The Audi A5 and Audi S5 are 2+2 coupes and convertibles with stunning looks and the greatest variety of engines and drive systems in the class.
A handsome, distinctive shape identifies the A5 from any angle, with flowing curves bringing musculature to sleek, aerodynamic forms and arresting light patterns. Viewed from behind there's a chance of mistaking an A5 for a British GT, but from any other angle it's unmistakably Audi.
Audi A5 and S5 are grand touring cars designed to cover lots of ground at high speed while coddling a pair of occupants. The rear seats are for the occasional adult passengers or for bringing kids along. The A5 involves the driver physically, audibly, and mentally though never to the point of making it a chore or less than inviting. The Audi S5 can be hustled down virtually any road at a good clip. These are substantial cars, however, so they don't behave like small, lightweight sports cars.
Audi interiors have been racking up awards for a long time and the A5 is in the same mold. It has the features expected, good ergonomics, a central interface system that won't drive you to cursing, and it's all assembled to a high standard using appropriate materials. Despite the standard all-wheel drive on most models it also has reasonable trunk space, so you can enjoy a road trip of just about any length or destination.
The Audi A5 delivers confidence and luxury in a package not likely to be seen at every intersection. The Audi S5 delivers more performance and luxury, which comes at a higher price, yet it still represents a good value among high-performance coupes.
Audi A5 competes with BMW 3 Series and 6 Series coupes and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe, but the A5's style and capabilities are such that it might also be shopped against the Jaguar XK or Porsche 911. All of these are fine cars, but only the 911 can match the A5 or S5 with the availability of all-wheel drive, and with the Porsche it comes at a substantially higher price. Quattro all-wheel drive comes standard on all A5 models except one convertible A5.
The Audi A5 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. EPA fuel economy numbers for the Audi A5 Coupe with the four-cylinder engine, manual gearbox and quattro all-wheel drive are 21 mpg City, 31 mpg Highway. For the Audi A5 Cabriolet with the four-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive, the figures are 22/30 mpg. Automatic quattro coupes get an EPA-rated 21/29 mpg.
The Audi S5 Cabriolet is powered 3.0-liter supercharged V6 with S-tronic 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The supercharged V6 has 333 horsepower, 325 pound-feet of torque on tap and a quick-shifting automated manual gearbox for performance. The federal government rates the S5 at 17/26 mpg.
The Audi S5 Coupe uses a rev-happy 4.2-liter V8, with 354 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, essentially a milder version of the engine in Audi's R8 mid-engine sports car. The S5 coupe uses a 6-speed automatic or manual gearbox, the latter the quickest of all S5 models, and the least fuel efficient.
The 2011 Audi A5 coupe comes with a new 8-speed automatic. Last year's 3.2-liter V6 engine has been dropped. Also, there have been changes in some options, packages and wheel designs, and navigation includes HD radio for the 2011 model year.
The Audi A5 and S5 are arguably among the best looking cars on the road, appearing at once formal and sporting. On each side a strong character line arches over the front wheel and carries all the way to the tail, but apart from the bottom of the door and sides of the panoramic glass roof there's hardly a straight line to be found.
Proportions are classic coupe with minimal bodywork ahead of the front wheels, a substantial rear roof pillar, moderate trunk lid and a longer tail than snout. The door windows are frameless and visual strength is added by a central pillar that hides as a dark panel behind the rear side glass.
Cabriolets keep much the same proportions with their folding soft-top (which folds in 15 seconds, among the fastest in class) and really look good with the top down.
Out in the open the A5 appears larger than it really is; the Audi is half a foot shorter than Jaguar's XK, BMW's 650 or Bentley's GTC and just half a foot longer than a 911, yet it comes across at least as spacious inside as any of those.
In terms of styling, the A5 is the cleanest, the S5 the most aggressive, and the A5 with S line package splits the difference. The leading edges of the car are the inner points of the lower grilles that separate the central grille section from the lights and side grilles, much like the leading points of a manta ray. On the S5 aluminum-look trim is used at the lower edge of the grille, on the outside mirrors, and at the bottom of the rear bumper between the four exhaust outlets.
