2009 Audi S5: Open Road Machine
January 11, 2010
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was in Las Vegas this past week, and I snagged the keys to the Audi S5 for a quick blitz from L.A., heading out Thursday afternoon and back late Friday night. My first extended stint in the S5, what struck me most was the sweet V8, strong brakes, high-levels of grip and poor fuel range.
A quarter tank got me from the office to just below the El Cajon pass via I-10 and I-15. Some mid-day maintenance on I-10 had me in gridlock for 40 minutes. Time to appreciated the smooth clutch and 6-speed shifter. Neither offer much in terms of feedback or satisfying engagement, but both work with low effort. The 4.2-liter direct-injected V8 is a jewel: smooth, linear thrust, and it sounds so sweet you almost don't mind sitting in traffic. Burbling between first and second, the motor remains tractable right down to idle.
Fueled back up and with traffic fading as the S5 clears the pass into the high desert, the S5 just eats miles. A Grand Tourer in the traditional sense, the S5 feels heavier than it looks (Audi claims 3,858 pounds for the manual), but rolls down the interstate with ease. The only hard part is keeping your speed down, as the six-speed seems geared for the moon. The Bang & Olufsen stereo in our S5 sounds quite good, and though it won't charge your iPhone, it does easy justice to mp3 files, and even XM is quite listenable. Using cruise control to stay out of the pokey, I make it to Vegas with just under a quarter tank.
Once in Vegas, the S5 is a massively cooler alternative to the blocks-long line for cabs, and I spend Thursday night shuttling our own CES rock-star Doug Newcomb between social events. Audi's nav system is a little clunky (MMI always seems to need one extra button push to get what you need), but steers us right, even in a town perpetually under construction. The valets perk-up when the S5 rolls in, and the rich red paint looks luscious, reflecting back the unending Sin-city illumination. I'm not fan of red cars, but the shade just works on the S5. Perfect for Vegas, no other car currently sports curves like Audi's coupe, as if the body was melted onto the chassis.
Friday night it's the same head-turning, event-hopping drill, before a late escape to L.A. on desert back roads. I'm sure to tank up just before abandoning the interstate, hoping I won't have to stop again before home. These flowing two-lanes are where the S5 really comes into its element. The V8 doesn't feel ludicrously powerful in the S5, but it pulls steadily, gear after gear. The muted thrust is deceptive, and before the next corner arrives, you are deep into the stout brakes, and thankful for the impressive amounts of mechanical grip. The brake pedal is money, initially firm, but linear with STRONG response.
As the empty desert roads unreel in the bright highbeams, the S5's sense of heftiness remains, but accurate steering, and hunkering grip under power makes swift work of the Mojave. The S5 never feels really light on its feet, but in these open spaces (I see two other cars in 127 miles), it's in its element ("Is the S5 more Monte Carlo than Mustang? Leave enraged comments below..."). There's some elevation involved, but the V8 again feels only adequate, pulling steadily but not particular hard at speed. It sounds awesome, but lacks the deep well of torque of brawnier, larger-displacement V8's (only 325 lb ft @ 3500 rpm).
I regain I-10 near Palm Springs and loaf it in sixth hoping to avoid another fuel stop before L.A., but the fuel light is on again 40 miles from home. I cave only 5 miles from the hacienda, adding 15.3 gallons after 298 miles, a respectable 19.5 mpg. According to the specs, I had another 1.3 gallons (maybe) to play with, but the needle was on empty. A couple more gallons for the S5's tank would be nice, but if it altered the exhaust note or shape of the car one bit, I'd live with the limited fuel range.
Paul Seredynski, Executive Editor @ 14,879 miles