May 25, 2009
Even in spring, the Pacific Coast Highway is cold at dawn. The cool, damp sea air stings our skin through open windows, yet closing them would be an aural mistake. The V8 nestled between our front tires loves the cold sea air, however, and bellows its appreciation. An echoing howl reverberating from beachfront homes is the only evidence we'd been there at all. The V8's 354 horsepower egged on by a six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive has us tearing a bright red blur in the Malibu skyline minutes before the sun has a chance to. Yes, we're driving a 2009 Audi S5.
"Do you love it?" he says. We're in line for coffee just off the PCH and a young goateed man in khaki shorts is confusing us before we've had a chance to recharge. "Do you love it?" he says again, this time pointing to the near empty parking lot. A black Audi A5 has parked perilously close to our Brilliant Red 2009 Audi S5. "I've had mine for three months; love it! Sedans are so stuffy. I needed a coupe! What do you think?"
Not sure yet, pal. We work for Inside Line and that there's our newest long-term test car. Give us 12 months and we'll let you know. And as we walk out that café door and look north, we trace the path of the PCH until it bends behind a cliff. There are hundreds of miles left of scenic California cruising left and the S5 is designed to conquer them all.
What We Got
Blame the economy, cheap airfare or the green movement. Blame whatever you want, but our culture is changing. Car culture is dying. It used to be that a Cadillac was 42 feet long, had only two doors and would be driven across the country with no more cause than an impulse for a slice of Boston cream pie. But now the Griswaldian road trip is a farce. Compared with six hours in an airborne tin tube, the expense and complication of more than four days of driving, pit stops and hotel rooms are virtually unjustifiable.
Thankfully there are some cars still capable of being road-trip stalwarts. The 2009 Audi S5 (and the A5, for that matter) is one of them. A long 108-inch wheelbase and a laundry list of standard features including 19-inch cast-aluminum wheels with 255/25R19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx summer performance tires, Bluetooth and automatic climate control ensure that even the longest drive never becomes grating. And to ensure that the drive never becomes boring either, our new test car is equipped with Audi Drive Select, a $2,950 option that drastically alters the nature of the beast.
There are dynamic settings for the engine response and steering, and the electronic dampers can be set to Comfort or Sport modes. With the addition of Audi's navigation system ($2,390), an Individual mode is added to Audi's Drive Select allowing you to tailor each facet — engine, suspension and steering — to your liking. (So far we like dynamic on the engine and steering but there's no sense asking for luxury-car comfort for the suspension, since SoCal highways suck, so whatta you want from us?)
In this day and age, every true GT car worth its salt has a navigation system. And like any luxury car worth its salt, the 2009 Audi S5 makes you pay big for such an option. Some $2,390 gets the discerning S5 owner a slick, high-mounted nav screen, voice-activated controls and Audi's music interface (a fancy name for an iPod adapter).
Once the navigation system is sprung for, the Technology package is unlocked. This $2,200 splurge combines a rear sonar parking aid with rearview camera, adaptive headlights, keyless entry/start and Audi side assist, a feature that alerts drivers to cars lurking in the rear blind spot.
The last option we checked is for the $850 Bang & Olufsen sound system. Reason? Our long-term 2009 BMW M3 has the upgraded sound system and we wouldn't want the S5 to lag behind. The comparison between the two isn't apples-to-apples, but we've done it before and we'll certainly be doing it frequently in the months to come.
Add the $1,300 gas-guzzler tax, because the V8-powered S5 gets 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, and then add the $825 destination fee, so the grand total for our 2009 Audi S5 stands at $61,915.
Why We Got It
We wanted an Audi S5 in our garage for many of the same reasons we want Megan Fox in our bathtub. We hope to impress our friends, anticipate a return homeward with pleasure after a rough day, and enjoy it as its maker intended.
We got an S5 because it's cool and because it's one of the sexiest, most elegant things we've seen in years. Oh, and remember, the S5 won an Inside Line Editors' Choice award. Can Ms. Fox say the same?
There's not a whole lot new going on with the 2009 Audi S5 compared to the 2008 version. The chassis is the same underpinning the new A4 (including our long-term A4 Avant and Q5. The 354-hp 4.2-liter V8 is found in the Audi S4 and a dressed-up version of the same motor sits in the middle of the Audi R8, including our recently departed long-term test car.
We've seen Quattro all-wheel drive before. We've seen the 4.2-liter V8 before. We've even seen MMI when equipped with an iPod adapter. New to us, at least insofar as the long-term fleet is concerned, is the six-speed manual transmission and Audi Drive Select.
Audi Is a Way of Life
Clearly, then, this test is less of mechanics and machines than it is of a lifestyle. It's a lifestyle we appreciate and one that, even with this 2009 Audi S5, isn't long to continue. Rumor has it that next year's S5 will carry Audi's new supercharged V6 in place of the fan favorite, the award-winning 4.2-liter V8.
Rushing north along the Pacific Coast Highway as it becomes California Highway 1, one thing becomes abundantly clear: This car was made for America. Not every day is a scenic tour, however, and few of us have the cash to own a car just for piloting on long jaunts. So what's it like to live with day to day, on normal roads, errand runs and slogging commutes? Check our long-term road test blog for our take over the next 12 months and 20,000 miles.
Current Odometer: 507
Best Fuel Economy: 15.5 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 11.8 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 13.4 mpg
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.