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Car reviews - Audi - A5 - S5 quattro coupe

Launch Story

9 Oct 2007

THE S5 coupe has arrived in Australia ahead of the more affordable A5 models.

Normally Audi launches the bread-and-butter versions of cars first before introducing the red-rot S models a little way into the model cycle. This time around, Audi is employing a top-down strategy, putting its best foot forward first. The S5 is based on a new platform that will spawn the next-generation A4. It is has a longer wheelbase, wider tracks and the steering column has been moved forward for improved dynamics. The S5 is a four-seater coupe that takes on the BMW 3 Series coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLK and represents Audi’s desire to be taken seriously as a maker of sporty models. It runs a 4.2-litre V8 with 260kW and 440Nm linked to a quattro all-wheel-drive system. While the base 1.8-litre A5 model will come in at around $70,000 when it arrives next May, the range-topping S5 costs a hefty $131,900.

We like:
Impressive handling, lovely engine which sounds great, comfortable ride

We don't like:
No automatic to start off with, not enough rear headroom for adults, cluttered centre console

By JAMES STANFORD 09/10/2007

THE S5 is more important than you might think.

It is not just Audi’s answer to the 3 Series coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLK, it proves Audi is serious about making its cars more fun to drive.

How is that?

The platform that underpins the S5 and the soon-to-arrive A5 will also form the basis of the next-generation A4 sedan.

A test drive of the new S5 in country Victoria and on the track at Phillip Island revealed that it does indeed represent a big step forward.

Apart from a longer wheelbase and wider track, the key to the new base is the movement of the steering column to just in front of the axle. It is now also more isolated from the front suspension housing.

The result: the horrible steering-rack rattle that has plagued Audi cars for a long time was nowhere to be felt on our test drive.

Previously, most Audis and especially the A4, would send rattles back up the steering wheel if you hit uneven surfaces when cornering.

It was not pleasant and certainly didn’t befit a premium brand that was attempting to assert itself as a sporty marque.

The S5 proved to be a treat on exactly the type of surfaces that would have troubled a current-generation A4.

The steering feels solid and while it is probably not quite as sharp a 3 Series, it really isn’t far off.

It felt nimble and maintained impressive traction on bumpy twisting roads.

The big advantage the S5 has over its coupe counterparts is its all-wheel-drive system, which really gives the car a sure-footedness that can’t be easily discounted.

Few S5s would find their way onto a racetrack, but running the car hard around Phillip Island revealed just how much traction this car has.

Even with the traction control switched off completely, the S5 still could not be provoked into a nasty slide.

Not even flicking the car into the tight corners hard after braking heavily would encourage this V8 sports coupe to bite the driver.

There were lovely mild four-wheeled drifts that would push you out to the ripple-strip on the exit of a corner, but that was all.

Audi allowed us to test the S5 on the track at the same time as the new R8 supercar which tended to overshadow it, and that's understandable given it costs about twice as much.

Even so, the S5 still felt very fast on the track.

The speedo was nudging past 225km/h towards the end of the straight when I looked up to see the first corner that was approaching rapidly before braking.

A top driver could run much faster with a braver run into the turn, which shows the S5 is not simply a soft cruiser.

The S5 was especially impressive in the fast turns Phillip Island is known for, especially the long, flowing final corner that runs onto the main straight.

It hunkered down on the tarmac at high speed and seemed to have an ample reserve of grip. I wasn’t about to push the envelope, but a professional driver really would be able to make this car sing.

Ride comfort can’t be evaluated on the marble-smooth surfaces of the Phillip Island track, but a drive home from the circuit to Melbourne revealed another positive of the S5.

The car does sit relatively flat and maintains good body control, but returns very good ride comfort.

It’s not soft by any means, but it is compliant enough for you to enjoy long trips without the rattles and bumps that could otherwise spoil the drive.

The 4.2-litre V8 is related to, but not the same as, the 309kW engine of same size that powers the R8 and RS4. Still, 260kW of power and 440Nm of torque is pretty handy.

The considerable punch means the S5 can shoot from 0-100km/h in just 5.1 seconds, which is very impressive.

The S5 engine is muscular and has oodles of torque in any gear, but is doesn’t sound as aggressive as the RS4 or R8 engines.

Audi has tuned the engine to suit the car, which is more of a prestige cruiser than a track-bred bruiser.

Running through the gears, there is a delicious meaty tone to the exhaust as the engine runs through from about 2700rpm to 4500rpm.

It is not a loud or crass V8 grunt, but more a confident rumble that reminds the driver they have paid the extra for the eight-cylinder model.

The engine is smooth and refined, as is the version used for the R8 and RS4.

Its linear power deliver may in fact tempt potential customers who find the more abrupt delivery of the twin-turbo six used in BMW 3 Series performance coupes a bit too much to handle.

The Bimmer blaster is a real treat to play with when you feel like going somewhere in a hurry, but some people will prefer the friendlier delivery of the Audi V8.

A six-speed manual is the only option for the S5 until May 2008, which is likely to put off some owners.

At least it is a nice crisp gearbox with a relatively light clutch, given the power and torque it has to manage.

The gear ratios are relatively low compared to the transmissions mated with V8 engines in Australia and the S5 will do 2500rpm sitting at 100km/h, but the higher revs aren’t heard in the cockpit.

The S5 interior is quite stylish and its looks do match the hefty pricetag of the car.

That said, it doesn’t come close to the beautiful interior of the cheaper TT.

The assortment of buttons assembled around the gearshift looks a bit hap-hazard, almost as if the designers had run out of space.

Its MMI roller ball controller is also located behind the gearshift and is a much better control system for items such as the radio, sat-nav and climate than those of its major German rivals.

The S5 has a keyless-go system which means the driver doesn’t have to take the key out of their pocket to start the car - they simply press the stop/start button.

This is often a gimmick, especially when the stop/start button is located on the dashboard, but at least the button is located next to the gearshift, which is where the driver will have their hand as they start the car.

The seats in the S5 are supportive and there is adequate room for the driver and passenger.

Audi insists the S5 can carry four people in comfort, but that is not quite true if all of them are full-size adults.

I’m an average-sized bloke and the top of my head was just touching the headlining in the back of the S5.

It was not all that comfortable when the car was sitting still and I image it would only get worse with the car moving over bumps.

For slightly shorter people, and kiddies, the rear of the S5 is extremely comfortable with supportive seats hugging the occupants. There is also more than enough legroom back there and a nice wide centre armrest that folds down.

The S5 is fitted with a space-saver spare wheel which opens up a considerable amount of room in the boot.

Style is of course subjective, but pictures of the S5, don’t really do it justice.

We felt it looked pretty plain in all the pre-launch images and was surprised to hear Audi design chief Walter de’Silva say it was the most beautiful car he ever designed.

In the metal, the S5 is more impressive. Its width, sloping roof and low-sitting tail, punctuated by the dual pipes on either side of the bumper, give it a menacing edge when it eases past you in traffic.

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