2008 Audi S5 Review

Jay Shoemaker
by Jay Shoemaker

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.

Jay Shoemaker
Jay Shoemaker

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  • NotoriousS8 NotoriousS8 on Mar 29, 2009

    By the way, the notorious is what my wife calls the S8, I get stopped by sheriff's that see the car and want to know if this is the car that was doing 200mph on 49. I tell them "nah, it was only 190 or so". They aren't hassling, they just want to check out the car. I'm selling it because I can't hang with getting stopped arbitrarily.

  • Westcott Westcott on Feb 09, 2011

    Your review is a microcosm of Audi's marketing mistakes. It really is a shame since they have the engines, transmissions, and designs to be a real competitor of BMW and Mercedes. Cap it off with deplorable reliability, and they will be sitting on the sidelines with Jaguar before too long watching the Koreans and Japanese getting it done.

  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).
  • Lou_BC There are a few in my town. They come out on sunny days. I'd rather spend $29k on a square body Chevy