Restyling for 2013 made the Audi A5 and S5 a leaner, sleeker and more muscular look, led by a new nose. On the performance front, a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 bumped the precious 4.2-liter V8 out of the S5 coupe and cabriolet. With that V6, the Audi S5 accelerates as quickly as the prior V8 version and gets better fuel mileage. Meanwhile, the V8 stayed on top of the performance pile, bumping itself to 450 horsepower for use in the 2013 Audi RS5 coupe. After introducing the ultra-performance RS5 coupe for 2013, a cabriolet edition of the RS5 arrives for the 2014 season.
The Audi S5 is another animal. It’s powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 producing 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. It’s fueled by direct injection and breathes through a two-stage intake manifold. It’s mated to a 7-speed twin-clutch transmission that shifts in two-tenths of a second. A 2014 Audi S5 accelerates from 0 to 60 mpg in 4.9 seconds. The S5 coupe gets an EPA estimate of 18/28 mpg City/Highway with automatic, or 17/29 mpg with manual.
An optional active rear differential overdrives the outside rear tire in corners, forcing the front end to turn in more quickly. It also communicates with the vehicle’s Drive Select system and stability control to help maintain control in emergency maneuvers.
There’s nothing quite like the Audi RS5 with the lusty torque from its powerful V8 engine. Able to accelerate to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, that one is EPA-rated at 16/22 mpg.
The Audi A5 is a luscious machine. It grabs the attention subtly. Classy and elegant are accurate words to describe the A5, never mind that they sound like cliches because they’re used so much to describe other cars, including by us.
Audi stylists got the shape right, from the profile, and they achieved it all with fenders, wheelwells, rockers and shoulders. Who needs character lines when your shape has character? The nose shows well in profile, artfully rounded as it rolls back to a gentle arc over the front wheels, then straight back to morph into shoulders that continue rapidly rearward, dropping back down ever so slightly to the taillamps. The rockers start high and slope upward toward the rear deck to suggest flying, or at least speed. At the tail, an area where others (namely BMW) lose their distinction, that slight shoulder drop to the taillamps makes room for an arc at the lip of the deck that, along with the badge of four linked rings, unmistakably says Audi.
The facelift on the 2013 A5 was a beautiful job, appearing as if the whole face had been buffed and rounded to perfection, like a stone sculpture, before the headlamps, grille and vents were carved out. The grille is rounded at the upper edges and narrowed at the bottom, to make it more shapely than bold. We think the grille looks best in black, and not chrome. There’s a slim air intake below the grille, whose top is the same width as the grille; but it’s wider at the bottom, so it looks like a platform for the grille. Larger faux air intakes at the bottom corners of the front fascia also look better without the chrome trim.
The bi-xenon headlamps, with available LED running lights around their edges, are artfully done. The crisp white LED lights run along the bottoms and outer edges of the headlamps. Adaptive headlights, on models so equipped, swivel to illuminate the road in corners by reacting to steering wheel movement. 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, rather than making a distracting light show.
The S5 shows more power, with a stance that’s lower in front thanks to a sport suspension, more aggressive air intakes on the front fascia, a black grille, a splitter below the front bumper, and four tailpipes coming out of a rear diffuser at the rear.
There are eight wheel designs: three standard with the A5, S5 and RS5, and five optional. The graceful shape of the body doesn’t quite make it to the wheels, but the good news is that the standard A5 five-V-spoke wheel is quite nice, and the standard RS5 wagon-wheel 10-spoke wheel is the hottest. Other wheel designs try too hard, and don’t appear compatible with the car.
The cabin is clean and simple overall, which is not to say everything is perfectly easy and intuitive. Yet, it’s close enough to be relaxing, not stressing out the driver with confusing dials or electronic systems.
The standard A5 leather seats are excellent, promising a nice level of firmness and bolstering. The S5 seats are better, with thigh extensions for long-legged drivers, and a good dead-pedal. Heated seats are not standard equipment on the A5, they’re a $450 option. A rearview camera is not standard, either.
A choice of leather is available along with different types of wood, carbon fiber, aluminum or stainless steel trim. All materials feel pleasant. The S5 cabin is done in mostly dark materials, including the woven headliner and sunshade. Black lacquer trim appears, including at the console behind the shifter.
The base leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel is sweet and tidy, with grips at the right places and thumbwheel controls on each side spoke. Oft-used controls like cruise, signals, flash-to-pass/main beams, and wipe/wash are all on stalks.
The instruments are clean and beautiful, not quite at the pristine level of BMW, but still praiseworthy for their clarity. The tach sits at left and speedo on the right, with small temp at lower left and gas at lower right. Tidy aluminum rings surround each. The driver information display lies between them, directly in front of the driver’s eyes, with the info easily scrolled through. A big, white digital speed number can be displayed, along with trip info, such as fuel mileage and distance to empty.
At night the cabin is pretty, with 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. Outward visibility is quite good, with narrow pillars that don’t interfere with glances over the shoulder.
Standard dual-zone climate control with manual operation works better than automatic, because the latter tries too hard. Rear vents are located in the back of the center console, and under the front seats. There are three 12-volt outlets and four cupholders. The center armrest slides forward and back.
The display screen is shaded but still can’t be seen in the sun. The radio is easy to tune, but not when you can’t see the station numbers. The white numbers on the screen are easy to see; but the orange numbers are impossible. We think this is the kind of thing a manufacturer should foresee, and catch.
Because the A5 is a four-seat GT, it wouldn’t be fair to compare rear seat legroom with other cars of that overall size. But we did it anyhow, compared 14 of them, and the A5 came in 13th, with 31.7 inches. It beat the Infiniti G37 Coupe, which offers 29.8 inches. So the Audi won first in class.
