FIRST DRIVE: 2018 Audi S5 Coupe — S is for Seductive

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There are certain people that when you see them in pictures, they’re attractive but when you see them in person, or even just in a video, when you can see them move and see their mannerisms, they’re downright seductive. There’s just something about them that attracts you to them but you need to see them move, interact with them or talk to them to understand it, to see their true beauty. Alicia Vikander is my go-to example for that. In pictures, she’s a very pretty woman. When you see her in a movie, see that coy look, she’s irresistible. There’s something effortlessly seductive about her. The same goes for the 2018 Audi S5 Coupe.

Seductive Styling

When I first saw the new, second-generation Audi S5, it was in photos from its launch party. In those photos, I liked the new S5 from what I had seen. It was good looking and sporty but I felt that it wasn’t as pretty or as seductive as the previous, Walter de Silva-penned generation. Then, just a few weeks ago, a Tango Red example was dropped off in front of my garage for me to borrow for a week and, almost immediately upon seeing it in person, I was smitten.

Seeing the Audi S5 Coupe in person really helps you understand just how pretty it really is. It’s muscular and aggressive, thanks to slightly flared rear wheel arches, fat C-pillars and a shoulder line that accentuates its rear wheels. If you didn’t know it was all-wheel drive, you might mistake it for a rear-wheel drive coupe. But it’s not just its overall shape that makes it looks so aggressive. Its sheet metal is so heavily and sharply creased that it seems as if it’s been stretched tightly over the muscular bodywork underneath. Pair all of that with large front air intakes, a rear diffuser and quad exhaust pipes and you have a car that simply stuns.

And stun it did, as everyone who saw the S5 or went for a ride was immediately won-over. It’s a gorgeous car and one that won smiles, waves and compliments everywhere it went. In fact, it even won over an friend who’s an enthusiast of a rival German brand (*cough* BMW *cough*). We actually tested the S5 Coupe back-to-back with a BMW 440i Coupe (review to come soon) and not a single person involved felt that the Bimmer was better looking. Actually, it stood no chance. The S5 is a stunner.

Stunning Cabin

That goes for the inside, as well. Audi has been making some top-notch cabins as of late and the Audi S5’s is one of the best. Sure, it’s basically exactly the same as the one you’d find in an Audi S4 but that’s not really a bad thing. It just looks so exciting, from the diamond-stitched seats to the flat-bottomed steering wheel to the carbon fiber trim. It all looks incredibly sporty and makes you feel like you’re in something special, not just your average sporty coupe. The slick-looking MMI screen and the simply awesome Virtual Cockpit don’t hurt, either.

All of that technology is slick and easy to use, especially the Virtual Cockpit. We’ve spent a lot of time using it before and it never fails to impress. We do wish Audi’s MMI was a bit easier to use, though, as it can get a bit confusing, with several different sub-menus. However, a new version has debuted in the new Audi A8 and A7 and it features two touchscreens, rather than the dash-mounted screen and rotary dial.

What Audi absolutely nails in the S5, though, are touch points. Not only do the seats look great but they feel fantastic and were completely comfortable over several hours of driving. I’m also a huge fan of Audi’s flat-bottomed steering wheel in the S5; it’s thin and covered in rich leather, making it great to hold. One oddity about the steering wheel is that you can’t have the flat-bottomed wheel heated, only the round one. A feature that would have been nice in the 20-degree weather.

New Turbocharged Engine

The best part, though, comes when you press that red-rimmed aluminum starter button on the console. Press that and the 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 snorts to life, as the digital tachometer does its little dance. It’s dramatic and exciting, making it feel like an event each and every time. There’s a bark from the exhaust when it starts, letting you and everyone else around you know that the S5 has some grunt. It would also sound great in a garage every morning.

Speaking of its turbocharged V6, it replaces the old S5’s 3.0 liter supercharged V6, an engine that many fans loved. Being supercharged, the old Audi S5 had zero turbo-lag and was seriously punchy. It also had a nice growly noise. This new turbo-unit, though, does come with a bit of lag, more so than I had anticipated for a “Hot-V” engine, where the turbocharger is mounted in the “V” of the engine for a sharper response. It makes up for that lag with more power than the old car, though.

Making 354 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, this new Audi S5 makes 21 more horsepower than the outgoing car and 44 lb-ft more torque. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it feels like a lot more on the road. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the new turbocharged engine makes its peak torque at 1,370 rpm, while the older supercharged engine needed 2,900 revs to do so. So while the new S5 has a touch of lag, its torque comes on like a sledgehammer immediately after and it pulls hard through the rev range. According to Audi, 0-60 mph happens in just 4.4 seconds and we have no reason to doubt that. It feels properly quick.

Paired to that engine is an eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic and it works perfectly. Sure, a dual-clutch might be snappier and a bit more exciting but the ZF eight-speed is a delight, with smooth, rapid shifts in manual-mode and the ability to disappear and softly shrug off gear changes in auto-mode. We’d prefer a six-speed manual over both kinds of automatics but the auto in the S5 is no hindrance at all. In fact, it made cruising on the highway and being stuck in traffic that much easier.