Bi-xenon headlamps give these cars that wild-animal-stalking-prey look. Crisp, white LED daytime running lamps run along the bottoms and outer edges of these headlamps, setting a higher standard for appearance and function; they can be turned off if you wish, automatically dim for use as parking lights, and are off on whichever side the turn signal is blinking for better vision of said signal. Some car companies could learn something from this design.
Most wheels are five-spoke or a derivative, like the two-by-five propeller-blade shaped spokes on the S5 which use a fingered center cap to cover all the lug nuts.
The designer of the A5 calls the car the most beautiful he has ever designed. The A5 made it onto Hagerty's Hot List, so a leading insurer of collector cars believes the A5 may become more desirable over the next 20 years.
Climb into an Audi A5 and you're immediately convinced this is a driver's car, albeit a nicely finished one that you could easily use as a daily driver. The A5 and S5 offer multiple selections of leather and trim, including different types of wood, carbon fiber, aluminum or stainless steel. Every surface has a pleasant feel, regardless of the material from which it's constructed. It is modern Teutonic luxury in the vein of multiple finishes that complement each other well, with stark efficiency or warmth determined by color choices and trim components.
The S5 cabin is done in mostly dark materials, including the woven headliner and sunshade. Lighter trim highlights the roof panel pull (it slides forward from the rear), gauge nacelles, vents, speaker grilles, and control knobs with piano black centers. The black lacquer also surrounds the primary control area aft of the shifter.
A three-spoke leather-wrapped wheel has hand grips at all the right places and just two controls on each side spoke. However, each side has a thumbwheel that serves multiple functions by scrolling up or down or pressing to click, allowing a majority of system operations to be done without removing a hand from the wheel. Oft-used controls like cruise, signals, flash-to-pass/main beams, and wipe/wash are all on handy stalks. The wheel adjusts for reach and rake with a single manual release, giving all the advantages: Proper driving position, spacing from airbag, and instrument view. The center armrest also adjusts for height and rake, so it you can use it in cruise mode and slide it out of the way for lots of shifting on winding roads.
Front seats range from very good in the A5 to excellent in the S5, and the S line models fall in between. Any A5/S5 seat provides for hours of comfort and wiggle room while maintaining all the lateral support required to explore the car's capabilities. On the S5 the headrests are integral with the backrest and not adjustable, yet the head rest and neck protection are all in the right place and satisfactory for those well past six feet. Thigh extensions in the seat cushions let those tall drivers use more chair than just the area under their pants pockets, and there's plenty of leg room and a good dead pedal.
A fast-slide switch on the front seat backrests eases access to the rear buckets which are nicely sculpted and comfortable for most up to 5-feet, 10-inches tall. A substantial armrest folds down over central storage trays and passengers are catered to with reading lights, two speakers per side, coat hooks, outboard storage pockets, cupholders, and a pair of vents with adjustable temperature control.
To enlarge the cargo area the rear seat folds in a 50/50-split, allowing a pass-through into the passenger compartment for carrying longer items.
The Cabriolet has a lightly revised rear seat but the side windows do roll down. A wind-blocker cuts buffeting in the front if you have no passengers. Ventilated front seats may be equipped with neck heating, enlarging the temperature range for comfortable al fresco motoring.
The driver faces a tachometer and speedometer with smaller temperature and fuel gauges outboard in the two teardrop-shaped pods; in between, there's a bank of warning lights across the top and information display in the center. This panel shows a variety of data, much of it chosen by the driver using the stalk and wheel controls; even on manual transmission cars it displays the gear selected in white and, if another gear offers the same performance on less gas, an arrow and a number for that gear in green. Night driving is further aided by deep amber illumination that offers the fastest recovery time for your eyes, smoked-lens vanity mirror lamps mounted in the roof, and shaded map lights that light your lap, not your eyes.
