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30 June 2015


A million years ago (or roughly three and a half, depending on your understanding of time), I was just getting my footing within the industry, and Audi was still just a few months into their current record-setting success. The release of their 3.0 TFSI-powered S-cars signaled a return to form; ditching the 4.2 FSI V8 in favor of extremely tunable supercharged six power.   Enthusiasts who still clung to their 2.7 T-powered S cars got excited again, and it was good for business.

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In 2013, the S5’s mid cycle refresh, came with 3.0 TFSI power across the model range. But, unlike the drop-top, the newly supercharged coupe could be had with a proper manual gearbox. The manual wasn’t quite as fast as the S tronic sold alongside, but what it lacked in stopwatch braggadocio, it made up in driving engagement.  Sure the aggressive sound of the Audi 4.2 FSI V8 was no more, but the tradeoff was well worth it.  The S5 became a much better car.

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And now it’s time to say goodbye. The B9, revealed in A4 sedan form just this week, is right around the corner. It will be the second long-cycle product to be replaced within the year; hopefully following the R8’s example by returning faster, lighter, more efficient and maybe (arguably) better looking than the previous generation. With that in mind, it seems more fitting to give the S5 the sendoff it deserves than to simply drone on with the same review you’ve probably read before.

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As the car and, more specifically, its engine were so crucial to my professional development, I needed some time to say goodbye. A few phone calls, weeks of waiting and a roughly five-hour flight later, a colleague and I found ourselves in what I consider to be the ultimate spec S5 – Sepang Blue with Black Leather/Lunar Silver “Panda” Alcantara and a proper manual gearbox – just outside of the San Francisco International Airport.

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In this setting, it could reasonably be considered the perfect car; common enough to blend in while traversing San Francisco’s surface streets, but packing the power and looks to stand out when the situation calls for it. More importantly, the S5 can hold it’s own when the Bay Area’s urban sprawl is traded for tight two lane roads and Redwood forests.

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Since we can pick any metropolis within the United States to experience traffic, my colleague and I decided to spend the majority of our free time along the coast and in the hills, where nightly blasts out California’s Route 1 from Marin City to Stinson Beach were nothing short of magical. Out here, the optional sports differential proves its worth on tight switchbacks, doing its best to give the S5 an eagerness on turn-in that was historically absent from Audi models.  The gearbox is tight and crisp, with each new cog just a short throw away. Besting the posted speed limit is an easy task in the S5, although as the tarmac falls from atop the Marin Hills down to sea level beach communities, coastal scenery prevents us from doing so.  Drought be damned, California is a beautiful place to be.

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As a highway cruiser, the S5 is comfortable and quiet, hindered only by its massive blind spots and thirst for fuel.  During our week with the car we saw just over 20 mpg, which, while not exactly terrible, could certainly be better. Paired with a taller 6th gear ratio, the car would likely become a bit more economical on the highway without any perceived downsides.  Unfortunately, from what we’ve been hearing, the manual transmission likely won’t see this improvement since Audi plans on phasing out the technology in favor of something more efficient.  That’s a shame, but it’s also progress.  And, based on recent Audi concept vehicles, the thickness of it’s C-piller will be sticking around for future generations as well.

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Due to our unfamiliar surroundings, Audi’s MMI and Navigation systems were relied upon heavily in nearly all situations.  In comparison to the latest generation tech (like what can be had in the new A3 and Q7), the S5’s systems seem a bit slow, which, while disappointing, is to be expected for something that has spent this much time in market.  Although the MMI isn’t quite as quick as we recall, it remains as functional and easy to operate as the day it was launched.

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But, while the technology may be showing its age, the car’s looks are still something to write home about.  Each time we parked the S5, I found myself turning around to get a parting glance.  Be it the brilliant Sepang Blue finish, contrasting two-tone alcantara-over-leather seats or the new-for-2015 19″ 7 double-spoke wheels, the car has an incredible presence.  Even after spending two days on track at Sonoma Raceway with an Audi R8, walking back to the S5 never felt like that much of a demotion.  We can only hope that the next one will look nearly as good.

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In retrospect, our time cruising from Oakland to Sac Town, the Bay Area (and back down), was more of a fitting sendoff than we could have imagined.  The region’s varying topography allows for nearly any type of road imaginable in a 30-mile radius, meaning that if a vehicle is good here, it will be good anywhere.  And, whether we were stuck in the mind-numbing congestion of Fishermans Wharf, keeping pace with enthusiastic Car Lounge members on the twists of La Honda Road or cruising an unobstructed Interstate 80 en route to experience the legendary Urban Fries at Jack’s Urban Eats in Sacramento, the S5 never fell short and rarely left us wanting more.  We’ll be sad to see it go.

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Check out the full gallery from our time in the Bay Area with Audi’s S5, here.

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