There were also these wonderful little barks from the exhaust on upshifts and tons of pops and bangs on downshifts. So while an auto might not be the enthusiast’s first choice, this one is quite exciting to drive. All of the noises which accompanied the S5’s rapid-fire shifts provided some real drama and excitement.

The Drive

We drove our Audi S5 tester from central New Jersey up to New York State during its stay, sort of on the border of both. That drive consisted of six or seven hours of total driving, with a good mix of highways and twisty back roads to allow us a broad range of roads to sample our test car on. And through all of it, the Audi S5 seduced.

On the highway, it’s smooth and stable, even at very high, let’s say less-than-legal speeds. At highway speed, the S5 is rock-solid stable and never seems to feel nervous, regardless of speed. It’s also surprisingly comfortable. Its adjustable suspension is firm, as it should be in a car such as this, but it’s never harsh or uncomfortable. It dispatches bumps and imperfections in the road with one smooth motion. You feel it, it passes and then it’s over. No secondary motions or disruptions in the chassis.

Admittedly, the 19-inch wheels our tester was riding on did make it feel a touch spiky over some really rough pavement but, aside from that, it’s a really smooth ride. We just might suggest the 18-inch wheels if you do a lot of commuting. The 18-inch five-spokes just don’t look anywhere near as good as the 19-inchers.

That firmness pays dividends in the twisties, though. Of the three modes, Comfort, Auto and Dynamic, I found that Comfort was the best. In Comfort, there’s a bit of body roll, just enough to let you feel the chassis working, but it’s very controlled and allows the S5 to make easy work of fast driving. In Dynamic, it’s a bit too firm, it doesn’t round out bumps as nicely.

Our tester was running on Continental winter tires, which were sadly a bit too loud and rough. Though, they were necessary in the freezing temperatures we were in. Although, the biggest problem with them was lack of grip. Despite having Quattro all-wheel drive and an optional sport rear differential, our S5 tester was prone to a bit of understeer, simply because it was on winter tires that weren’t up to the job of hanging onto corners as well as the Audi can. Having said that, the S5 has a tremendous amount of mechanical grip of its own and is almost unflappable, regardless of tire.

Steering is also quite good. Most fast Audis are knocked for having numb, overly light steering. That’s not the case here. Sure, its steering weight is a touch light and it’s not dripping with feedback but it weights up nicely as you add steering lock and it’s very sharp and accurate. So you can place the car exactly where you want and that’s really all I ask of a car. If it does as I ask and responds to my inputs I’m happy. The S5 does just that.

Through twisty back roads, the Audi S5 is a fantastic companion. Turn-in is immediate and front-end grip is mega. The chassis also follows nicely, with the rear end rotating around the car more than you’d expect in a front-wheel drive-based all-wheel drive car. We suspect that has a lot to do with that optional differential, which has its own set of drive select modes, refreshingly. We kept it in Dynamic the entire time.

Beauty isn’t Perfect

While the Audi S5 is a fun, exciting and stunning companion, there are some faults, albeit minor ones. There is a touch too much understeer at the absolute limit, thanks to the engine being slung so far forward, ahead of the front axle. That’s a byproduct of Quattro all-wheel drive but it still isn’t ideal. I also don’t like how the interior ambient lighting is only white and if you want to be able to change its color, like in almost every single other premium car in its segment, you have to step up to the Prestige trim level. Also, the little paddle shifters behind the steering wheel are plastic and that comes off a bit cheap. They don’t actually feel that bad and they’re sturdy pieces but we’d like some aluminum ones in a car this expensive, please.

There’s also this weird noise that I’ve noticed in all modern Audis. After just taking off from a stop for the first time after starting the car, there’s an odd clicking noise that comes from what seems like the brake pedal. I’m not quite sure what it is and it only happens once after starting the car but it’s a bit strange. It doesn’t hinder anything in anyway but it can be a bit off-putting in a car in this segment, at this price.

Sweet Seduction

I won’t lie, I went into the test of the Audi S5 thinking it was going to be a quick, good looking coupe that lacked the substance to be a great sports car. However, over the course of a week, the Audi S5 completely seduced me. Not only me, though, everyone else who interacted with it. From its stunning good looks to its dynamite interior and its pugnacious character, the Audi S5 is easy to love. There may be sports cars that are better to drive at the limit and there may be coupes that are more premium and luxurious. But none of them combine all of those attributes into such a good looking and cohesive package like the Audi S5. After spending just a week with it, I’ve fallen victim to the S5’s Sweet Seduction.

9
The Audi S5 Coupe is one of the very best sports cars on the market, combining stunning looks, great driving dynamics and a luxurious interior all for a reasonable price.

The Breakdown


Exterior
10
Interior
9
Engine/Performance
9
Handling/Fun
9
Price
8