For Audi enthusiasts

054season s5 oct photo



26 January 2009

Report 2
0-2189 Miles

This is not the first time we’ve driven an Audi S5. We spent a number of hours at the wheel of an early-build example in Italy and a week at the wheel of a U.S. specimen last year to better get a feel for Audi’s sultry two-door. However, spending weeks on end with a car gives you a whole new perspective, as many intimate details only reveal themselves when a car is used daily.

From the moment our S5 arrived, we’ve constantly been reminded what a great car it is. Sure, we already loved the S5 – that it was tailor-painted to our preference by Audi Exclusive only augmented that – but we were honestly surprised at how much of a reaction it receives out and about.

On the road it gets nods of approval from more than just overly exuberant Audi owners; comments at stoplights or in parking lots happen too often to count. The S5 has been available in the U.S. for nearly a year now, but its charismatic design hasn’t yet become passé in the eyes of the automotive aware. That supply of S5s to American dealers has been considerably inadequate supports our theory of this car’s popularity.

Day-to-day driving in the S5 has also given us a newfound level of respect for the refinement of the car’s B8 MLB chassis. Noise levels at speed are low and there’s no hint of vibration or rattles, but one confounding local piece of pavement speaks the most about the abuse the car can take. We’ve hit this particular recessed manhole cover more times than we care to admit and we’re not the only ones. Either a municipal worker with a sense of humor or a vigilante-cum-vandal painted the word ‘OUCH’ with an arrow on the far side of the cover so it’s clearly seen as you approach. We haven’t hit it by accident since, but that avenue’s imperfection has become a staple in testing a car’s refinement.

While no wheels have been bent on this particular stretch (yet), we’ve been jarred enough to believe otherwise in cars with a much larger tire sidewall than our S5 and its 255/35 series rubber on stock 19-inch alloys. So when we hit the segment at low speed and barely felt it, we had to return at a greater clip; even with greater velocity the composure remained. While the S5 may be a performance car, its ability to cart us around in comfort has been pleasantly surprising.

Having logged just over 2100 miles on the car, we can definitively say we’ve already identified a number of likes and dislikes we regularly encounter in the daily operation of our new coupe. We’ll start with the bad news.

As much as we love the car’s Audi Drive Select (ADS) system, the S5 is programmed to reset to its default ‘Auto’ mode every time the car is restarted. We inquired with Audi of America product planning boss Filip Brabec and he explained the reason. In short, since ADS changes the dynamics of the car by a considerable margin – adjusting throttle mapping, suspension calibration, steering ratio, steering weight and shift points for Tiptronic cars – Audi deemed it important to have the system reset every time the engine is turned off so as not to surprise an unwitting driver.

While ADS is most impressive in its functionality, we’re not sure we agree that switching to default is absolutely necessary. But we also don’t have the hairy eyeball of a legal department watching over us as Audi does. Still, we wish there were a happy medium. For instance, if we took the time to create a custom profile within the car’s MMI system and define a settings group, we’re likely more advanced than the average Joe who might be mortified by unexpected quicker steering ratios and the like.

There are a few other small things that bear mention, though they don’t significantly change our view of the car. Power folding mirrors are unavailable in 2009 as part of some sort of package simplification change. We miss that luxury, though we hear these will likely return in the future.

We’d also like accessory power to remain on for certain features after the engine has been turned off. We’ve appreciated that past Audis provide power to the cigarette lighter/accessory outlets even when the car was off. In B8 cars, they’ve now changed these to only operate when the ignition is on. Want to charge your phone while the car is left parked? That’s no longer an option.

There may be a few things we don’t like about the S5, but we must admit the list is short and relatively insignificant. The car’s list of redeeming qualities is much longer and much more significant.

The S5’s design and charismatic dynamics have already been mentioned in glowing terms, and the same goes for the sexy drivetrain. The S5’s 4.2-liter FSI V8, at 354 hp, is up 14 hp over the last S4’s non-FSI 4.2. Our V8 is paired with Audi’s satisfying-to-shift six-speed manual and the standard 40:60 split quattro. Combined with the B8’s improved engine positioning (further back in the chassis), the S5 is well balanced. It is particularly so in the rain, where the car’s physics are more readily apparent. The V8’s sound is captivating and its torque even more so.

There’s a not-so-well kept secret that Audi intends to convert the S5 over to its 3.0T supercharged V6 down the line. The forced-induction V6 goes into the new S5 Cabriolet for 2010, while the coupe won’t lose the V8 until after an expected refreshening in 2011. As much as we love forced induction and prefer to save fuel, the sultry V8 suits the GT nature of Audi’s big coupe to a tee. We hear 2010 S5s will receive an upgrade to the third generation (3G) MMI and share the new S4’s rear Sport Differential that should transform handling even further, all while the 4.2 is still being produced. If you are of like mind on the whole V8 argument, we suggest you pick up an S5 between now and August of 2010.

Other notable improvements are numerous. For one, the fuel filler cap now, like the B6-generation A4, unlocks with the car and thus the remote. Gone are days of cursing at the gas pump as you return to an Audi’s cockpit because you forgot to release the fuel door.

Some may complain that the cool trunk shocks of previous Audis have given way to less attractive hinges, but we actually see this change as a good thing. Audi’s done a good job making sure the hinges don’t interfere with trunk space and the less aesthetically-pleasing design gets the benefit of added function – the lid now fully pops open when you depress the trunk release button on your key fob.

Love for the glass Open Sky sunroof actually surprised us. Sunroof junkies on our staff have complained about the lack of a slide function, but the large panoramic glass segment does tilt for ventilation and others amongst our team tend to never open the sunroof anyway and enjoy the merits of a quiet cabin. With Open Sky you get the refinement of a closed roof with a wide view of the sky – excellent for craning your neck to spot speed-measuring airborne constabulary while attempting to ‘make time’ on a turnpike jaunt. Even the perforated inner shade that we were skeptic of when we first saw it is much more effective in eliminating glare than we would have expected.

Having logged our initial mileage on the S5, we’re planning to tailor the car a little bit more to our needs. Stay tuned for the next update where we’ll be pulling out our VAG-COM to adjust the car’s settings and add a bit more functionality to the S5’s existing electronic hardware.

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For more photos of the car in this story, click on the link to our gallery at the right.

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