The all-wheel-drive 2015 Audi S5 deftly combines style, luxury and performance, but it needs a more compliant base suspension for better everyday comfort.
The S5 is the midlevel performance version of Audi's luxury coupe, slotting between the regular A5 and the highest-performance RS 5. Luxury competitors are increasingly following Audi's performance-car approach, with brands like Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac launching AMG Sport and Vsport models, respectively, that are a step below their AMG and V-Series cars. The S5 is also offered in soft-top convertible form.
The S5 coupe's $53,425 starting price, including a $925 destination charge, is higher than those of all-wheel-drive versions of the BMW 435i and Mercedes-Benz C350 coupes, but nearly identical to the mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive Porsche Cayman (to see their specs compared, click here).
Our test car had an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which added $1,400 to the base price; additional options like a navigation system, 19-inch wheels, upgraded leather upholstery and a torque-vectoring rear differential brought the as-tested price to $63,025.
Exterior & Styling
The S5's styling hasn't changed much since the car's debut as a 2008 model, and the once-radical "Singleframe" grille now seems ordinary. The headlights, taillights and Audi's plunging grille were tweaked for the 2013 model year, but the S5 still has the clean, unadorned lines that have been its signature since the beginning. Overall, the 2015 is unchanged versus the 2014 (see the two model years compared here).
Our test car had a $1,300 Black Optic Package, which includes 19-inch, five-spoke wheels in a titanium finish and gloss-black trim that looked great against our test car's $550 Misano Red paint color. Summer tires are also included in the package, but our test car was fitted with winter tires to match the season.
How It Drives
The S5 does some things that thoroughly impress, but there are a few characteristics that leave you shaking your head, wondering what could have been.
The 333-horsepower, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine is very good. So good, in fact, that I never missed the 4.2-liter V-8 that powered the S5 coupe until the 2013 model year. The V-6 is perfectly suited to American driving, with 325 pounds-feet of torque available from just 2,900 rpm. That torque is there whenever you need it; pressing the gas pedal brings immediate thrust that shoves you back in your seat. Power delivery is smooth, linear and gratifying — every time.
It helps that the engine teams with a responsive dual-clutch transmission. Whether the gear selector is in Drive or the Sport setting, the transmission quickly kicks down a gear with just a nudge of the accelerator. Shifts are smooth and refined, but they firm up in Sport mode.
After experiencing the transmission's wonderful responsiveness in plain-old Drive, its manual mode is a letdown. Steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles or the console gear selector let you control gear changes, but there's an unsatisfying delay from the time you ask for a gear change and when the transmission responds with one. It doesn't matter whether you're upshifting or downshifting. This has been a problem with manual modes for years, though it's gotten better recently in some cars. The S5 isn't one of them. Fortunately, a traditional six-speed manual transmission is standard.
The S5 coupe's EPA-estimated gas mileage trails its competitors. It's rated 18/28/21 mpg city/highway/combined with the automatic transmission and 17/26/20 mpg with the manual. The all-wheel-drive 435i, meanwhile, gets 24 mpg combined with an automatic and 23 mpg with a manual. The all-wheel-drive C350 coupe is automatic only and gets 22 mpg in combined driving. The fuel economy leader is the lightweight, rear-drive Cayman, which is rated 26 mpg combined with an automatic transmission.
The S5's standard all-wheel-drive system has been tuned appropriately for performance driving. The system's rear-biased torque distribution sends more engine torque to the rear wheels, giving the S5 the feel of a rear-wheel-drive coupe, and the available torque-vectoring rear differential proactively sends power to the outside rear wheel for better cornering performance. It's a fun car to drive on winding roads.
I grew tired, however, of the S5's standard sport suspension. This is a firm-riding car, and the ride can be quite jarring on bumpy pavement. Even the Cayman doesn't ride this rough. Audi offers an adaptive suspension for $1,000 that provides a choice of ride firmness.
The steering left me underwhelmed. You get only a little feedback through the steering wheel, and there's too much power assistance. Choosing the Dynamic mode in Audi Drive Select dials it back only slightly.
The S5 has large 13.6-inch front and 13-inch rear ventilated brake discs, but the brake system in our test car had a tendency to produce a loud, embarrassing squeal when coming to a stop. The noise would go away after a bit of driving, but it was odd to hear a non-ceramic brake system make such a racket.
The S5's cabin is going on 8 years old. It's held up remarkably well, but a few elements look past their prime. The aluminum-infused wood trim is great and looks like something you'd see in an ultra-luxury car, as it should considering it's a $1,100 option. The rubberized upper door and dashboard trim, however, is from an earlier luxury-car era, and some buttons don't have a premium appearance.
Despite the S5's sleek exterior look, forward, over-shoulder and rear views from the driver's seat are good. An optional backup camera further improves visibility. It's part of a $2,900 Technology Package.
The front sport seats are wide, and I like that they include manually adjustable thigh support. The side bolsters are large and hold you in place in corners.
The two-person backseat provides passable comfort for short trips. I'm 6-foot-1 and had just enough headroom. The seat's geometry is good, and with the front seat moved forward a little, legroom is tolerable. Large side windows keep claustrophobia at bay.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The S5 has an older version of Audi's Multi Media Interface that has a few shortcomings: The 7-inch dashboard screen looks small in an era when displays are now regularly 8 inches and larger, and entering a destination into the navigation system with the console knob controller is a tedious process.
The biggest problem with MMI is the location of direct-access buttons for audio, navigation and other systems. They frame the knob controller, and I had to take my eyes off the road whenever I needed to use one of them. Perhaps the location of each button would become familiar in time, but it wasn't on initial use.
Bluetooth cellphone connectivity is standard, and Bluetooth streaming audio is included with the Technology Package. The system readily paired with my iPhone, but I had to hunt around in the multimedia system settings to activate the streaming audio function.
Cargo & Storage
The 12.2-cubic-foot trunk is a little larger than the C350's 11.7-cubic-foot luggage area, but it's smaller than the 435i's trunk, which measures 15.7 cubic feet. The mid-engine Cayman has front and rear luggage areas that total 15 cubic feet.
The S5's trunk has a rectangular shape with few intrusions. A 60/40-split folding backseat is standard, and lowering both sections of the backrest reveals a large opening between the trunk and cabin for carrying longer items.
Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has crash-tested the S5, but it's not uncommon for sporty cars to go untested.
The Technology Package includes a few safety-oriented features, like rear parking sensors and a backup camera, but only one active-safety feature: blind spot warning. Adaptive cruise control is also optional. Active-safety features such as forward collision warning with autonomous braking and lane departure prevention are becoming increasingly common in the luxury segment, and both features are optional on the C350 coupe. For a full list of the S5's safety features, see the Features & Specs page.
Value in Its Class
It's not unusual for optional features to significantly bump up a luxury car's price, and that's what the $8,200 in optional features did to our S5. Some of the things that cost extra, however, should really be standard; you shouldn't have to pay extra for a backup camera in a luxury car, and the torque-vectoring rear differential should be included, too, considering the S5's performance focus.
Audi does performance-oriented luxury well, but there are some clear areas where the S5 needs to be better to keep pace in its class. Considering this model's age, that next effort may not be far off.