It has been 17 years since Audi last produced a midsized two-door performance coupe. Since the last Audi Quattro rolled off the assembly line in 1991, BMW has taken over the segment and has been uncontested save for one rival hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun. Just as said rival, Infiniti’s G coupe, has begun to hold its own against the reigning champ in the midsized luxury coupe class, Audi has played its long anticipated hand. Now that competition in the class has dwindled, what better time than the present to launch the technologically advanced S5.
Audi has had plenty of time in its workshop to reverse engineer a 3-series coupe. Determining that the magic ingredient to superb agility is an ideally distributed curb weight, chassis designers of the S5 have pushed the front axels forward and dropped the 4.2 liter FSI V8 into the engine bay parallel to the drive shaft rather than perpendicular to it. If the technique helps provide BMWs with a near equal front/rear weight reapportionment, it should serve the S5 just as well, right? To find the answer to this stirring question, Audi’s new coupe must be sent through a gauntlet of poorly maintained bay area back roads and undulating freeway stretches. Only real world courses will reveal whether the new chassis can emulate the reflexes of the ultimate driving machine and furthermore rid Audi of its long held nose-heavy reputation.
Before we get down to business, though, a walk around is in order. This will enable us to appreciate just why Audis are considered among the most beautifully designed cars in their respective classes. The front end of the S5 is equal parts aggression and elegance. The expansive single framed grill hints at the powerful engine’s large air intake requirements while the high-tech LED-equipped headlight housings are a testament to Audi’s engineering achievements. Following the graceful roofline towards the rear leads you past the C-pillar’s trapezoidal leading edge, an intentional tribute to the original Audi Quattro. The S5’s understated rear end sports LED taillights and two sets of dual tipped exhaust outlets.
Inside, the Audi experience gets even better. Audis have always been known for first class cockpit materials and layouts. The S5 easily lives up to its mark’s reputation. Our tester featured Tuscan Brown 10-way power leather seats and a center armrest that came equipped not only with a fore and aft adjuster, but with a height adjuster as well. Finding a comfortable driving position was not a difficult task in the S5. Audi’s MMI (Multi Media Interface) is one of the most intuitive and ergonomic setups in the auto industry. A driver can control navigation, audio, communications, and climate systems via a 7” color monitor and a center consol mounted control knob. It’s certainly not the only system of its kind on the market, but it is the most polished. Both its graphics and ease of use set the benchmark for rivaling systems from BMW and Mercedes Benz.
So, how does the S5 compare to the competition? Well, first of all, the S5 is one of the only luxury sport coupes on the market to offer all-wheel-drive. Of its two main competitors, only BMW offers a 3-series coupe with an all-wheel-drive option. While a potent machine in its own right, the 335 xDrive Coupe cannot match the S5 under the hood. With a 354 hp, 4.2 liter, direct injection V-8 sending power through a six-speed manual transmission, the S5 can be downright ferocious when you unleash it. There are no raspy, wheezing turbos to deal with either. From practically any place in the rev range, you can plant your foot and enjoy the unadulterated might of the S5’s naturally aspirated power plant. More often than not, however, you’ll find yourself delaying your upshifts just so you can enjoy the engine’s no-nonsense roar as it throws your head against the headrest and rockets you to your next hairpin up ahead. Once you reach the treacherous bend, your confidence will be invigorated as you realize the S5’s sharp turn in response. While the steering may be a bit light and uncommunicative to some, it nonetheless places the S5’s nose precisely where you want it without even a hint of understeer or nose-heavy plowing.
To those who don’t mind a more muscular sense of feed-back from the steering wheel and could also do with a suppler ride than the standard suspension provides, the optional Audi Drive Select package will give you the ability to adjust both the steering’s power-assist level and the shock absorbers’ damping rates.
The only nit to pick would be the odd stitching pattern on the leather rapped steering wheel. Both hard and course to the touch, the stitching was a bit of a distraction during high speed maneuvering through tight switchbacks. It was nothing a pair of good racing gloves wouldn’t have remedied, but for those of us who enjoy the feel of the road, a new stitching pattern would be a welcome improvement.
With its $57,990 sticker price, our tester was only about three grand more than a similarly equipped BMW 335i xDrive Coupe. Both coupes offer amazing performance with a slight edge going to the Audi. The edge, however, is probably not enough to sway die hard Bimmer fans, but it will surely give consumers sitting precariously on the fence between Ingolstadt and Munich something to think about. When all is said and done, Audi has definitely accomplished its mission by creating a coupe that can hold its own against any 3-series coupe or G37. The original Audi Quattro would undoubtedly be proud of its next of kin.
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