A well-shaded screen for the MMI (multi-media interface) is located on the center stack and angled toward the driver. The MMI controls many of the car's functions and displays navigation maps and the rear camera view. MMI has a central control knob, somewhat like BMW iDrive and Mercedes COMAND systems. This is the third generation of MMI, and its operation has been simplified by the adoption of a joystick that's integrated into the central control knob. It has a new complete-word input capability, three-dimensional map displays and a music jukebox on the internal hard disc drive. Operating it may require a little familiarization but it is quicker and requires less button-clicking frustration than similar systems. The MMI controller is immediately behind the shifter but not accidentally hit by a resting hand or quick shift. To the left of the lever are the parking brake and Start/Stop buttons, and to the right is the volume knob; this is less than convenient in sixth gear so you'll find the steering wheel control the logical, handy choice.
Below the central screen are a pair of vents and some simple switchgear. At the base of the console are the climate controls, with buttons to select fan speed, temperature, airflow, and seat heat and a small rotary knob to make the adjustments. Full auto mode is available, as is full manual control without any confusion.
The navigation system works as directed. Sound from the optional 505-watt, 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system is most impressive.
Outward visibility is quite good, with relatively narrow pillars and the side posts far enough rearward that they don't interfere with lane-change or close-quarter over the shoulder glances. The rear pillars are generally unnoticed, the rear window usefully large and distortion-free, and the edges of the bodywork not totally lost in the distance.
Cabin storage includes a shallow bin in the armrest, one center cupholder and a phone-sized bin adjacent, glovebox, and door pockets with beverage stands at the leading edge.
The trunk opening is larger than many two-doors and takes advantage of the trunk lid length to open well out of the way. There are four tie-down rings, a spare underneath, and 12.0 cubic feet of trunk capacity. Cabriolets offer the same trunk capacity with the roof up, and lose just two (of 12) cubic feet of space with the top folded.
The Audi A5 offers precise handling, feeling at times like it is on rails. The A5 lineup offers a wide choice of powertrains that significantly affect its driving character.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is smooth and powerful. It produces strong torque to propel the car quickly from intersections and up hills. More impressive is the width of the powerband, that area of engine speed that delivers maximum power. The turbocharged engine makes big torque from just off idle at 1500 rpm all the way to 4200 rpm. And from 4300-6000 rpm it delivers 211 horsepower. It will rev to 6700 rpm, but there isn't much point when you've got that much midrange power.
Given the A5's 3500-plus pounds and all-wheel drive traction it's acceleration times are not as quick as many competitors. But in real-world driving it never feels short of power and it pays off in fuel economy and less mass over the front wheels helps handling.
Steering is nicely weighted on the A5, and it doesn't lack feel. We classify the Audi's steering heavier than a BMW in standard mode, but lighter than a BMW in Sport mode, so it's a happy medium. At parking speeds, it is light and quick, with a respectable cut for maneuvering.
The A5 has exemplary handling characteristics. The A5 rides more smoothly than the S5 does. The suspension has no slop or wallow in it but is more compliant than that of the S5, and the A5's tires absorb bumps better.
An A5 with the S line package is a step firmer than the standard A5, though not as sporting as the S5. The S line is perhaps the best for enthusiasts saddled with poor roads.
Quattro, Audi's all-wheel drive system, nominally sends 40 percent of the power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear wheels to give dynamics related to a rear-wheel-drive car with the stability and enhanced poor weather traction of all-wheel drive. This system is always on and requires no driver action, automatically distributing propulsion in the most efficient, effective, stable manner. On S5 the rear differential may be upgraded to a unit that distributes power to each rear wheel in varying amounts, making it feel better balanced and more confident.
The S5 coupe comes with a V8 that starts with a deep purr, then aligns with the V6's more mechanical song in the upper revs. The gas pedal has lots of travel so the driver can fine tune how much power to apply and how quickly. The S5 is an Autobahn bruiser, its elastic well of torque set up to accelerate with authority from virtually any speed (0-60 mph in around five seconds) and it's still pulling as it is reined in electronically at 155 mph. That speed isn't useful in the American landscape but the flexibility certainly is. Where some muscle cars reach 50 or 60 mph in first gear with the engine turning 6000 rpm, the freer-revving S5 does only 65 mph in second gear at 7000 rpm. Power comes on smoothly and progressively, with plenty of torque to get you moving and a soundtrack Mozart couldn't better, rather like a muted American LeMans racing sports car, as the engine approaches its redline. At 65 mph, the engine spins 15 percent to 25 percent faster than most big V8s, so even at that speed in top gear there is useful urge in acceleration.
