Sexier Living Through Engineering
My first experience with the all-wheel-drive Audi A5 and S5 was in Verona, Italy in the summer of 2007. It was the first car in the German juggernaut’s line to carry the new design language penned by Italian design chief Walter de’Silva. Before that, Audi was still rolling around in the late-90s Bauhaus styling language epitomized by first-generation TT that had marked the automaker’s comeback in the USA. Although the rise in popularity was led by performance brewed from technology in cars like the twin-turbo S4 and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the 1.8T-powered A4 and TT, it was apparent that de’Silva’s new style movement was necessary to take the company to the next step.
The 2008 A5 was met with plenty of praise and adoration. Over the next four years, Audi upgraded small things here and there, added the 2.0T engine as the entry-level offering, and launched the S5 Convertible with the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 found in the S4.
For 2013, Audi has given the A5 and S5 its first real refresh, and the press got its first look at the lineup in a private airport hangar outside Denver, Colorado. Designer David Caffrey spoke about the more masculine appearance of the reworked aesthetic. Sharper lines along the sides and down the hood give a more aggressive appearance. The wider front air intakes and swollen shoulder line make the body seem wider. The new headlights, easily distinguishable from its A4 platform-mate, have a reshaped LED running light and shine with more intensity.
At first glance, the interior seems largely the same. Again, Audi has gone with refinement over reinvention. In 2008, the A5/S5’s interior was considered by many journalists to be the benchmark for anything under $100,000. Since then, other manufacturers have caught up and Audi has also taken things to the next level. For 2013, the dashboard has been cleaned up and the controls refined. Audi added more aluminum and piano black surfaces to create a more premium feel, along with upgraded surfaces for the seats and controls. Sitting in the driver’s seat still feels more GT than sports car, which suits the car’s personality perfectly.
The in-car electronics received significant improvements. The MMI infotainment system’s controls are simplified for navigation and audio use, while more control of the HVAC system has been placed on the center stack. The center of the MMI control knob now features a black insert that functions like the analog joystick on a PlayStation controller. Besides the external hardware upgrades, a considerable amount of activity has gone on behind the dash. A 3G hotspot allows up to eight mobile devices to connect to the Internet through the car. The connection is also utilized to provide the navigation system with Google Maps, turning your nav screen into flight-simulator view of the world. The extra-ether data also allows you to access Google Maps Points of Interest for location searches — you need never eat another boring lunch.
The big news on the road is the 333-horsepower, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 in the S5 coupe. Previously, S5 coupes were powered by Audi’s aging 4.2-liter V-8, which provided a beautiful soundtrack but drank a lot of gas and added considerable heft to the front of the car. My favorite combination of body style and drivetrain is the coupe with the six-speed manual. The dual-clutch probably is faster — it certainly would be on a track — but the three-pedal option is so well-executed, it makes us lament its demise in the industry.
We used private roads around the Beaver Creek area for evaluation. It’s always nice to know there won’t be any distractions from local authorities. The elevation started at roughly 8000 feet above sea level, so we expected a decent power loss even with forced induction. With an additional thousand feet of elevation towards the end of the road, the Audi still pulled hard, certainly much harder than the naturally breathing V-8 would have up in the thin air. Power comes on early and the supercharger noise is just barely audible. By 3000 rpm, the torque is thick and loosens all four tires on corner exit. With Audi’s sport differential and Drive Select in Sport mode, the rear end of the car rotates around. While the nose does feel lighter, there is still a decent amount of understeer if you enter the corner too hot. The secret is to get your braking done early and turn in once you ease off the brakes. Get back into the throttle quick and the Sport Differential starts doing its thing. Cars that use brakes for torque vectoring tend to feel like the back end is pointing the nose, but since it’s all done with power, Audi has made it feel more like throttle rotation or oversteer.
In Sport mode, body movement is controlled by the stiffened dampers and the steering ratio quickens. The ride is never harsh, and Comfort mode is near luxurious. While the A5’s steering feels light, the S5’s has a decent heft. Both electric racks are linear in their response. They don’t have the tactile hum of some other cars, but the feedback is there through turning effort. Though these cars are certainly more GTs than sports cars, they won’t leave you wanting when driven simply for enjoyment.
The natural competitors in the GT category are the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes C-Class. Quattro is standard on all A5s and S5s, so that sets them apart in the segment. To compete with the A5’s 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 with 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, BMW is still offering the E92 generation 328i xDrive coupe powered by a 230-horsepower, 200 lb-ft 3.0-liter I-6. The new F30 3 Series with its 2.0 liter I-4 is only available in sedan form for another year. Mercedes‘ entry-level coupe, the C250, is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged I-4 with 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque but is not available with all-wheel drive. Pricing is similar between all three cars, with the Audi in the middle at $38,745. The BMW comes in at $41,295 and the rear-wheel-drive-only Mercedes is $38,095.
The $51,795 S5 with its 333 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque is a bit of an outlier in the class. BMW offers either a 320-horsepower 335is at $52,995 that’s only available in rear-wheel drive, or a $47,695 335i xDdrive with all-wheel drive and 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. The Audi is slightly closer to the M3 in terms of performance. While we haven’t tested the 2013 S5 with its new supercharged engine just yet, we have tested the similar and heavier S4, which ran from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds. The last 335i sedan we tested did the same in 4.9 seconds. For comparison, the last M3 we tested ran 4.2 seconds. Obviously, BMW doesn’t offer the $61,075 M3 in all-wheel drive. Mercedes’ closest S5 competitor would be the $42,245 C350 4-matic.
But while close in price and specifications on paper, the cars are very different in mission. The S5 really does stand on its own. You could make the case for a Mustang or a Camaro or even a Porsche Cayman, but how many customers will cross-shop any of these cars? Audi has positioned the S5 to split the difference between its biggest competitors, the 335is and the M3. The A5 clearly has more direct competition in the form of the 328 and the C250.
Both cars offer German engineering wrapped in Italian flare. While the 2013 is merely a mid-cycle refresh, it keeps the cars competitive in the segments. The electronics now are up to Audi’s cutting-edge standards, the driving dynamics remain world-class, and the interior and exterior styling are revamped just enough to stay modern. Both coupes make a compelling case. Many buyers will lean towards the Audi purely for the all-wheel drive; some will fall for the styling; but likely none will be disappointed.
|2013 AUDI A5/S5 Coupe|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door, coupe|
|ENGINE ENGINES||2.0L/211-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.0L/333-hp/325-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|TRANSMISSION TRANSMISSIONS||6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic, 7-speed twin-clutch|
|CURB WEIGHT||3600-3700, 3900-3950 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||182.1-182.7 x 73.0 x 53.9-54.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9-6.4 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||17-22/26-32 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||153-198 / 112-130 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.78-0.96 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|