First Drives

2018 Audi A5, S5 First Drive: The All-Day, Everyday Coupe

Audi’s Redesigned Answer to the 4 Series and C-Class Coupe

Audi’s Redesigned Answer to the 4 Series and C-Class Coupe

Quick: Name a mid-size, four-seat German sport coupe. If you just said BMW 3 Series, that was once the obvious answer, but now that category-defining coupe wears 4 Series badges. Competing with the 4 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus RC, and upcoming Infiniti Q60, The 2018 Audi A5 and the higher performance S5 have been completely reengineered to take the four-seat coupe to the next level in terms of dynamics, technology, and efficiency.
Audi hosted the press launch for the first A5 in 2007 in Verona, Italy. The home of Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers was chosen to emphasize the Italian-inspired styling and the emphasis on passion over German pragmatism. The event was held in a countryside art hotel filled with modern glass and chrome sculptures full of primary colors and paintings of strange Cirque Du Soleil-like clowns.

For the 2018 A5 and 2018 S5, Audi hosted journalists in Porto, Portugal at a hotel attached to a ceramics factory decorated in various shades of concrete with beige flourishes. Strange choice considering the new A5 is arguably even more stylish than the last, but regardless of whether you like the harder creases and sweeping lines more than the old car, the science says it is far more aerodynamic; the slipperiest version emerges from the wind tunnel with an impressive CD of 0.25. Audi’s designers say the wave-line running the length of the body at the shoulder evokes the legendary Ur-Quattro, but I don’t see it.
Porto juts up out of the sea to create mountains within miles of the coast. The roads cover the landscape as though the whole area was built as an enthusiast playground. The new A5 and S5 are as much as 130 pounds (59 kg) lighter than the previous model and it’s immediately apparent on the road. Audi has risen to the usually difficult challenge of simultaneously improving both ride and handling. With every generation, Audi’s cars become less nose heavy, although the entire engine is still located forward of the front axle. This car, thanks in part to a torque-vectoring Sport Differential in back, turns in with authority and doesn’t suffer from the understeer associated with the previous car. It is worth pointing out that with the abilities of even the A5, performance limits were never really approached during our drive on public roads, but it was still possible to feel both the Sport Diff and Quattro all-wheel-drive systems working their combined magic.

Propelling the 2018 A5 2.0T from corner to corner is an updated 2.0-liter turbo-four, now producing 252 hp. In the S5, the new single-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 makes a conservative 354 hp, Audi says. The A5 2.0T is lively and enjoyable— the S5 is quick but so composed the speed really sneaks up on you. The S5’s new turbocharged six has replaced the old supercharged six, which in turn had replaced a naturally aspirated V-8. As much as I liked both previous engines, this is the best yet. The amount of power Audi is producing could have been achieved using a 2.0-liter, but they never would have achieved the linearity and drivability you get with this engine. Europe will see a couple of diesel choices, but don’t expect such options in the North America.

The 2018 A5 2.0T is equipped with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and the S5 uses a conventional eight-speed automatic. I would enjoy a manual option and many of you might too, but not enough people buy them when Audi does offer them, so they don’t make financial sense anymore. Once you get over that mental hurdle, both transmissions are great examples of self-shifters. Surprisingly, the shifts from the S5’s eight-speed auto don’t feel any slower or less aggressive than the A5’s dual-clutch. Both are responsive, and feature paddle shifters and sport modes.

As with every generation, Audi’s all-wheel-drive system is better than before. The A5 and S5 won’t be mistaken for rear-wheel drive—if they were, they wouldn’t feel like Audis. The electric power steering has also taken a step forward, feeling quicker and more precise. It certainly isn’t bursting with feedback, but it’s certainly as good as its contemporaries from BMW and Mercedes. The variable assist and ratio steering rack is adjusted within the Audi Drive Select system, along with active damping, throttle mapping, and engine sound.
Although the driving experience is solid, what really distinguishes the new A5 and S5 from the competition is the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster. Getting behind the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit is like stepping into a car from a few years into the future. The configurable screen allows you to stare at conventional needles on faces large enough to fill the display or the driver can shrink them down, using the space for other information including a beautiful navigation map.

The rest of the A5 and S5 interior is typical Audi. The simple and intuitive layout isn’t taken to the extreme as in the TT and as a result comes off as more classy, less sterile. The rear seats are still best suited for short trips for short passengers, but trunk space is said to be improved from the 12.2 cubic feet of the outgoing U.S.-spec car. Buyers especially concerned with practical matters will likely opt for the A4 and S4 sedan on which the A5 and S5 are based.
Some of you may be mentally racing the 2018 S5 against the BMW M4 and the Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe, but don’t. This is the S5 and although Audi hasn’t announced any plans of an RS 5, you can bet one is coming. The natural competitors in performance and price are the BMW 440i with a sport package or the Mercedes-AMG C43 coupe. It is difficult to make a judgment among the three cars without driving them on same roads on the same day. Even so, it’s at least possible to say the Audi feels the most high-tech of the bunch and has the performance chops to match.
The premium sport coupe category has never been about all-out speed. The A5 and S5 can melt away miles on the autobahn, tear up a twisty road and even transport the family on occasion. More to the point, however, they are personal cars designed to be enjoyable for the driver everyday on every road. Cars like the 2018 A5 and 2018 S5 don’t make you wait for the weekend drive or track day to be entertained behind the wheel; it’s about the entire experience every day.