A Sophisticated, Well-Dressed Take on the American Muscle Car
Mark Takahashi , Associate Editor
There are plenty of adults out there who attempt to keep one foot firmly planted in their adolescence. For these grown-ups suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome, the 2010 Audi S5 is one of the best choices to sustain the passion of driving while still delivering a level of sophistication to satisfy more mature expectations. It's as if Audi took the premise of the great American muscle car and dressed it up in a well-tailored suit.
In terms of blending Mustang frivolity with Audi sensibilities, the S5 artfully selects the best attributes from each. A powerful V8 with a mellifluous exhaust note mounted under a long hood is already a promising start. Add in Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system and an elegantly designed interior with plenty of tech features, wrap it in an athletic and seductive skin and the result is nearly irresistible for a child masquerading as an adult.
It's this intoxicating cocktail of motoring amusement and finesse that sets the 2010 Audi S5 apart from other vehicles. A BMW M3 will deliver a livelier performance, but doesn't feel as sophisticated. The Mercedes-Benz E550 coupe is more luxurious, but can't compare to the S5's level of driver engagement. Also worth mentioning are the less-expensive Infiniti G37 and pricier BMW 6 Series. Among all of these choices, the Audi S5 shines as a beautifully well-rounded machine that is perfect for finding your automotive Neverland.
The 2010 Audi S5 is powered by a 4.2-liter V8 that produces 354 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Our test car was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, but an automatic with manual-shift control is available as an option. Acceleration is brisk, requiring only 5.2 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill (5 seconds with rollout, like on a drag strip). Coming to a stop from that speed required just 110 feet.
The S5's straight-line acceleration and braking is nearly identical to other cars in this class, but it trails the competition slightly in terms of handling -- likely a result of the car's hefty 3,924-pound curb weight. The Audi weaved through the slalom at 66.8 mph, which is about 3 mph slower than its BMW rivals. On the open road, however, the S5 feels immensely stable and secure when compared to the competition, and is a bit more relaxed when being tossed into serpentine mountain curves. In these conditions, the steering also feels a bit too isolated and light.
In everyday driving conditions, the effortless steering is an advantage when maneuvering in tight spaces. The clutch pedal travel is rather long, but takes only a short while to get used to. The shifter is exceptional, though, with a strong yet smooth and positive engagement.
Our test vehicle included the optional Audi Drive Select system, which allows the driver to choose from Comfort, Automatic, Dynamic and Individual settings. These settings vary the throttle response, steering ratios and suspension stiffness to suit a driver's particular needs. Switching between Comfort and Dynamic modes produces noticeable differences in ride quality and performance, elevating this system past novelty status.
In typical Audi fashion, the interior of the S5 is, for the most part, a joy to experience. The front seats are well contoured to hold occupants securely in place and are adequately padded for long-distance touring comfort. Rear seats are much less accommodating with a lack of head- and legroom for adult-size passengers. But like the front seats, there is plenty of bolstering to keep those in the rear quarters from sliding about when cornering.
The 2010 Audi S5's ride quality straddles the line between luxurious and sporty. Though it is capable of entertaining the driver in the curves, the suspension still manages to smooth out most ruts and bumps in the pavement with ease. At highway speeds, the cabin remains calm and quiet, with wind and road noise abated to near silence. The interior is so quiet, in fact, that we often wished the glorious roar of the V8 was more prominent.
From the driver seat, all of the interior elements combine with favorable outward visibility to allow pilots to focus their attention to the task at hand. Narrow A-pillars provide a nearly unobstructed view through turns. The rear window is large enough to give a respectable field of vision of following cars, but not for backing into parking spaces. Fortunately, our S5 sported the optional Technology package that includes parking sensors, a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors to eliminate any remaining guesswork.
Gauges and readouts are placed well within sightlines and all controls are easily reachable. Much like BMW's iDrive system, Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) controls the optional navigation and audio systems without being overly complicated. A combination of physical buttons and a scrolling knob work well to simplify operation on a graphically rich screen situated in the center of the dash. Our S5 test car, equipped with the optional 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system, delivered excellent sound quality that was further enhanced by the cabin's cryptlike silence.
The climate controls require a few extra button pushes to adjust manual settings, but the automatic dual-zone system works so well that few will find this an issue. We're also inclined to think that few will find interior storage lacking, as the 2010 Audi S5 provides enough pockets and cupholders for personal effects. For larger items, the capacious 16-cubic-foot trunk can easily accommodate a golf bag and large suitcase.
However, those with small children may have some difficulty installing safety seats. As in many coupes, rear-facing infant seats will greatly impact front-seat space and comfort. Furthermore, the contoured rear seats and non-removable headrests don't allow for flush fitment of front-facing child seats.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Audi S5 is wrapped in a taut, athletic skin that complements the mechanical prowess hidden beneath. The long hood and sleek styling are a feast for the eyes with curves in all the right places while forgoing unneeded vents and bulges that would clutter an otherwise pleasing shape. The split grille and LED headlight accents ensure that the S5 will never be mistaken for anything but an Audi.
The cabin is also emblematic of Audi's design philosophy, featuring modern yet understated styling and top-notch materials. Even the plastic surfaces are well-textured, with most being soft to the touch. The leather seating surfaces are finished to a high standard and the feel of the switchgear is positive and solid, befitting a car of this price. Likewise, all interior elements are tightly fit, eliminating any detectable creaks or squeaks.
Who should consider this vehicle
Understated yet elegant styling and impressive performance define the 2010 Audi S5. If you're a driver seeking a sporty ride, but are unwilling to sacrifice comfort and refinement, this sleek coupe should be on your short list.
Within this price range, the BMW M3 and Mercedes E550 represent the most competitive alternatives, with the performance edge going to the BMW and luxury advantage awarded to the Benz. An Infiniti G37 would cost significantly less and feels only slightly less special, while a BMW 6 Series will cost you at least $20,000 more but deliver less in the way of performance.
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