The S5 is another Audi product-in addition to the A5 and the R8-that one feels compelled to caress, if only visually. It’s sexy shape and muscular stance are irresistable. Audi designers really know how to evoke an emotional response with their designs. It literally stops traffic-foot traffic anyway. Driving through Ann Arbor, I saw plenty of double-takes as pedestrians tried to get a better look.
The S5 not only looks good; it’s quite good to drive. It rockets down the road snuffing out bumps big and small while still giving the driver plenty of feedback, although the steering is a little on the light side. The shift action is slightly notchy, and I found it nearly impossible to make a smooth shift up from first, just as in our Four Seasons RS4. The shifter also seems too tall both in an aesthetic and a functional sense: it blocks access to the HVAC controls on lower part of the central dash.
I was surprised how uncomfortable I was in the S5 as most Audi’s fit me well. The seat bottom is too long for my legs. In order to reach the clutch, I had to angle the seat bottom downward. Adjusting the rest of seat around this setting to get comfortable took most of my drive home, and even then, it never felt right.
The red leather covering the seats is not my taste, but it suits this car and gives the S5 an extra bump in the sport direction. I am disappointed to see that Audi has given in to peer pressure and gone to both a starter button and a “key-fob-as-key.” There is something so satisfying about turning a key to start an engine as opposed to pushing a button.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
The last time we had an S5 in the office, I loved the way it looked but was disappointed in the way it drove. It had the old-school Audi brittle ride, and the handling wasn’t anything special. Additionally, the V-8 was thirsty but didn’t result in mega-performance. Now that I’ve spent a bit more time with the S5, I can say that I like the car more than before but it still comes off as more of a cruiser than a sports car. The engine sounds pretty good and the car offers fabulous traction in the ever-changing weather conditions of February in Michigan. Still, the engine never really comes alive, and I don’t like the overly quick variable-ratio steering. The S5 looks fantastic, but I keep wondering if the A5 is a cheaper and better car, as it doesn’t try to be anything more than a cruiser. I’m sure the S5 will be a more desirable car once it gets the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 from the new S4 as well as the new 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which should offer the same performance but better fuel economy.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
Even covered in ugly Michigan road salt, the ‘s dark exterior is truly gorgeous. What’s more, I think this is one of the smoothest-driving cars on the market, in spite of the somewhat busy ride that Marc noted. The steering isn’t sporty, to be sure, but I think it works very well with the S5‘s entire buttery package. There are definitely better cars to take to the racetrack, but I wouldn’t hesitate to drive this car a thousand miles on a whim. It’s that solid and silky smooth. The European-market turbo-diesel A5, which I drove in France last summer, is even smoother still, but the S5’s 4.2-liter V-8 has a sweeter, more muscular song. Call me crazy, but I sometimes think about the S5 as being the nicest pony car ever built.
Unlike Jennifer, I like this manual gearbox quite a bit. It’s fairly notchy, which some people don’t like, but it engages firmly and positively, yet it works well with gentle, precise movements. Nailing a clean 1-2 upshift does take some extra finesse, but I’m guessing that has more to do with Audi‘s weird electronic throttle than with the transmission.
Red is a risky interior color, but this is probably the most tasteful red cabin I’ve ever seen, save perhaps that of a 1950s Jaguar. Like Jen, I found the seat cushion to be too long. I also thought that the lumbar was too firm, even in its most relaxed setting. Despite these complaints, though, I made myself quite comfortable in the sumptuous Audi’s interior.
I don’t mind the keyless start, but I am always a bit nervous when I push the little parking brake button in a stick-shifted car; it’s much less reassuring than lifting a central handbrake. Yeah, there’s a red light that illuminates to let you know that the car thinks the brake is engaged, but I still can’t completely stifle my fears that the car might roll away from where I parked it.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
This was my first experience behind the wheel of an S5 and I walked away very impressed. Unlike Marc, I was a little disappointed when I drove the A5. The A5 seems to be all about looks and offers almost no performance, but the S5 has just enough grunt to be a sporty ride and the V-8 sounds pretty good when you’re in the upper rev range. I found this to have more than adequate power for any passing maneuver I attempted and the delivery is so linear and smooth it actually feels less powerful than it is.
Like Jen, I had a hard time perfecting my 1-2 upshifts. The process wasn’t as notchy as an Infiniti G37, but it was nowhere near as smooth as a BMW 335i. The transmission’s shifter felt fine to me, so I tend to agree with Rusty the problem is a funky electronic throttle calibration. Perhaps there will be an ECU update that corrects this issue down the road. After driving the V-8 S5, I’m anxious to get behind the wheel of an updated S5 packing the supercharged V-6 and 7-speed DSG transmission Marc mentioned. I saw average fuel economy hovering around 15 mpg, which is pretty poor these days.
Audi is certainly on the forefront of automotive design, and it’s good to experience an Audi that drives as well as it looks. Cars that are all show and no go do nothing for me, so I’m happy to report the Audi S5 packs enough power to back up those sexy lines. It’s not a brutal muscle car, but rather a well-toned athlete. And that performance is perfectly in line with the car’s looks.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Huh. I don’t get those comments about the 1-2 shift. What are you guys doing to that stick? I didn’t have a problem with it, and I found the S5 immensely enjoyable in every gear. But I do agree with Jen about the difficulty in finding a comfortable driving position. The funny thing is, I’m just about double her size. I went down, back, raked the seat bottom, and finally settled into semi-comfort behind the very nice steering wheel, but it wasn’t a perfect fit. I got over it.
This car is an absolute head turner, starting with mine. I came out of the parking garage stairwell and snapped to attention when I saw its big grille poking out of the dark, hunkered way down almost on the ground between the gorgeous headlamps. It looked half as tall as the Chevy Malibu next to it and eight times as badass. It also stopped two different pedestrians in mid-crosswalk with the big double take.
The real thrill is in putting your foot down. The engine starts up with less a roar than a thrum, but the accelerator pedal is directly connected to the juice making it perfectly irresistible. To one degree or another, all Audis make this soulful connection with their drivers, offering a conspiratorial blend of power, handling, braking, and joyfulness in any gear, on any road surface in any situation. I haven’t put my driving privileges in jeopardy quite like I did this month during my two nights in the S5.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
Base Price (with destination): $51,400
Price as tested: $63,415
Phantom Black Pearl Effect – $750
Audi Drive Select – $2950
Audi Navigation System – $2390
Technology Package – $2200
Premium Sound System – $850
Stainless Steel Texture Inlay – $750
Fuel Economy: 14 / 22 / 17 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 4.2L V-8 Direct Injection DOHC
Horsepower: 354 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Manual
Weight: 3,891 lb
Wheel/Tire Info: 19″ Alloy Wheels