Audi has sort of a mixed history for creating coupes. Unlike, say, BMW, there really hasn’t been a regular two-door model of the A4 since it was introduced in 1994. Previous to that we got the Audi 80-based ‘Coupe’, which was continued in convertible form for a couple years, but it was sold in North America with some pretty anaemic engines.
And no, I’m not forgetting about the TT, but that’s more a sports car comparable to a Z4 than, say, a 328is.
You really have to go back to the original rally legend, the Coupe Quattro of the ‘80s, to find a two-door Audi with style, performance and room for four. That’s over 25 years! What took them so long??
Thankfully, Audi got themselves back in the game with the new A5 and S5, taking careful aim at the aforementioned 3 Series and its variants. And since the S5 is the more sporting version, it’s the one CarEnvy readers will appreciate the most.
Speaking of appreciating, it’s hard to grasp just how pretty this design is by just staring at a few photos. First time I laid eyes on one it was in a pure, electric Ibis white. Add in the gloss black touches in the grille and rear bumper, and it just looked flat-out mean. Big 19-inch wheels fill the wide arches, and that character line that runs the length of the car stops looking like a first-generation Hyundai Tiburon. At least a little.
Inside, the attention to detail is admirable. Most of the cabin bits are shared with the new A4, so there’s some definite continuity there. While it feels like I’m feeding the stereotype, Audi really do make the best interiors in the business.
Fire up the S5 and you’ll hear one of Audi’s oldest motors, albeit tweaked slightly for this new duty. The 4.2-litre V8 is related to the one in the R8 and RS4, but isn’t nearly as manic. It delivers 354 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Maximum power doesn’t come until 6,800 rpm, so it encourages you to rev the snot out of it. When it warms up, the six-speed manual is snick-snick sharp like Wolverine’s claws, and makes working the box a real joy. Give it your full attention, and the S5 will do 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds.
It will also do something very rare for Audis: give you genuine feedback through the meaty steering wheel, although the resistance could be increased. You can throw the S5 into corners at a ridiculous rate, and it’ll just figure out how to sort it out before you get into too much trouble. Other than the RS4, this is not how fast Audis normally handle. They’re more seven or eight-tenth cars, rapid and secure but not terribly thrilling. But the S5 is different, and is foreshadowing a new corporate attitude for the ‘S’ line up.
Most of the changes can be credited to the reworked chassis and altered Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which allowed the engine to be pushed farther back in the body, aiding in weight distribution and ultimate performance. What’s it mean to you? Probably the most fun on four wheels when the weather gets icky, along with that fantastic V8 roar.
Pricing isn’t pretty as the S5 starts at $65,900, although it comes equipped with all the toys you’d expect, including a full leather interior (go for the pimp-style Magma Red!), rear parking sensors, aluminum trim, three-zone air conditioning and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.
You could get a six-speed automatic for a couple grand more, but why bother? You should be shifting yourself anyway. The $3,500 DVD-based Navigation system also comes with voice control and a rear back-up camera, but rear visibility isn’t horrible and a TomTom’s only a couple hundred bucks anyway. New for ’09 is the Audi Drive Select, which means you can tune the suspension and steering modes to your taste, but the normal car is so talented, it’s a waste of money.
The nearly as rapid 335i xDrive Coupe (what a name!) starts at over $10K less, and once you add all the ‘right’ packages (Sport, Audiophile and Executive), you still only get to $59,000. Otherwise, the S5 doesn’t have much in the way of direct competitors. The G37 Coupe comes close, but it’s still a league away from the Audi in terms of spit and polish, even with AWD available for 2009.
So what’s on the horizon? There are rumours of an RS5 floating around, which has us intrigued, as does the idea of the 2010 S4’s new 3.0-litre supercharged V6 making its way under hood of the S5, replacing the current 4.2L V8. Oh, and there will be a convertible version at some point, although that’s more enticing for the salespeople than it is the enthusiasts.
But for now, the S5 remains one of the most thrilling – and thirsty – rides on the road today, but might already be outgunned by its own on-the-horizon mid-life crisis.
Price as tested: $65,900
Summary: Audi’s first performance coupe in 25 years
Exterior Design: 8/10. Best ‘real’ Audi to date.
Interior Design: 9/10. Lush materials, haptic happiness.
Engine: 7/10. Strong and soulful, but could use more ponies.
Transmission: 7/10. Six-speed manual is above average.
Audio/Video: 8/10. Bangin’ beats by Bang & Olufsen
Value: 7/10. Sits halfway between the 335i and the M3, both in terms of performance and price.
Overall (not an average): 8/10
By Mark Atkinson