Full 2008 Audi S5 Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Audi S5 is an all-new high-performance sport coupe.
Though Audi has dabbled with coupe models, the brand has largely left the luxury coupe market to other automakers. Until this year, that is. Making its debut for 2008, the stylish Audi S5 has no problem drawing more than its share of admiring glances. Drawing design inspiration from Audi's exotic R8 sports car and the Nuvolari showcar, the S5 is certainly a looker. And just like the R8, there's a lot of substance underneath the S5's sexy skin as well.
Those familiar with Audi's lexicon know that an "S" instead of an "A" before a model's number indicates the performance version. Thus the S5 is the more athletic version of the A5. Although much of the S5's platform is shared with the S4 sedan, there are a few key differences that further the coupe's sporting intentions. Among those tweaks are a new front suspension design, a longer wheelbase and a repackaging of the engine, transmission and steering rack. The result is improved weight distribution and handling, and a more precise steering feel. These upgrades are slated to make it on the next-generation S4 sedan as well.
Under the Audi S5's seductive form lies a muscular V8 sporting 354 horsepower, matched to either a six-speed manual or six-speed Tiptronic automatic. Channeling that power to the pavement is Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive, a feature shared only with the BMW 335xi. With a 40-percent front/60-percent rear power split, the Quattro system gives the best of both worlds, which is to say the crisp handling of rear-wheel drive along with the all-weather traction advantage of all-wheel drive.
Being an Audi, you'd expect the S5 to have tasteful styling enhancements that suggest, rather than shout, that this is the performance sibling of the A5. Among those are 19-inch double-spoke alloy wheels and a discreet rear spoiler that's integrated into the deck lid. Of course, there's also an impeccably trimmed cabin with finely finished leather and aluminum trim.
The 2008 Audi S5's most direct rivals are the BMW 335i and Mercedes-Benz CLK550. Yes, the 335i "only" has 300 hp, but its performance is virtually equal to the Audi and it stickers for considerably less. (The M3 is pricier and considerably more athletic.) The Benz has a more powerful V8, but is also more expensive. One might also consider the Infiniti G37, which may not be as exclusive as the S5 but presents an undeniably strong value with its competitive performance and much lower price tag. Certainly you're not going to go wrong with any of these models, but with its sexy bodywork and all-wheel drive, the S5 makes a very strong case for itself.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Audi S5 sport coupe comes in a single well-equipped trim level. Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, a panoramic tilt-up sunroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, eight-way power front sport seats, leather upholstery, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirrors and a 10-speaker audio system with CD changer and satellite radio.
Options include adaptive headlights, Alcantara-trimmed seats, alternative accents (including wood, "Carbon Atlas" and stainless steel), Bluetooth, keyless ignition, park assist (with a rearview camera), a navigation system with a dedicated iPod interface, and a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen premium audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
The S5 boasts a 4.2-liter direct-injected V8 that makes 354 hp and 325 pound-feet of torque. It comes paired to either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with manual shift control. In our testing, a manual-equipped S5 sprinted to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds and ran down the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds.
Antilock disc brakes (with brake assist), stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags all come standard.
Interior Design and Special Features
In typical Audi fashion, the S5's cabin impresses with finely stitched leather, impeccable fit and finish, and real aluminum trim. The aggressively bolstered sport seats offer plenty of support during spirited cornering. The company's MMI (Multi Media Interface) multifunction controller works the audio, climate and (if equipped) navigation systems. Unlike its German rivals, however, Audi's controller is mostly intuitive and is easy to use once the initial learning curve is overcome.
The rear compartment offers seating for two, though taller folks will find under-thigh support and legroom somewhat lacking. The trunk offers 16 cubic feet of cargo capacity (large for a sedan, let alone a coupe), and the rear seat flips down to accommodate more, if need be.
Compared to the A4, the 2008 Audi S5 has less mass hanging out over the front tires, which translates into more responsive steering and crisper turn-in. The S5 feels alert, and it's a pleasing change from the A4 sedan or even the RS4. The wheel's effort is a bit light, but its precise action inspires complete confidence when unraveling a favorite twisty road.
The potent V8 provides likewise eager response, while the manual transmission's shifter has light, if somewhat long, throws with firm engagement. Though at first they may seem touchy, the S5's brakes are strong and linear once you acclimate to them.
Read our Audi S5 Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test