The 2012 Audi S5 (Sharon Carty, AOL Autos).
I'm driving along the sunny highways of southern Spain, passing vineyards and fields of sleek, modern windmills, in an Audi S5 coupe, and I'm starting to get worried.

It's certainly a fun car. How could you not like a sleek, super-charged Audi? The S5 was critically acclaimed when it first hit the scene, and this newer refreshed model certainly doesn't do anything to blemish the S5's reputation.

But I'm worried there isn't enough different about this car to hang a whole story on. It's still fabulous to drive. Audi has changed some of the lines along the side body panels to make it look a bit sleeker. And since ditching the V8 engine for a supercharged V6, it is more fuel efficient than it's predecessor.

My driving partner and I spend the morning touring the area around the airport in Jerez de la Frontera, and we're growing a little antsy. We pair up with another driving team of auto critics, and decide we're heading (with Audi's permission) to the beach.

The drive down to the beach is fun. The S5 has less horsepower than the previous S5 – that's because Audi went with the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, losing 21 horsepower from the old V8. But we have 20% better fuel economy. I don't miss those horses at all.

The car has enough torque to make up for that. And, really, what most consumers really love is torque. It's that feeling of almost immediate speed when you hit the gas. With 325-foot-pounds of torque, the S5 is a car that might make you go, "Wheee!" when you hit the gas pedal.

The S5 has Audi's new Google Map system, which is more awesome than it sounds. The nav screen not only shows us the next right turn we must make, but the enormous tree that is just before it. It makes following the map infinitely easier – your brain spends almost zero time translating the map into the real landscape.

Still, somehow we manage to get lost driving through the narrow, haphazardly organized streets of Barbate. The street we hope will lead us to the water only goes one way, leading away from the sea. As we meander through the back alleys, a group of boys on bikes start hollering at us and waving. We wave back, and keep driving, carefully trying not to lose our friends in the other S5 and also hoping not to hit any locals on bikes.

As we make another turn, I see our driving companions' S5 coming our way. The headlights are a study in modern style--elongated L-shapes LEDs. And the grille has been changed, adding in a couple new angles and making the shield-shaped face look more like those of the A6 and A7.

We pass the boys on bikes again. They've stopped at a street corner to watch us go by, and they hoot and holler again. One of the boys gave us the double-thumbs-up, which I can only hope has the same positive meaning in Spain as it does in the U.S. At least, he seemed happy enough.

My driving companion turns to me and say, "I thought for a minute they were shouting at you, but now I'm pretty sure they're shouting about the car."

Yep, it's definitely the car.

View Gallery: 2012 Audi S5

Why Audi?

You may have noticed that Audi has been advertising itself as "new luxury," and contrasting its products and brand with Mercedes-Benz and BMW as being "old luxury."

One recent ad even proclaimed that more people "than ever before" are leaving Mercedes, BMW and Lexus for Audi. That's a fairly squishy piece of data that gets my attention as a reporter, but not a buyer. What is safe and accurate to say, though, is that Audi has been on a roll with new products. The latest A6 and A8 have been first-rate competitors to the Mercedes S Class and E Class, and BMW 7 Series and 5 Series with reviewers like AOL Autos and Autoblog praising Audi's craftsmanship design, driving performance and fun-to-drive factor.

As other automakers tell us privately, they benchmark Audi's interior for the selection of materials and how well everything fits together. It shows in all of its vehicles. The S5, and the A5, as well as the A4 and S4, are where Audi's real sales volume comes from. Quality, as measured by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates, is headed in the right direction, but must continue to improve, as does the quality of service at dealerships. Those seem to be the last pieces of Audi's puzzle in snaring more luxury buyers.

One of the attractive things about Audi is that while they are over-achieving on design, performance and styling, the Ingolstadt, Germany-based automaker, part of the Volkswagen Group, remains the less obvious choice for a luxury car buyer. In the U.S. Audi sells about half as many cars as BMW and Mercedes. It's kind of a car for people "in the know," and who don't want what everyone else has.

Of course, if it continues to improve and attract many more buyers with excellent rides like the S5, it will eventually be the brand that a lot more luxury buyers choose.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own — we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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