Audi S5 review

Stephen Dobie
28 Apr 2014
Verdict:

The Audi S5 takes on the BMW 435i with a more powerful, supercharged V6 engine. Review and video here

Evo Rating: 
Price: 
£43,395
For 
Engine's depth and character
Against 
Not brilliant on British roads

What is it?
 
The Audi S5 Coupe in its second generation. It was facelifted in 2011 after four years on sale, at which point it gained a new engine under the bonnet. It’s priced from £43,395 as a coupe, while there’s also a cabriolet (£46,500) and five-door Sportback (£42,595).
 
Technical highlights?
 
Efficiency is a buzzword that even sports coupes can’t escape these days. The old 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine is gone, replaced by the 3-litre supercharged V6 from the Audi S4. The downsized engine mixes similar power and torque figures (21bhp less, 1lb ft more) with a handy 12mpg hike and 93g/km fall compared to the outgoing manual S5.
 
A seven-speed twin-clutch transmission replaces the old six-speed manual and auto options in one go, while the carbon cause is also aided by electro-mechanical steering and the inevitable stop/start system. There’s even a new Efficiency mode in Audi’s Drive Select system, which cuts throttle response and lowers aircon power to stretch mpg further. As a sporty Audi, it naturally comes with quattro four-wheel-drive as standard.
 
What’s it like to drive?
 
Predictably, there are similarities to the identically engined S4. It may lack the drama of a V8 soundtrack, but the new unit sounds fantastic under load and feels quicker than the naturally aspirated engine it replaces; with its near-identical peak torque figure delivered 600rpm lower, that’s no surprise. It’s got an almost V8 bassiness to it at low revs but with real sharpness at the top, and it actually feels just like a really great nat-asp engine. Snap through second and third, the dual-clutch ’box giving a nice ignition-cut crack, and the S5 feels and sounds special. A 4.9sec 0-60 time is also 0.2sec faster than the V8, and only 0.3sec off the pace of the 116bhp brawnier RS5.
 
The steering is far from perfect, but there is more communication than a lot of similar, electrically assisted setups. While its weighting is still artificial there’s more feedback than we’ve come to expect, giving you enough faith in the front end grip to keep the car accurately on line. Power out of corners with a boot full of throttle and you can feel the torque being variably shared between the rear wheels via the optional ‘sports differential’, with enough yaw to add an almost rear-driven edge to a safe and composed all-wheel drive setup. The diff is an option well worth ticking if you’re an enthusiast.
 
In the video below we were impressed by a car with adaptive dampers on Spanish roads. Using Drive Select to put steering, throttle, suspension and gearbox all in their most dynamic modes creates a car that - while still feeling its 1.7-tonne kerb weight - can be driven with more confidence than its RS5 bigger brother. Inevitably, though, these stiffer, more focussed settings give the car an edge that’s at odds with Britain’s crumbling roads. Fail to specify the dampers and the problem is exacerbated; this is another Audi S-car that will rattle you around on bumpy British tarmac. The steering, wheels and body seem to have no dialogue at all and very quickly you just slow your pace and contemplate why a supposed sporting version of any car seems so reluctant to be driven with enthusiasm. It seems that if you’re after an S5, adaptive dampers are a must. Without them, its 1675kg just goes where it likes.

How does it compare?
 
The Audi S5’s closest rivals are the BMW 435i Coupe and Mercedes C350 Coupe. Both are 26bhp less powerful and arguably not as smart looking as the S5, though they are respectively £2000 and £4000 cheaper. The BMW in M Sport trim is probably our pick of the genre, not least because it has the option of both manual and automatic gearboxes. The 435i is fluid and poised, and its balance is so much more exciting and adjustable than the slightly understeery 3-series saloon it’s related to. The whole car feels low and wide with a lovely mix of stability and agility. It’s perhaps a more satisfying car than the more frantic, scrappier M135i and it humbles the Audi S5.

Anything else I need to know?
 
Despite A5 TDIs seeming to run in unbroken lines on the outside lanes of Britain’s motorways in a blur of xenons, Costa coffee fumes and aggression, it’s still a handsome thing. The interior hasn’t fared quite as well, and feels dated next to a new BMW 4-series, though the Recaro seats are excellent and the options list includes Google Maps-led satnav and a wifi hotspot.

Inevitably, though, it’s very easy to start racking up a big price – the last S5 we tested in the UK was very modestly specced indeed (missing out on those essential dampers, for one) yet was still approaching £50,000. Reeling in the cost of the significantly more focused BMW M4 could prove all too easy.

Specifications

Engine V6, 2995cc, supercharged
Max power 328bhp @ 5500rpm
Max torque 325lb ft @ 2900rpm
0-60 4.9sec (claimed 0-62)
Top speed 155mph (limited)

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