In a culture of ever-shrinking attention spans, we all sometimes strain to quickly fit everything and everyone into a conceptual box. Once that happens, we judge accordingly and thus may have difficulty seeing things differently. And as unthinkable as it sounds, sometimes we err.
To that point, when the Audi West County team told me they had an all-new 2018 Audi S5 to drive, I did my research – and swiftly prejudged what to expect.
Now, the S5 has always been a looker, showcasing Audi’s ability to make simple shapes elegant and appealing. For 2018, it sports more visual edge while deviating little from the original S5 design, which debuted in 2007. Fender arches have grown more defined, with the front grill a bit busier, and my engineering mind couldn’t help wondering what makes the sharply downward-pinched hood possible. Elsewhere, on paper, the new S5 seems easy to view as a sporty, adrenaline-infused ride by its also-new turbocharged V-6 (which produces 354 horsepower), the torque-vectoring rear differential and the massive front six-piston brakes.
So would my sporty expectations align with experience? We test-drive to answer just such questions.
The new S5’s interior makes it hard not to immediately focus on the center instrument cluster, a 12.3-inch configurable LCD display. Full of fillips like layering the speedometer and tachometer displays atop Google Earth navigation, Audi’s virtual cockpit becomes something that after use, you wonder how you can live without. Elsewhere inside, typical benchmark Audi levels of fit and finish greet the driver.
Although meticulously crafted with a striking blend of contrasting materials, however, the higher-than-I’d-like seating position provided my first clue that, possibly, Audi doesn’t intend this S5 to be a corner-carver.
Pursuit of economy has in large part made V-8s go the way of the dodo, as is the case here. Audi employs a 3.0-liter V-6, which uses a single twin-scroll turbocharger nestled between the cylinder vee for fastest spool time. And for the most part, it boasts a very successful, albeit rather introverted, powerplant. Speed builds rapidly, with the car achieving 0-to-60 mph in 4.5 seconds and ticking off a quarter of a mile in 12.9.
But even at full throttle, the S5 keeps a perfect poker face, as it were. The only sign of cracking a smile involves the just-audible exhaust crackle on shifts when in sport mode. As if doing standup to a room full of proctologists, I felt as if I was the only one having fun. Come on, big Audi, let’s be silly! No matter what inadvisable right- and left-foot combos I tried, I couldn’t make the S5 break loose. What this means to other drivers will depend on mindset; maybe that all-business approach appeals to some, but for me, it meant my snap judgment of the S5’s sport orientation was looking less and less accurate.
That suspicion extended into driving dynamics. On one hand, the 3,924-pound S5 can dig through corners with a Velcro-like grip. On the other, it does so without translating any sense of excitement or feel. Again, how that informs your own opinion will depend on your mindset. Although not intended to feel like a sharp-edged sports car, the S5 does produce respectable performance numbers, but sans drama.
The S5 excels, though, in high-speed highway cruising and long distances. Comfort ranks high, with the body structure and interior vaultlike in strength and quiet, and this car effortlessly burns miles. Short blasts into triple-digit speeds feel like slow-lane lollygagging in lesser-built cars. Also, Audi’s progressive steering, which provides increasing steering ratio as the driver adds input, pays dividends here. Little off-center wiggles at interstate speeds fail to disrupt the car, but unlike your grandpa’s town car, no floaty feeling occurs, either. I could see this car as being completely at home on a European autobahn.
Otherwise, I test-drove the coupe, a sleek vehicle low on practicality for those with families. The S5 also comes as a four-door sedan, a drop-top cabriolet and a new four-door hatchback Audi calls the Sportback. Leading the way in whatever life throws at it, the Sportback’s highly adaptable rear hatch and flat-folding back seats could swallow a small mountain of stuff. And under the skin, it remains the same S5 as reviewed here. When compared with most small SUVs, suddenly the S5 Sportback becomes the fun, sporting option.
No car can meet every criterion from shoppers, of course, and balancing acts inevitably ensue. This S5, though, does shift a few checkmarks from the “sporty” column into “luxury,” resulting in a car that looks at first glance sportier than it really is. And as ever with Audi, the technology criteria tower as tall as any, and the company’s sales numbers make clear that tech speaks to many people. If you’re one, then the new S5 does indeed deserve a test drive.
PRICE AS TESTED: $66,700
LOANER FROM: Audi West County audiwestcounty.com