a majority of system operations to be done without removing a hand from the wheel. Oft-used controls like cruise, signals, flash-to-pass/main beams, and wipe/wash are all on handy stalks.
The wheel adjusts for reach and rake with a single manual release, giving all the advantages, proper driving position, spacing from airbag, instrument view; the only downside is that the wheel position does not adjust automatically with the seat/mirror memory system on cars so equipped. The center armrest also adjusts for height and rake, so it you can use it in cruise mode and slide it out of the way for lots of shifting on winding roads.
Front seats range from very good on the A5 to excellent on the S5; an A5 S-line falls in between and that cabin is available only in black leather. Any A5/S5 seat provides for hours of comfort and wiggle room while maintaining all the lateral support required to explore the car's capabilities. On the S5 the headrests are integral with the backrest and not adjustable, yet the head rest and neck protection are all in the right place and satisfactory for those well past six feet. Thigh extensions in the seat cushions let those tall drivers use more chair than just the area under their pants pockets, and there's plenty of leg room and a good dead pedal.
A fast-slide switch on the front seat backrests eases access to the rear buckets which are nicely sculpted and comfortable for most up to 5-feet, 10-inches tall. A substantial armrest folds down over central storage trays and passengers are catered to with reading lights, two speakers per side, coat hooks, outboard storage pockets, cupholders, and a pair of vents with adjustable temperature control.
To enlarge the cargo area the rear seat folds 60/40 from inside or trunk-located handles, while a pass-thru behind the armrest accommodates long, slender items like skis or fishing rods.
The S5 driver faces white-on-gray gauges, an 8000-rpm tachometer and 200-mph speedometer with smaller temperature and fuel gauges outboard in the two teardrop-shaped pods; in between, a bank of warning lights across the top and information display in the center. This panel shows a variety of data, much of it chosen by the driver using the stalk and wheel controls; even on manual transmission cars it displays the gear selected in white and, if another gear offers the same performance on less gas, an arrow and a number for that gear in green.
To the right, at the same height as the gauges and angled toward the driver, is a well-shaded screen for the MMI (multi-media interface) system that controls many of the car's functions and also shows navigation maps and the rear camera view on cars so optioned. MMI has a central control knob, somewhat like BMW i-Drive and Mercedes COMAND systems, but it has four corner buttons keyed to four choices in the corners of the screen, separate Back/Advance/Return keys, and eight keys around it for direct access to radio, discs, navigation, telephone, car systems, and so forth. It will require a little familiarization but it is quicker and requires less button-clicking frustration than similar systems and does not use any control that requires rotating a knob counterclockwise to increase level as some others have done.
The MMI controller is immediately behind the shifter but not accidentally hit by a resting hand or quick shift. To the left of the lever are the parking brake and Start/Stop buttons, and to the right is the volume knob; this is less than convenient in sixth gear so you'll find the steering wheel control the logical, handy choice.
Below the central screen are a pair of vents, the six-disc changer, and some simple switchgear. At the base of the console are the climate controls, with buttons to select fan speed, temperature, airflow, and seat heat and a small rotary knob to make the adjustments. Full auto mode is available, as is full manual control without any confusion.
The navigation system works as directed; we found it neither class-leading nor class-trailing. Sound from the optional 505-watt, 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system is most impressive, especially in light of the $850 option tab when the B&O system on a big Audi sedan costs perhaps 10 times that much. However, in the S5, there is always that engine note to enjoy if you tire of recorded fidelity.
Outward visibility is quite good, with relatively narrow pillars and the side posts far enough rearward that they don't interfere with lane-change or close-quarter over the shoulder glances. The rear pillars are generally unnoticed, the rear window usefully large and distortion-free, and the edges of the bodywork not totally lost in the distance.
Night driving is further aided by deep amber illumination that offers the fastest recovery time for your eyes, smoked-lens vanity mirror lamps mounted in the roof, and shaded map lights that light your lap, not your eyes.
Cabin storage includes a shallow bin in the armrest, one center cupholder and a phone-sized bin adjacent, glovebox, and door pockets with beverage stands at the leading edge.
The trunk opening is larger than many two-doors and takes advantage of the trunk lid length to open well out of the way. There are four tie-down rings, a spare underneath, and, at 16.1 cubic feet (for the A5; 12.0 cubic feet for the S5), significantly more volume than a BMW 3 or 6 Series coupe, Jaguar XK coupe, Lexus SC430, Infiniti G37 or Porsche 911.
The Audi S5 starts with a deep purr, definitely a V8 but refined compared to rumbling Detroit muscle. However, in the upper revs the S5 aligns with the A5 V6's more mechanical song. The gas pedal has lots of travel so the driver can fine tune how much power to apply and how quickly.
Audi's manual transmissions are geared for performance, not highway fuel economy; if long highway cruises are on your agenda the A5 will merrily scoot to 60 mph in about six seconds and easily exceed any speed limit in the world while returning better mileage.
The S5 is an Autobahn bruiser, its elastic well of torque set up to accelerate with authority from virtually any speed (0-60 in less than five seconds) and is still pulling as it is reined in electronically at 155 mph.