The S5 gearing also pays dividends around town, where motion is so effortless you can start out smoothly from a stop in second gear. The car will idle in gear quite slowly and has decent engine braking so you can crawl along in traffic, and with just the slightest forethought, rarely have to use the clutch pedal. The manual shifter feels solid and of some heft, reminding us of a front-engine Porsche and heavier than the typical BMW; it is direct, precise and never misses a gear. Indeed, the only negative aspect of driving the S5 as a daily gridlock grinder is the gas mileage.
An S5 Cabriolet comes with the supercharged 3-liter V6 also used in the S4 and a host of Audi and VW cars and crossovers. It's down 21 horsepower to the 4.2-liter V8 but makes the same torque earlier in the rev band, gets better mileage than the V8 and even has a decent soundtrack. It's coupled exclusively to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission that does all the work for you, and does it very quickly. It's the most advanced gearbox in the A5/S5 line.
Big brakes and sticky tires haul the S5 down from speed in a drama-free hurry, without the nose diving to the pavement or the tail standing up like a hound on alert. Designed where repeated heavy slowing from 125 mph is common, the Audi's brakes will be tested in America only on racetracks. Naturally, the latest generations of electronic brake assistants are on board, but you have to be a real poser to have them come into play.
With quattro, the S5 is able to put down all 354 horsepower in any dry conditions and a greater proportion of it in inclement conditions than would be possible without quattro. There's no tire spinning nor even a chirp as it lunges toward the horizon. With a set of narrower dedicated winter tires the only alternative that might come close is the considerably more expensive Porsche Carrera 4.
The S5 is the first recent Audi in which the front differential is mounted between the engine and the transmission, taking some weight off the front wheels. The S5 splits its weight almost evenly over the front and rear wheels which, when matched with the all-wheel drive, allows each corner to do a near-equal amount of work. That translates to a car that feels less nose-heavy than before, changes directions much more crisply, minimizes body roll (just enough to know you're pushing it) and delivers inspiring confidence; indeed, we covered one stretch of wet road without putting a foot wrong as fast as we'd covered it in dry weather with a top-notch rear-wheel-drive sport sedan still prone to twitching its tail and not because of too much power. Some credit is due the 19-inch sport tires, but it is the S5's lightweight, independent suspension, good balance, and all-wheel-drive grip that let it put on such displays of composure. Even a hack of a driver can frequently motor along quite briskly without any intervention from the stability system.
Although the S5 is heavier, with its larger engine and higher feature content, than an A5, the S5 has slightly better balance. The S5 weighs nearly 4,000 pounds, though, and doesn't have quite the feeling of place-it-anywhere lightness of a BMW 3 Series coupe or Porsche. This isn't a bad thing, more a demonstration of the Audi's long-distance, high-speed touring philosophy as opposed to a less-compromised sports car. The ride is never punishing, but those more expensive rides with adjustable suspension do offer a bit more compliance for the marginal surfaces of some interstates.
Adaptive headlights, on models so equipped, swivel to illuminate the road in corners by reacting to steering wheel movement. And these are among the best, as they precisely follow the wheel and don't jerk from side to side as some do, better illuminating the road than making a distracting light show.
The Audi A5 is an immensely capable luxury coupe or convertible, especially for those who don't travel light or cancel plans because of weather. The S5 offers the same benefits with increased performance and a firmer ride. Other cars may excel at a given quality or quantity, but few can match the overall balance of the affordable A5 or deliver the grand touring blend of the S5. Both offer impressively handsome styling and top-notch engineering.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of A5 and S5 models in Southern California.