A wide armrest folds down over central storage trays in the rear, where 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. The rear seat folds in a 50/50-split, allowing access to the trunk, although not in the Cabriolet.
With 12.2 cubic feet of trunk space, the A5 coupe finished in 12th place; the G37 Coupe was last again, with 7.4 cubic feet. Audi beats the 5-seat Mercedes C-Class coupe, which has 11.7 cubic feet.
The convertible top in the Cabriolet is like the best in the world. From the inside you’d swear it’s a hard top. It raises and lowers in a fast 15 seconds, at speeds up to 31 mph, a patience-saving feature. The manual wind deflector is stored in the trunk and goes up easily, over the rear seat; it works really well to keep the wind off the necks of the driver and passenger. The available ventilated front seats may also be equipped with neck heating.
The MMI (multi-media interface) controls many of the car’s functions and displays navigation maps and the rear camera view (both nav and rear camera are options). This is the third generation of MMI, and we like that only buttons are now needed. It’s always been easier than BMW’s iDrive, and now easier yet. It has complete-word input capability, optional three-dimensional map displays, and a music jukebox on the internal hard disc drive.
The S5 gets bolstered seats in Alcantara leather with contrast stitching, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and piano black trim with stainless steel inlays.
One standout strength of the Audi A5 is smoothness at speed. And the overachieving engine, a 2.0-liter turbo (boosted from 211 to 220 horsepower for 2014), feels fastest from 50 to 70. It produces strong torque over a wide range from 1500 to 4300 rpm, to propel the car from intersections and up hills. It accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 6.1 seconds, depending on model. Occasionally around town, you hear the engine growl-moan like the four-banger it is, but the rest of the time you never know it.
The manual wind deflector in the Cabriolet works well. Carry it around in the trunk in its zippered bag; it doesn’t take up that much space. Or leave it home if you don’t expect to use it.
In about 450 miles of freeway, around-town, and backroads, our A5 Cabriolet with 8-speed Tiptronic automatic averaged 23.8 miles per gallon. It reached 27 mpg with the cruise control set at 73 mpg, over some long hills.
We took our A5 Cabriolet up and down winding mountain roads, and it always gave us what we needed, driving hard. The Tiptronic 8-speed transmission is as tight as an automatic gets. In a good set of curves you use 3rd gear a lot, with frequent dips to 2nd and sometimes even 1st, plus charges up to 4th. (Seventh and 8th gears are for freeway cruising, improving fuel mileage by lowering the rpm.) The Audi A5 took those shifts perfectly, including aggressive downshifts that some transmissions reject.
With no paddle shifters, we used the unfortunately fat shift lever, which also is flawed. The gate for manual mode, sliding the lever forward and back, is on the far side, so your arm has to stretch. The ergonomics of the design aren’t driver-oriented, and that seems unlike Audi. If on-your-own shifting appeals, you might want to spend the extra $750 and buy the Sport Package with available paddle shifters, sport seats and lowered sport suspension.
The chassis and suspension stand out, like the smoothness of the engine. Such a nice package, difficult to achieve, but Audi’s been at it for years. It’s perfectly comfortable around town on patchy pavement, while being totally capable on winding roads. It’s responsive and firm, pushed to the reasonable limit. Quattro all-wheel drive helps this sure-footedness. With quattro, 60 percent of the drive goes to the rear wheels and 40 percent to the front (until a wheel starts slipping). That 60/40 rear/front is a good dynamic, achieving both balance and grip. Quattro also locks the differential, for best low-speed traction.
At the highest level, the available Drive Select system with dynamic steering and variable damping, which calculates shock rates 1000 times/second, gives the widest spectrum of ride and handling.
When you bring the 333-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V6 into the Audi S5, you’ve got quite a machine. Not that BMW’s 315-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6, or Ford’s 365-hp, 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 (and others) aren’t exceptional. The S5 is another animal altogether. The supercharged V6 is mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission or available 7-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission, which uses dual input shafts and dual clutch packs to execute computer-controlled gear changes in just two-tenths of a second.
The S5’s direct-injected, supercharged V6 breathes through a two-stage intake manifold. It’s got big brakes and sticky 19-inch tires. An optional active rear differential overdrives the outside rear tire in corners, forcing the front end to turn in more quickly. It also communicates with the vehicle’s Drive Select system and stability control to help maintain control in emergency maneuvers.
The A5/S5 was the first recent Audi in which the front differential is mounted between the engine and the transmission, taking some weight off the front wheels, and better balancing the weight. But because the S5 weighs nearly 4000 pounds, it’s no Porsche. The ride is never punishing, but models with adjustable suspension offer a bit more compliance over rough pavement.
The 2014 RS5 delivers 450 hp using valve technology from Audi’s 5.2-liter V10. It uses a paddle-shifting twin-clutch 7-speed transmission. This powerplant has a special feeling, almost like a Japanese sport bike, but its sound is gloriously beefy. When it comes on the cam at more than 5000 rpm, you may want to shout in excitement. It will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds (notice that’s only .4 quicker than the S5 with its V6).
The Audi A5 is a rarity as an all-wheel-drive four-seat coupe or convertible. Its 2.0-liter turbo engine is strong, its 8-speed transmission impeccable, and ride and handling flawless for the mission. The A5 is not inexpensive, but it’s still less than Mercedes or BMW. The S5 ups the game and is hard to beat in its class, with a satisfying supercharged V6 engine and available 7-speed twin clutch transmission, coupled with big brakes and a firmer suspension. For those who must have a beefy V8, there’s the RS5, with 450 horsepower. Nothing feels like the RS5.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of A5 and S5 models in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado, with additional reporting by G.R. Whale in Southern California.