What's New for 2009
The 2009 Audi S5 adds an auxiliary audio jack to its standard features list, while newly available options include a blind-spot warning system, adaptive cruise control and the Audi Drive Select Package, which features variable-ratio steering and electronically adjustable dampers.
Whenever we hop into a drop-dead-gorgeous car, we can't help but think of that old automotive epithet: "All show, no go." We hope this won't be the case, but we know from experience that beauty is often only skin-deep in our image-conscious car culture. That's why a car like the 2009 Audi S5 is such a revelation. It's got curb appeal to burn, yet it's also one of the most engaging cars to drive in this segment.
Audi's S lineup aims for the middle ground between the high-strung RS models and more pedestrian machines like the V6-powered A5 coupe. As such, the S5 improves significantly upon the performance of its A5 sibling, while retaining that car's identity as a luxurious yet sporting coupe. The biggest upgrade can be found under the S5's curvaceous hood, where you'll find the latest version of Audi's familiar 4.2-liter V8. Generating 354 horsepower and some of the sweetest mechanical noises this side of a Porsche 911, this is one of the finest eight-cylinder engines on the market, and it clearly sets the S5 apart from its most natural rival, the turbocharged six-cylinder BMW 335xi.
With a 40-percent front/60-percent rear power split, the S5's rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system is seemingly at odds with the car's nose-heavy 58-percent front/42-percent rear weight distribution. Happily, it all comes together admirably well on sinuous back roads, where the S5 displays good body control and impressively neutral handling characteristics. There's no getting around the S5's considerable mass, however -- at 3,807 pounds, the last S5 we tested wasn't exactly light on its feet. Moreover, the standard speed-sensitive power steering feels rather artificial, as does the optional variable-ratio system.
In other words, the 2009 Audi S5 isn't the sportiest coupe in this segment; that honor belongs to the inimitable 3 Series. However, it does have other virtues, such as a finely wrought interior and that killer V8. Also, the S5 arguably offers more eye-catching style than all of its competitors put together, and let's face it -- when you're dropping this much cash on a coupe, looks are important. Add it all up and the S5 makes for a pretty enticing proposition.
Other models to consider include the aforementioned BMW 335xi (or simply the rear-wheel-drive 335i, if you don't require AWD traction) as well as the V8-powered Mercedes-Benz CLK550. Yet the more affordable Bimmer can't match the S5's looks, and the rear-drive-only Benz is pricier and less sporty. A dark-horse contender is the Infiniti G37, which almost matches the S5's power output for many thousands less, but isn't nearly as refined. In short, we wouldn't blame anyone for being seduced by the S5's knockout combination of looks and performance.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Audi S5 high-performance luxury sport coupe is available in a single trim level. Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, bi-xenon headlights, a panoramic tilt-up sunroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front sport seats with seat heaters, leather upholstery, auto-dimming mirrors and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD changer, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack.
Options include adaptive headlights, a blind-spot warning system, adaptive cruise control, Alcantara-trimmed seats, alternative cabin accents (including wood, "Carbon Atlas" and stainless steel), Bluetooth connectivity, keyless ignition, park assist (with a rearview camera), a navigation system and a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen premium audio system. The Audi Drive Select package, which adds variable-ratio steering and adjustable dampers, allows the driver to vary throttle, transmission, steering and suspension calibrations at the push of a button.
Powertrains and Performance
The S5 is propelled by a 4.2-liter direct-injected V8 that churns out 354 hp and 325 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a six-speed automatic with manual shift control is optional. In performance testing, we spurred a manual-transmission S5 from zero to 60 mph in a fleet 4.9 seconds, with the quarter-mile blurring past in 13.3 seconds.
EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 14 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined with the manual transmission, while the automatic is rated at an appreciably better 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined.
Antilock disc brakes (with brake assist), stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags all come standard. A blind-spot warning system is also available.
Interior Design and Special Features
The S5's richly appointed cabin is one of its strong points, boasting high-quality materials and good fit and finish. Audi's proprietary MMI (Multi Media Interface) routes many functions through a control knob mounted on either the center stack or the center console, depending on whether the optional navigation system is present. Many of our editors find MMI more user-friendly than BMW's much-maligned iDrive, but it's still likely to try your patience with its maze of menus and submenus.
The front seats offer satisfactory comfort and support, though the S5's low seating position and high cowl and beltline may make shorter drivers feel as though they are peering out of a bathtub. The rear seat's truncated head- and legroom make it suitable for small passengers only, though people stuck back there will be treated to their own set of climate controls mounted in the rear of the center console. The trunk offers an extraordinary 16.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and if that proves insufficient, the rear seat folds down to accommodate larger items.
The 2009 Audi S5 is a sharp-handling coupe, with nicely controlled body roll and tenacious AWD traction. However, you'll certainly feel the S5's ample poundage when you're hustling it along a winding road. We also aren't fans of the S5's standard speed-sensitive power steering system -- it's artificially light at parking-lot speeds and artificially heavy on the highway. The optional variable-ratio steering system that comes with the Audi Drive Select package provides a similarly contrived feel, though at least it's adjustable according to driver preference.
The mandatory 4.2-liter V8, on the other hand, is a revelation -- acceleration is authoritative, yet it never seems to be working hard, emitting an intoxicatingly mellow burble from idle to redline. The manual transmission features long but reasonably precise throws; the automatic, on the other hand, can be rough at times, though shifts are remarkably quick in manual mode. The ride is quite firm with the standard 19-inch wheels.
Read our Audi S5 Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test