May 25, 2010
Editor in Chief Scott Oldham didn't share the keys to our 2009 Audi S5 often. Who would blame him? One morning he came into the office and confessed, "I let my neighbor, Bill, drive our long-term 2009 Audi S5."
Oldham continued his story: "He loved it. Bill told me, 'When I'm in it, it makes me feel successful. It's like I made the right decisions in my life. It feels like a reward for all of my hard work.'
"I couldn't agree more," Oldham said. "Too often these days, people think about cars as conveyance and not as a pleasurable part of daily life. People who do are missing out. More of them should try the Audi S5."
Why We Got It
In 2008 Audi introduced the all-new Audi S5 to the U.S. This performance coupe catered to American tastes with elegance, charm and a 354-horsepower, 4.2-liter V8. Audi built the S5 for life at speed on the open highway, a high-performance version of the A5, the first Audi coupe in decades. But there was a problem: We couldn't get our hands on a 2008 Audi S5. Audi later announced the S5 would carry over unchanged into the 2009 model year and we seized the opportunity to add a 2009 Audi S5 to our long-term fleet.
We had our eye on the S5 since it first won a 2008 Inside Line Editors' Choice Award. But then Audi told us that the V8 was on its way out for the S5 and would be replaced by a new, supercharged V6 introduced in the S4 that offered much better fuel economy than the V8 and almost (almost?!) as much power. This made us nervous. If the V8 wasn't going to survive into 2010, then we better get into one now.
There were many reasons we decided to get a 2009 Audi S5; style, power and comfort all ranked highly. But most of all, this is the car with which Audi hopes to capture the market position carved out by the BMW 3 Series coupe. So when Audi offered us the car for a year, it didn't have to ask us twice. It soon found its way into our garage.
We stood divided when it came to our reaction to the way the S5 went down the road. A clear majority praised it as the best road-trip car in our fleet. Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig broke in the S5 on a trip to Colorado. He wrote, "It's an exceptionally quiet car on the highway. The V8 hum that you hear at idle disappears at higher engine speeds, so phone calls and 'The [Howard] Stern Show' on the satellite radio sounded great." Senior Editor Erin Riches offered similar praise following a run to Las Vegas, "The S5 is quick and capable of turning a corner with haste and grace. Its V8 sounds great. There is a sensory component to driving it that occupies the mind and keeps even the long, straight highways from being boring."
Nevertheless, a vocal faction within our ranks felt the S5's stop-and-go demeanor was nearly a deal-breaker. "This drivetrain isn't for wimps," the bunch quipped. One editor added, "Clutch-pedal uptake is long with an abrupt engagement point. I find myself riding the left pedal more than I feel comfortable with in order to complete a smooth shift from a stop. I'm going to guess I'm not alone." But even the dissenters agreed: "No matter how frustrating the 2009 Audi S5 might be to manage in rush-hour traffic, when the road clears, it becomes a completely different machine. Set the steering to dynamic, the suspension and throttle to comfort and point me to Vegas. This car is spectacular."
Twelve months of service generated a short list of issues with the S5. Interior materials, including its black-leather seats, proved impervious to wear. A mystery tear in the driver floor mat was the only item of note. But mats are installed for the purpose of being worn, so we didn't hold that against the Audi. There was another, more significant issue that arose. A pronounced vibration in the steering wheel at freeway speeds concerned us. The same symptom not-so-coincidentally developed in our long-term Audi A4 Avant. We worked with Audi of America and Santa Monica Audi to resolve the issue, which apparently had fielded similar complaints. With spin-balancing for the tires, about 90 percent of all issues were resolved, Audi told us. But we fell into the 10 percent that also required stiffer lower-front control arms to deliver the refinement we expected.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $448.76
Additional Maintenance Costs: $596.18 for tire replacement and front floor mats
Warranty Repairs: Lower-front control arm replacement
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Days Out of Service: 1 for control arm installation
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
Our first test of the 2009 Audi S5 left us impressed. The 3,900-pound S5 reached 60 mph from a standstill in 5.2 seconds (5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout) and completed the quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds at 102.6 mph. From 60 mph the S5 returned to a stop in just 110 feet. All the while, this sport coupe maintained 0.92g of lateral grip on the skid pad before its tires cried uncle.
But time and mileage took its toll on the performance of our S5, as there was a significant decline in performance registered in our test at the conclusion of the S5's term with us. Under acceleration to 60 mph, the Audi proved 0.6 second slower, while the same margin held to the end of the quarter-mile: 14.1 seconds at 99 mph. Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot lamented, "This clutch is obviously tired. It won't hold power at high rpm for a clutch drop with the stability control off, which prevents a good launch and quicker acceleration numbers." Brake stopping distance also grew to 120 feet. Jacquot continued, "The brake pedal feel is still good. Fade resistance is still good. But what happened to the distance?"
Dynamic testing provided the clue. Slalom speed actually improved from 66.8 mph to 68.6 mph over time — the kind of thing that we attribute to tire wear. New tires are sticky, and this contributes to shorter stopping distances, but the relatively tall tread blocks squirm under cornering loads, and this means less grip as the tires flex back and forth between transitions. Conversely, our S5's tires had 22,000 hard miles, which meant less stick under braking, yet also less tread squirm and so, better slalom speeds. (This is part of the reason why racers of showroom stock cars shave down the tread of their new street-spec tires.)
On the other hand, skid pad testing is more of a steady-state evaluation. The tire tread basically rolls to one side and remains pinned while the vehicle circles, so wear and stick are less of an issue. In the case of the 2009 Audi S5, this explains why its final test on the skid pad returned cornering grip identical to its first: 0.92g.
Best Fuel Economy: 22.3 mpg (326 miles on best tank)
Worst Fuel Economy: 10.8 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 16.4 mpg
Our long-term 2009 Audi S5 arrived one year ago with a "52" emblazoned on the odometer and a $61,915 adhered to the window. By test end, both the mileage and value fluctuated by over 20,000 — only in opposite directions.
According to Edmunds TMV Calculator, a private-party sale of the S5 garners the seller just 67 percent of its original MSRP. This level of depreciation is on par with that of a similarly equipped BMW M3 coupe. If you're in the market for either, resale value will not be a deciding factor. But reading our comparison of the two could help your research.
True Market Value at Service End: $41,493
Depreciation: $20,422 or 33% of original MSRP
Final Odometer Reading: 22,141
We've made up our minds. Cash in the 401(k). Send the kids back to public school. Take out another mortgage on the house. We'll do what it takes to get a V8-powered S5. As it turns out, Audi agrees with us because the V8 is still part of the S5 program, thanks to the enthusiasm of all of you.
We can cite numerous reasons as to why an S5 is worth our hard-earned cash. But more than any other, this car reminds us of our love of driving. It can induce a smile merely by glancing in your direction. Its engine is so melodic that the windows remain permanently submerged within the doors. It is the kind of car that makes you want to take the long way home.
Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig said it well: "I would tell anybody who's thinking about buying a 2009 Audi S5 to do it now. They're not getting much better than this."
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.