Turbo power for the new Audi S5 Coupe's 3.0 V6 engine, a vastly improved chassis, more space, more performance and greater efficiency mean it's a fitting flagship for the new Audi A5 line-up, but it lacks the final polish and engagement of its best rivals.
In the metal
The new S5 is fussier looking than before, but Audi had to do something to differentiate the new A5 from its elegant predecessor. The S5 builds on the A5's sharper-edged look with typical S enhancements. There's a unique front grille, re-profiled front and rear bumpers, bigger exhaust pipes and some S5 badging on the 'vents' that feature on the front wings, and also on that shinier front grille and the backside with its restrained spoiler. The S5 has always been quite deliberately subtle, in a good way, leaving room for the inevitable RS 5 to top the range in time.
As a foundation to build on, the A5's interior is as good as it gets. A tactile and visual treat, Audi's excellence is all but impossible to fault here. In the S5 it's better still, the standard car's conventional instruments replaced by Audi's cool Virtual Cockpit, a TFT screen that's configurable to display pretty much anything you like. The seats are sports items, covered in leather, while there's also an S sports steering wheel - denoted by the flattened bottom. A smattering of S5 badges and some shiny aluminium complete the look, making the S5's cabin a very pleasant place to sit indeed.
Audi's at pains to point out that the S5's engine is virtually all-new, the switch from super- to turbocharging meaning around 80 per cent of its components are new. That, combined with a new combustion strategy, brings more power, output now up to 354hp, while the torque curve is fatter and flatter. The maximum 500Nm arrives at 1,370rpm and hangs about until 4,000rpm. The engine is 14kg lighter too. All that brings more pace, naturally, so the S5 reaches 100km/h in just 4.7 seconds and has a 250km/h electronically limited top speed. There's an all-new suspension set-up as well, with five links front and rear, sitting some 23mm lower than a conventional A5. The fitment of an eight-speed conventional torque convertor automatic (instead of a S tronic twin-clutch unit) is a touch odd here, but it offers a coasting function for those times you're not in such a hurry and are looking to save some fuel.
With standard Driver Select offering a variety of fixed choices, and a configurable Individual option, it's worth taking the time to fiddle to get the best from the S5. Comfort suspension and steering are just fine, though the engine and transmission are best sampled (though never entirely satisfactorily) in their fastest acting Dynamic modes. Choose Dynamic for the steering and it's like someone's poured treacle on the rack, as heft increases with the wheel's turn, though there's no corresponding increase in feel or accuracy. The Comfort mode sorts that out, in which it feels more linear and conventionally weighted, but you'll still not find any feedback at the wheel's rim. There is some accuracy though; the S5's a surefooted, capable thing, turning in briskly thanks here in no small part to the fitment of the optional Sports Differential, which adds a degree of torque vectoring into the equation.
The suspension rides with a nice balance between comfort and control, even on roads in Portugal that make Irish tarmac look glass smooth in comparison. The brakes are strong, the chassis balance neutral, though despite the claim of a 40/60 torque split in ordinary driving (more to the rear), it feels like a car driving from its front axle rather than the back - or indeed all four wheels. The quattro four-wheel drive system does bring with it plenty of traction and high speed stability, which is useful as the 3.0-litre turbo V6 isn't short of pace. It's quick to react, too, sometimes too eager, that exacerbated by the automatic transmission's often abrupt shifts. It's like the transmission and engine's brains aren't entirely on good terms all the time, which upsets the otherwise fine flow of the S5. The V6 fails to sound particularly rousing either, it oddly five-cylinder in its note, creating a boom at low revs that's distracting rather than rousing. Its biggest failing though is that for all is ability it never delivers much in the way of engagement and in a class that contains the BMW 440i M Sport and Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Coupe, that is a problem.
What you get for your money
No pricing for Ireland has been released as yet, but we estimate not far off the outgoing car's €80,000. Expect a generous specification and loads of tempting, expensive extras on the options list.
BMW 440i M Sport: the enthusiast's choice thanks to its rear-wheel drive only layout, it's a more involving, interesting drive, if lacking the appeal inside of the Audi.
Lexus RC: a tough fit in this class, as there's not really a halfway house model to compete against the S5, but you could stretch to the RC F if you want more performance than the hybrid. We wouldn't suggest you do though.
Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Coupe: does everything the S5 does, only that little bit better. It sounds magnificent, too, and thrills in a way that the S5 can only dream of.
Looked at in isolation the new Audi S5's a good all-rounder, but it's bettered by rivals in its class. The disconnect between the engine and transmission don't help, the lack of thrills making it difficult to justify the outlay. If you're after a faster A5 in the current range we'd suggest you go for the more polished 3.0 TDI model, which is still a very rapid car, that'll be a lot cheaper to run, too.