Audi S5

New generation proves it's not just a pretty face

b y J E Z SPINKS

ENGINE 2995cc V6, DOHC, 24v, turbo / POWER 260kW @ 5400-6400rpm / TORQUE 500Nm @ 1370-4500rpm / WEIGHT 1615kg / 0-100KM/H 4.7sec (claimed) / PRICE $105,800

STAR RATING 4.0

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Accomplished dynamics; punchy engine

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Needs a louder voice and more communication N ITS decade of existence, the S5 coupe has been a partnership of an alluring engine and slinky sheetmetal that never quite managed to get into bed with the sexiest chassis. It made for an enjoyable but not wholly satisfying fling.

Audiís latest S5, like its S4 sedan/ wagon twins, knows it needs to vie harder for affection in a niche group that now features an AMG-badged model in the form of the C43. No coincidence, then, that the cost of the S5 has been slashed from $122,616 to $105,800 Ė making it a trifling $185 more than the Mercedes coupe.

Audi was there first with the performance all-wheel drive approach, of course, and its philosophy hasnít changed. After the sonorous 4.2-litre V8 and sweetrevving 3.0-litre supercharged V6, the S5ís two axles are now served by another 90-degree-angled six-pot Ė this time with a turbo rather than a blower nestled between the banks.

Power and torque lift 15kW and 60Nm to 260kW and 500Nm, outputs that are a smidge below the C43ís but donít prevent the S5 from matching its 0-100km/h claim of 4.7 seconds.

Thatís only a couple of tenths off the outgoing RS5, so this is one quick car.

The 'hot vee' turbo V6 doesnít have the instant low-rpm response of the old supercharged six but it avoids boosty sensations to build momentum in a similarly linear fashion Ė riding on an even wider torque curve stretching from just 1370rpm to 4500rpm.

Helping to smooth things out off the line is a ZF eight-speed auto, which has replaced the hesitancyprone seven-speed dual-clutch unit to handle the extra torque. Itís a good trade-off for fractionally slower downshifts. Use the paddles to hold a gear to redline, though, and youíre left wondering whether you forgot to press a dedicated exhaust button. The I gurgling V6 sounds more characterful than the A5 TFSI quattroís 185kW four-cylinder turbo but its volume dial seems to be stuck on six when, on a good road, youíre yearning for an earassaulting 10.

Youíll need to divert your attention to a rear-drive (and $5K cheaper) BMW 440i if you want the most playful chassis, yet thereís much to admire about the relative equilibrium of the S5ís dual-axle approach.

As you would expect, traction is superb even on damp roads, from a quattro system with a 40:60 default set-up that can shuffle up to 70 per cent of torque forwards or up to 85 per cent rearwards. Audiís optional ($2950) Sport diff returns to dole out more grunt to the outside rear wheel, and combined with a set of sticky 19-inch rubber the S5 carves corners with satisfying speed.

With light and direct steering also in the mix, the S5 has a nimbleness that makes it feel more agile than the front-drive A5 base model that actually registers 195kg less on the scales. The rim is fairly lifeless, though thatís a traditional Audi vice shared with the TTS coupe, which is now only a few grand cheaper after the S5ís price chop.

And itís the bigger coupe that is more resolved dynamically. On its newly standard adaptive dampers that add even more value, the S5 offers a compliance on typical Australian roads that the more iconic, but roughriding, two-door lacks.

More unexpected is that the ride is also superior to regular versions of the A5 not fitted with optional adaptive dampers, considering the S modelís stiffer suspension tune. The S5, in fact, is at its best in Dynamic mode, where a deft balance between disciplined body control and suppleness makes for a terrific grand tourer. It would probably be cruel to put adult friends in the back seats for long trips, but this mid-sized coupe is a little more generous on space than before Ė and again trumps the TT.

Audiís excellent Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster is also standard on the S5, which differs from regular A5s by giving drivers the option of making the tacho rather than the speedo dominant in the centre.

The display itself is central to the cabinís sophisticated design that has a clinical beauty about it. And the diamond-patterned seats are a well-judged compromise between bolstering and pampering.

A similarly well-struck balance between sportiness and comfort marks this as the best S5 coupe yet. If it doesnít necessarily bode well for the C43 Coupe, it does for the new RS5 due at the end of the year.

A well-struck balance between sportiness and comfort marks this as the best S5 yet