The first-generation Audi S5 stuck around for a decade, which in car years made it an elder statesman. Thanks to its shapely styling, refined interior, sharp driving dynamics and some evolutionary updates over the years, the S5 remained competitive among luxury sport coupes. There were only so many updates that could be executed before a full redesign was needed and this nose-to-tail rethink has hit at precisely the right time.
The 2018 Audi S5 is all-new, but it retains a lot of what gave its predecessor such an unusually long lifespan. The sleek exterior design remains, though with a bit more visual gimmickry. The creases in the sheet metal are sharper, and a few more have been added to the hood. The face is more angular and stretched horizontally to fit in with the rest of the Audi lineup. We contend that some of the grace has been replaced by aggression, and for a car with a greater emphasis on performance, that's not such a bad thing.
Plenty of Available Options
The 2018 Audi S5 slots in between the new 252-horsepower A5 that is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and the 450-hp RS5 and its twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6. With 354 hp and 369 pound-feet of torque coming from a single turbo 3.0-liter V6, this latest S5 gains 6 percent more horsepower and 13 percent more torque over the previous model. An eight-speed automatic is the only transmission offered, and all-wheel drive is also mandatory.
Prices start around $55,000 for the base Premium Plus trim with features such as 18-inch wheels with summer tires, a sunroof, adjustable drive modes, diamond-stitched leather and suede upholstery, heated front sport seats with power-adjustable side bolsters and massage functions. On the technology side, the S5 Premium Plus gets Audi's MMI infotainment system with a 7-inch display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, low-speed frontal collision warning and mitigation, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The Prestige trim will set you back another $4,400 and adds a head-up display, a surround-view camera system, a navigation system, an 8.3-inch display, a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system, and the Audi Connect system with Wi-Fi hotspot, vehicle monitoring and some remote feature control through an app. Other options include the S Sport package (adaptive suspension and sport rear differential) and the Driver Assistance package (adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, automatic high beams and a traffic sign reader). Our test vehicle included all of these and more, pushing the price to almost $70,000.
Performance You Can Use
If you're considering an S5, it's very likely you place greater emphasis on performance than most. For drivers like you, the 2018 Audi S5 will satisfy with its smooth and linear power delivery. There's a brief hesitation from a stop, but once underway the S5 gathers speed effortlessly with gearshifts that are almost seamless. In Comfort mode, the engine and exhaust emit a pleasantly sporty hum. Switch to Dynamic mode and the hum becomes louder while the throttle response sharpens, steering effort increases and, if equipped, the suspension stiffens.
Audi claims the S5 will reach 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and we're inclined to believe it. As we accelerated up highway on-ramps, we consistently had to ease off the throttle when we surpassed extra-legal speeds, not to mention the flow of traffic. You don't get the kind of punch in the gut that makes passengers claw for grab handles, though. The "hey, watch this" kind of theatrics are replaced by an "I got this, no problem" type of veteran confidence. It's impressive without being scary.
The same holds true for handling. You can rip through curves with ridiculous speeds and never doubt the S5's ability. With sticky summer tires, it takes considerable effort to make them squeal and the Quattro all-wheel-drive system constantly distributes power to the appropriate wheels without any indication that it's happening. What's more extraordinary is how approachable the S5 makes this kind of driving. Much of the credit goes to mechanical expertise, but without smart technology that calm assurance would surely be lost.
Left in automatic mode, the transmission drops down a few gears right where we would have it in manual mode. The downshifts are heard but rarely felt, and in Dynamic mode, you won't be rushed into a higher gear until you're making an appropriate amount of power. Manual remains our preferred mode when driving with verve, supplying an aggressive paddle-shift punch that will bring a smile to any spirited driver. Purists will still bemoan the lack of a true manual transmission, but if that's a deal breaker, it's their loss. The latest batch of automatics are simply brilliant, and the argument of "I just like a stick and clutch pedal" is getting weaker every year.
Comfortable Through Corners
Most drivers with a penchant for performance are willing to sacrifice some comfort, but with the 2018 S5, the compromises are minimal. Yes, the ride quality is a bit stiffer than the typical luxury coupe, but not to any objectionable level. Even in Dynamic mode, there's enough compliance to filter out any harshness, and in Comfort mode, a wider array of bumps are smoothed over. The summer tires create a noticeable amount of road noise on coarse asphalt, but on most other surfaces, you'd have to turn the radio off to hear it. Wind noise is largely absent, which makes for quiet and comfortable highway cruising.
The front sport seats have aggressive side bolsters to keep you firmly anchored in turns, but they're power-adjustable with plenty of range to accommodate larger occupants. Extendable thigh extensions and massage functions make them even more comfortable. Ventilated seats are available, but not with the adjustable side bolsters. In warmer weather, the seats never felt stifling, so we'd pass on that option.
Rear seat space is typical for coupes in this class, which means they're not that well suited to adults. There's enough room for a quick trip, but only smaller passengers will be comfortable back there for longer journeys. If rear passenger space is a necessity, the mechanically similar S4 sedan is a better choice.
Refined and Well-Built Interior
Like the rest of the Audi lineup, the S5's interior is elegantly simple. Leather and suede are used liberally throughout the cabin, and other surfaces are sturdy and well-grained for a premium look and feel. Available contrasting stitching and carbon-fiber accents hint at the coupe's sporting intent without being blatant. Technology is also tastefully brought into the mix with a virtual instrument panel and infotainment screen mounted on a tabletlike panel atop the dash.
Only often-used buttons are present, and their logical placement won't distract the driver. Some switches serve multiple purposes, further enhancing the uncluttered appearance while also making them easier to use. For example, nudging the volume knob left or right will skip the audio track while the use of two raised toggle switches for navigation, phone, radio and media allow for operation without ever having to take your eyes off the road. The inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also help to keep the driver focused on the task at hand. Secondary functions are controlled through Audi's MMI interface, which is one of the easier units to operate.
The available virtual instrument panel may seem like a novelty at first, but the clear manner in which it delivers information more than justifies its existence. The screen can be configured in several modes focused on performance, navigation and trip information using a few knobs and buttons on the steering wheel. The display is easy to read at a glance and isn't prone to glare from off-angle sunlight, either. A head-up display projects relevant information onto the windshield for distraction-free driving.
In addition to all the refinement and technology, the S5 scores well when it comes to convenience. Up front, there are enough cupholders, bins and pockets to store your personal items. Cargo capacity isn't the biggest in the class, but at 11.6 cubic feet of unobstructed space, there's plenty of room for luggage. A flat floor, split-folding rear seats and wide opening easily handle larger items.
Top Coupe in the Class
The 2018 Audi S5 is the newest entry in the luxury sport coupe segment. It follows just a few months behind the Mercedes-Benz AMG C43, while the BMW 4 Series has been refreshed for the 2018 model year. Similarly equipped, all three German rivals will cost about the same. The S5 gets an edge for how reactive and engaging it is to drive without any appreciable sacrifices in comfort. The Mercedes C43 also gets high marks in these areas, but with a greater emphasis on traditional luxury. The BMW splits the difference in some ways, but it does feel a bit heavier behind the wheel and isn't as fresh as it was four years ago.
It's a close battle between the Audi and the Mercedes. So close that personal preference will likely play a bigger role in the decision than any other factor. Both are at the top of their class, but we'd choose the S5 by the narrowest of margins. If you're in the market, we suggest a very thorough test drive of both. Either way, you'll get stirring performance, a comfortable ride and a sly smile every time you fire one up.