2016 Audi S5 review - Can Audi's premium coupe excel on UK roads?

With a keener chassis the new S5 outscores the original

The original Audi S5 never lit our world alight. Whether powered by tuneful V8 or, latterly, revvy supercharged V6 it was a second rate performance coupe with an inert, unsatisfying chassis.

With less weight and more power this all-new version will hope to build on the original’s credentials – namely day-to-day and long distances use – by being a more involving drive. A new turbocharged engine and lightweight construction are among the headlines.

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Engine, transmission and 0-60 time 

The 3-litre turbocharged V6 engine – a relation of the brilliant 4-litre, twin-turbo V8 that powers the mighty RS6 – features direct injection and is shared with the new S4, which was launched concurrently with the S5.

> Click here to read our review of the Audi S4

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The new engine uses a single twin-scroll turbocharger to reduce weight, cost and complexity, but like the RS6’s V8, it mounts that turbo within the ‘vee’ of the engine to improve response times.

The unit develops 349bhp from 5400-6400rpm and puts out 369lb ft of torque that’s available across a tabletop rev band from 1370-4500rpm. The only gearbox option is the effective ZF eight-speed automatic. The twin-clutch DSG unit that served in the previous generation S5 is not rated for this new engine’s torque output.

Power is sent to all corners by a Quattro four-wheel drive system that features a locking centre differential. The nominal torque split is 40:60 front to rear, but the system can divert up to 70 per cent of drive forwards or 85 per cent rearwards. A sport differential can also be specified to juggle torque between the rear wheels at a cost of £1200. Audi claims a 4.7 second 0-62mph time, while the top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.

Technical highlights? 

Audi claims to have lowered the S5’s kerb weight by as much as 60kg over the previous version through ‘an intelligent mix of materials and lightweight design’. Through careful management of the airflow around the car Audi has achieved a drag coefficient of 0.25, which it says is the lowest in the class.

The suspension architecture is a sophisticated five-link arrangement at all four corners and adaptive dampers are available as an optional extra. The electric power steering system, meanwhile, has been newly developed to improve steering response.

Within the cabin Audi’s impressive virtual cockpit, which locates a 12.3-inch digital display within the instrument binnacle, can be specified as an option. 

What’s it like to drive?

Just a few years ago the typical sporting Audi was beset with a crashy, unsettled ride quality. On the optional adaptive dampers, however, the new S5 rides with fluidity, making it a relaxing and cosseting machine both around town and over longer distances. The ride doesn’t change significantly between the driving modes and doesn’t become too harsh or uncomfortable with the car in its sportiest setting, Dynamic.

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The high quality cabin, modest road and wind noise and our test car’s optional sports seats imbue a sense of refinement and luxury that calls to mind a miniature Bentley Continental GT. The torque-rich engine and smooth automatic transmission complete the picture.

Switch the car into dynamic mode and, although the ride is much the same, it finds an athleticism that was missing from the previous model. It doesn’t suddenly mimic the rear-wheel drive balance and adjustability of a BMW 4 Series, for instance, but the front axle does find exceptional bite on the entry phase to a corner and there’s a pleasingly neutral balance through the apex.

Far from being a relentless understeer monster the S5 can actually feel quite sweet in cornering, both at the turn in point and under power when the optional sport differential is helping to drive the car through the bend from the outside rear corner.

There’s a degree of playfulness to the S5, especially in the wet. The front tyre’s substantial traction means the rear can be persuaded to relinquish grip first. With enough speed and a closed throttle into a corner, the rear will slide wide. However, the slightest touch of the throttle quashes the oversteer and locks the S5 onto your desired path. This sort of behavior feels unnatural in the S5, though and it’s best to be more restrained behind the wheel. Rather than agitate the rear axle so aggressively you can, instead, just use this liveliness to magnify the car’s agility. Combine the responsive turn in with the exceptional on-throttle stability at the exit of a bend, and the S5 can be persuaded through a corner in a fast, involving and fun manner.

The car’s body control is good for a car of this size while the roll is minimal and well contained, but natural. Without needing to fear how a road might adversely affect the S5 or worry about excessive roll you can really focus on enjoying the subtle chassis.

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The optional dynamic steering adds unwanted weight (although you can take that out by using the customisable drive mode to leave it in comfort) and there’s never any feel through the rim, but that doesn’t stop you, given time and familiarity, from edging up to the limit of front end grip and place the car right on that point corner after corner. The steering is direct and completely free of slack, too.

The V6 turbo is responsive and urgent from low engine speeds and it serves up muscular performance. There’s a low growl from the exhaust at low revs, but absolutely nothing from the engine bay. But the engine revs enthusiastically, and as the RPMs rise, a faint whoosh from the turbo joins the exhaust. It doesn’t ever sound very exciting, no matter how high the engine revs but rather than compensate for a lack of character with excessive pops, bangs and crackles the S5 remains restrained and relatively quiet. This engine serves a purpose and no more.

Curiously the automatic gearbox, so impressive in other installations, can feel a touch laboured on both up and downshifts when in manual mode, which contributes to an overall sense of lethargy in the drivetrain. As with the engine it’s effective, but not particularly thrilling.

Performance cars should be judged both on their capability and their character. This new S5 is much more capable in sporting terms than the original S5; it’s sweeter and more rewarding to drive quickly. But the new S5’s chassis isn’t exceptional or exciting enough to compensate for its bland drivetrain and falls short of delivering real excitement, drama or character. It’s the difference between a good car and a great one, and in this instance the difference between a four and a five star rating.

Price and rivals

The S5 costs £46,015 in standard form. However the adaptive suspension costs an extra £900, the Virtual Cockpit £250 and the rear sport differential another £1200.

Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz have recently launched direct rivals to the new S5 in this second-tier sports coupe category. The BMW 440i costs £41,635 and loses out slightly to the S5 in terms of power – by 28bhp – but its rear driven chassis is likely to be more engaging than the Audi’s. 

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> Click here to read our review of the Mercedes-AMG C43

The £46,280 Mercedes-AMG C43, meanwhile, packs a bigger punch than both its rivals with 362bhp and 383lb ft of torque. Like the S5 it drives all four wheels through an automatic gearbox. We’ll bring you the triple test soon. 

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