I really want a Mercedes Black Series AMG. It’s a practical, sharp looking car, and nothing clears my head like Saturn V quality thrust. But my spouse’s desire to share her dotage with yours truly conspires against it. So, after driving a BMW 6-Series and finding it a bit… sclerotic, I wandered over to my local Audi dealer in search of something slinkier and kinkier. And there she was: a brand new S5 coupe on the showroom floor, shooting me come hither glances. So thither I went. Ah, but did I tarry long enough to take possession of Ingolstadt’s two-door Q-ship?
Walter de’Silva claims the S5 is his meisterwerk. As Walt penned the Gorgonesque Q7, I reckon he’s damning himself with self-praise. Like the TT and Bimmer’s Bangle bungles, the S5 suffers from a surfeit of surfaces: artfully indented panels, swoopy swage lines, blistered wheels arches, chrome window surrounds, a Billy the Big Mouth bass grill, angry eyes headlights (complete with LED mascara) and more. The S5’s basic shape and stance are purposeful, but the “auto emoción” here is nothing more than a hissy fit.
The S5’s interior also blends the sacred and the profane. The materials, gauges and switchgear are boilerplate Audi– which is no bad thing. But the S5’s aluminum dash accents are garish and jarringly asymmetrical. A CD player in the center stack consigns the HVAC controls to the bottom of the pile– a brand-defiling ergonomic affront that continues with the MMI (Multi Media Interface). Pistonheads of a certain age will find the MMI’s eight major buttons, three [bottom] menu buttons, four inner buttons and obligatory rotary knob about as intuitive as Bayesian Reasoning. And less fun.
The S5’s seats are a major disappointment; while laterally coddling, the thrones lack sufficient upper back support. The S5’s meaty steering wheel offers some compensatory haptic satisfaction and a wide range of (cough) manual adjustment. As in the 6-Series, Audi’s big coupe is capped by an oversized sunroof that tilts but doesn’t slide; the automotive equivalent of getting stuck on first base. And you can have any transmission you like as long as it’s a six-speed manual.
So, we’re hunting Bimmers are we?
Thumb the 354-horse powerplant into life and the S5’s woofling 4.2-liter V8 tells well-heeled helmsmen that all’s right with the world (if not the global temperature). The S5’s engine note is as lusty as a Tudor era pub wench; it’s a suitable soundtrack for a torque curve that’s fat enough to provide prodigious pulling power deep into triple digits, and phat enough to rocket the a 3600lbs. sedan from naught to 60mph in 4.9 seconds. If only the S5’s gearbox didn’t feel like a notchy cable shifter from some ancient GM product.
Once the cog swapper’s vital fluids warm-up, the S5’s gearbox regains class appropriate silkiness. By then enthusiastic drivers will wonder why Audi eschewed an autobox in a car whose steering is lighter than an Olsen twin’s lunch order.
Ignore the S5’s helium helm, throw the uber-A5 into a corner and the coupe’s re-jigged weight distribution, multi-link front suspension and rear-biased Quattro system forestalls, quells and/or corrects Ye Olde nose-first understeer. Mind you, with the Quattro system’s asymmetric dynamic torque split principal patrolling the school for scandal, and Audi’s ESP handling Nanny sending tail-out aspirants to bed without their supper, power slides aintgonnahappendotcom.
In short, the S5 is a supremely capable all-weather point and shoot luxobarge– that’s as suitable for hunting M cars as a .22 caliber rifle is for shooting a grizzly. So why does the S5 sacrifice ride quality on the altar of corner-carving confidence, especially when Audi’s sublime adjustable magnetic ride suspension lingers in the corporate bull pen (so to speak)? Probably for the same reason that Ingolstadt’s boffins forgot to equip the car with a DSG, the world’s best paddle shift dual clutch gearbox, available on a lowly (and I mean that in a nice way) TT.
The Audi dealer wanted $58,490 for the S5 on display, including an optional Bang & Olufsen 505-watt sound system (which was a deal for an extra $800). I don’t suppose S5 owners would kvetch at the cost of catering to the S5’s 14/21mpg thirst, but it’s worth noting that around town driving requires a refill every 200 miles or so.
Also noteworthy: the Audi S5’s performance barely matches the lower priced BMW 335i (also available with four wheel drive) and poses no threat whatsoever to the upcoming V8-powered BMW M3. Even on its own terms, the S5’s lack of an automatic or dual clutch transmission limits the model’s appeal. Perhaps if the S5 packed the RS4’s 420hp motor, it would make more sense. The Audi faithful can only hope this version is on the way. Meanwhile, the Audi S5 is a vehicle I might settle for, but not one I truly desire.