Hot on the heels of the new Audi S5 Coupe is its five-door sibling, the new S5 Sportback. It arrives in Ireland in late Spring 2017, but we've had a chance to stretch its legs in Germany already. First impressions suggest it builds on the A5's exceedingly high quality with a sporty feel at all speeds, sharper responses and heightened cornering ability. It sounds great too.
In the metal
Not everyone will immediately notice the S5 Sportback, as the A5 Sportback looks meaty enough in S line specification as is, but once you've been shown the silver door mirrors, restyled grille, distinct 'S5' badging, bespoke alloy wheels and, of course, the quad exhaust outlets out back, you won't mistake it for any other variant. It's restrained in appearance, though the lowered ride height gives it a more suggestive stance, befitting the range-topping model. Buyers of the S5 Sportback have the option of two exclusive colours too - Misano red and Navarra blue.
There's plenty of S branding added to the already gorgeous cabin of the A5 Sportback, so look for the three-spoke steering wheel, Fine Nappa leather for the 'S super sports seats' with a massage function and more. It's safe to say that this is a very special car to sit into.
Leave the Audi S5 Sportback in its default settings and it quietly whispers along, the engine barely audible, the eight-speed automatic transmission smoothly shifting up early to reduce revs and save fuel. It's cultured and grown up. You only need to use part throttle to maintain quick, effortless progress without getting any unwanted attention. This, we suspect, is how a large proportion of S5 owners will drive their pride and joy. And it delivers this without breaking a sweat, with plenty more in reserve.
But there's more to the S5, especially if you specify it with a few choice options, as Audi had done for the test cars at the launch in Germany. First up is the sport differential, for those that want more of a rear-drive feel from the quattro four-wheel drive system - it's effective, though the S5 is at its best and most enjoyable when driven within the limits of adhesion, as it's not hugely communicative through the steering wheel. Speaking of which, the next thing to consider is 'dynamic steering', which is a variable ratio system that, for example, slows down steering response at speed on the motorway to reduce nervousness, but then quickens it up when at lower speeds for parking and tackling a twisty road. Our route wasn't varied enough to tell how effective it was, in truth, as we didn't encounter much in the way of really tight corners or quick direction changes.
Neither did we traverse many bad road surfaces, so the suspension wasn't unduly challenged in that regard. For the record, our test cars featured the optional variable damping, linked (as are the other systems mentioned above, along with the transmission and throttle response) into the Drive Select modes. We tried the Comfort mode for the sake of research, but found the car more fun in Dynamic mode, with little or no negative side effects, so we kept it there for most of the driving. The suspension never once felt too firm over the few bumps we could find, and it was noticeably tauter than that of the standard A5 Sportback we test drove on the same day. One thing that did stand out, however, was the rock solid stability under braking. Even on a damp surface, slightly turning, when braking from high speed, the S5 tracked straight and true to where it was steered. The brake pedal is perfectly weighted as well.
Of course, the main reason for using the Dynamic mode all the time is to hear the engine at work. It's a new turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine (shared with the new Audi S4) producing 354hp and 500Nm of torque and it makes a glorious sound whether you're ambling along or chasing the rev limiter. You'll not scratch the surface of its performance on Irish roads, but we did on the German Autobahn and it's impressively composed at close to its speed limiter at 250km/h. At the other end of the scale, the quattro four-wheel drive system never scrabbles for traction moving away from rest, no matter how aggressive you are with the throttle. Indeed, it's seemingly unflustered in most situations, which may be to the detriment of driving excitement for those that like to explore the limits, but for most it's nothing other than deeply impressive.
What you get for your money
At the time of writing, Audi Ireland doesn't have confirmed pricing for the 2017 S5 Sportback, nor a list of standard specification. The car it's replacing is currently listed at €76,790 on-the-road, as a guideline, and that came with 18-inch alloy wheels, leather/Alcantara upholstery on sports seats and Xenon lights with LED daytime running lights. You can expect all that and more on the new car. We'll update this test drive once we have the information. Regardless of what the price ends up being, the S5 Sportback appears to have few direct rivals that marry its coupe-like style with a high-powered petrol engine and four-wheel drive.
The new S5 is a fitting range-topper for the 2017 Audi A5 Sportback range. It has a fantastic interior and looks great, with more presence than its predecessor, yet it retains that car's subtlety. The turbocharged V6 has plenty of grunt and makes the right noises when you want it to, while playing the cruising card competently the rest of the time. For those that can afford the best in the line-up, the S5 won't disappoint.