2008 Audi A5 and S5

Tim Andrew

The consolation prize, however, is horizon-warping straight-line speed. The V-8 frenetically revs to its 7000-rpm peak, and the meaty, accurate six-speed manual gearbox is a good match for this powerhouse. The S5's ability to accelerate hard from 120 mph is remarkable. But having driven our Four Seasons Audi RS4 sedan a few days before flying to Italy, I missed the RS4 engine's hooligan yell, a classic V-8 woofle-and-wail sound track that's muted in the S5. In a candid moment, an Audi executive admitted that the company is reserving the Big Noise for the RS5, which is a couple of years away.

European customers can order their A5 in front-wheel-drive-only guise, which means it can be specified with Audi's Multitronic continuously variable transmission (available here on the front-wheel-drive A4 and A6). Too bad that model won't be available here, as it's hard to argue with the combination of eight artificial ratios and absolutely seamless shifts. For the record, the S5 is available only with the six-speed manual. Sadly, the best A5 variant is the one we won't be getting: the 240-hp, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel with 369 lb-ft of torque. Matched with the Quattro drivetrain, this engine delivers sports car performance and, Audi claims, overall fuel consumption of 33 mpg.

Inside, the A5 and the S5 are vintage Audi. All of the instruments are logically laid out, and Audi's MMI operating system remains one of the most intuitive on the market. The cabin also imparts that quality look and feel that have become Audi hallmarks. Neat details include the electromechanical handbrake, which has an automatic mode that applies the brake whenever the car stops and then releases it as you drive off. The rear seats actually accommodate adults, although headroom is a bit tight for six-plus footers. The separate trunk is quite generous, and the rear seatbacks can be folded down for even more cargo capacity.

Apart from their flamboyantly curvy sheetmetal, the A5 and the S5 represent a fairly conservative evolution for Audi. The dynamic gains don't seem to reflect the engineering effort that the company has put into the chassis; this isn't a car that will tempt those wedded to a great driving experience. But the S5, while no agile sportster, is a brilliantly executed blunt instrument with which to subdue a raucous Sunday afternoon, Italian-style.

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