That speed isn't useful in the American landscape but the flexibility certainly is. Where some muscle cars reach 50 or 60 mph in first gear with the engine turning 6000 rpm, the freer-revving S5 does only 65 mph in second gear at 7000 rpm. Power comes on smoothly and progressively, with plenty of torque to get you moving and a soundtrack Mozart couldn't better, rather like a muted American LeMans racing sports car, as the engine approaches its redline. At 65 mph, the engine spins 15-percent to 25-percent faster than most big V8s, so even at that speed in top gear there is useful urge in acceleration.
The gearing also pays dividends around town, where motion is so effortless you can start out smoothly from a stop in second gear. The car will idle in gear quite slowly and has decent compression braking so you can crawl along in traffic, and with just the slightest forethought, rarely have to use the clutch pedal. The shifter feels solid and of some heft, reminding us of a front-engine Porsche and heavier than the typical BMW; it is direct, precise and never misses a gear. Indeed, the only negative aspect of driving this car as a daily gridlock grinder is the gas mileage.
At the other end of the spectrum, big brakes and sticky tires haul the car down from speed in a drama-free hurry, without the nose diving to the pavement or the tail standing up like a hound on alert. Designed where repeated heavy slowing from 125 mph is common, the Audi's brakes will be tested in America only on racetracks. Naturally, the latest generations of electronic brake assistants are on board, but you have to be a real poser to have them come into play.
Quattro, Audi's all-wheel drive system that comes standard on the A5 and S5, nominally sends 40 percent of the power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear wheels to give dynamics related to a rear-wheel-drive car with the stability and enhanced poor weather traction of all-wheel drive. This system is always on and requires no driver action, automatically distributing propulsion in the most efficient, effective, stable manner.
As a result, the S5 is able to put down all 354 horsepower in any dry conditions and a greater proportion of it inclement conditions than would be possible without quattro. There's no tire spinning nor even a chirp as it lunges toward the horizon. With a set of narrower dedicated winter tires the only alternative that might come close is the considerably more expensive Porsche Carrera 4.
Another large change comes from the S5's layout, the first recent Audi to put the differential in between the engine and the transmission, taking some weight off the front wheels. The S5 splits its weight almost evenly over the front and rear wheels which, when matched with the all-wheel drive, allows each corner to do a near-equal amount of work. That translates to a car that feels less nose-heavy than before, changes directions much more crisply, minimizes body roll (just enough to know you're pushing it) and delivers inspiring confidence; indeed, we covered one stretch of wet road without putting a foot wrong as fast as we'd covered it in dry weather with a top-notch rear-wheel-drive sport sedan still prone to twitching its tail and not because of too much power.
Some credit is due the 19-inch sport tires, but it is the S5's lightweight, independent suspension, good balance, and all-wheel-drive grip that let it put on such displays of composure. Even a hack of a driver can frequently motor along quite briskly without any intervention from the stability system.
The A5 has similar exemplary characteristics; it merely goes down the winding road a bit smoother and slower. Less sticky tires absorb bumps better, as does the more compliant suspension that has no slop or wallow in it.
An A5 with the S-line package is a step firmer than the standard A5, though not as sporting as the S5. The S-line is perhaps the best for enthusiasts saddled with poor roads.
Although the S5 is 150 pounds heavier, with its larger engine and higher feature content, than an A5, the S5 has slightly better balance. The S5 weighs nearly 4,000 pounds, though, and doesn't have quite the feeling of place-it-anywhere lightness of a BMW 3 Series coupe or Jaguar XK. This isn't a bad thing, more a demonstration of the Audi's long-distance, high-speed touring philosophy as opposed to a less-compromised sports car. The ride is never punishing, but those more expensive rides with adjustable suspension do offer a bit more compliance for the marginal surfaces of some interstates.
Steering is nicely weighted and doesn't lack feel or reaction to the slightest turn of the wheel. We classify the Audi's steering heavier than a BMW in standard mode, but lighter than a BMW in Sport mode, so it's a happy medium. At parking speeds, it is light and quick, with a respectable cut for maneuvering.
Adaptive headlights, on models so equipped, swivel to illuminate the road in corners by reacting to steering wheel movement. And these are among the best, as they precisely follow the wheel and don't jerk from side to side as some do, better illuminating the road than making a distracting light show. So we recommend opting for them.
The Audi S5 is an immensely capable luxury coupe, especially for those who don't travel light or cancel plans because of weather. The A5 offers similar capabilities with a quieter demeanor for less cash. Other cars may excel at a given quality or quantity, but few can match the overall balance of the affordable A5 or deliver the performance blend of the S5. Both offer impressively handsome styling and top-notch engineering.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of A5 and S5 models in Southern California.
Audi A5 ($40,700); automatic ($42,000); S-Line ($46,400); automatic ($47,700); S5 ($51,400).
Options As Tested
Technology package ($2,200) includes rear park assist, rear camera, adaptive headlamps, Advanced key; Bang & Olufsen sound system ($850); navigation system ($2,390).
Audi S5 ($51,400).
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