Restrained Elegance: Audi S5 Review

Categories Motoring

Jez Spinks finds the new Audi S5 is the complete package for lovers of stylish coupes.

If the TT and R8 are the relatively extrovert coupes among Audi’s trio of two-door models, the S5 is the unassuming yet confident sibling.

It’s 10 years since its release alongside the debutante A5 range, looking hardly less elegant than the regular models despite its sportier intentions.

Perhaps there had been a directive from Audi’s then head of design, Walter da Silva, who described the A5 as the most beautiful car he had ever created. The Italian designer is now slipping ladies into elegant shoes but the all-new S5 appears to keep ‘restraint’ as a key styling philosophy.

Different bumpers, grille, side sills, 19-inch wheels and a boot-lid spoiler are your key spot-the-differences between an A5 and S5. Picking one S5 generation from another is about noticing the sharpened sheetmetal, and extra creases – notably those that help form the ‘power dome’ bonnet. And that more muscular engine lid isn’t exclusive to the S5, though is more apt.

After using a 4.2-litre V8 then a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 in the first generation, the S5 has switched to a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 that matches the former’s power (260kW) and beats both for torque (500Nm).

The engine is paired with a new, traditional eight-speed auto that’s also smoother off the line than the former, trendier seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The V6’s plump torque kicks in not far above idle and hangs on for two-thirds of the rev range, providing muscular yet linear acceleration that’s far removed from the nothing-then-everything sensation of turbo engines of old.

With all four wheels sharing the load in classic quattro style, the S5 is almost as quick as the outgoing RS5 (due to be replaced at the end of the year). Its 0-100km/h claim of 4.7 seconds is identical to a key new rival – the Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe.

Less coincidental is the Audi’s price tag of $105,800, which has plummeted from $122,615 to cost an irrelevant $185 more than the Benz. Extra value placed at about $10,000 includes adaptive dampers that were previously optional. They’re matched to the S5’s stiffer Sports suspension and in their firmest mode – Dynamic – body control is matron-like in its approach to discipline. The bonus is that you don’t need to switch to Comfort via the (awkwardly placed) Driver Select dash button to discover a ride that is surprisingly smoother than that of the regular A5s.

The S5 then nails its ride/handling balance with a chassis that is swift to change direction and feels planted in corners regardless of speed. While the quattro system varies engine torque between the front and rear axles for optimum traction, an optional ($2,950) Sport diff can also shuffle more torque to the outside rear wheel to help coax the S5 around bends.

A couple of quibbles about the driving experience include the V6 that makes some nice gargling noises but sounds like it’s been restricted to a “Don’t Wake The Neighbours” setting. And you’ll find meatier and chattier steering in the C43 or BMW’s rival, the 440i. The steering is perfectly accurate, though, and the flat-bottomed, red-stitched wheel itself is a visual and ergonomic treat.

The sporty theme continues with the standard Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, which on the S5 exclusively offers a configuration featuring a dominant rev counter. There’s carbon fibre trim on the dash, console and doors, while diamond-patterned, S-embossed Nappa-leather seats are a well-judged blend of comfort and support.

In addition to multiple electric adjustment, electric seatbelt feeders allow you to pretend you have a personal butler each time you step into the car. Or a personal therapist with the standard massage function.

The S5 isn’t found wanting for more advanced driver assist systems, either. Technology includes adaptive cruise control, semi-autonomous parking, blind spot and lane change monitoring, 360-degree surround view, headlights that can automatically alternate between low and high beam at night, steering assistance for swerve-and-avoid incidents, auto braking to help avoid accidentally turning across oncoming traffic, and doors that aim to stop you opening them into the path of a cyclist by flashing a red strip of light.

A $5,600 Technik Package is tempting for Audi’s clever Matrix LED headlight system, head-up display, and Bang & Olufsen audio (the latter of which can be bought separately for $1,950). Unlike the more compact TT, the A5/S5 is a genuine four-seater – and the latest version adds 23mm of rear legroom, along with some extra head and shoulder space for front occupants.  And if it’s still not sufficiently practical, you can wait for the S5 Sportback that will again combine a coupe-style roofline with four doors and a tailgate. Or choose between the related S4 sedan and wagon twins, which are still fresh to showrooms.

Nothing makes quite the same driveway statement as a stylishly sporty coupe, though – even one as relatively subtle as the S5.

This story first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Men’s Style.