Audi S5 Sportback: First Drive Review
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Is the most powerful car in Audi’s latest A5 family all about sporty performance, or does it deliver on practicality as well?
The Audi S5 claims to be the 'brattiest' car of the all-new A5 family. Replacing the previous generation in India, this new Sportback looks stunning and promises to be more exciting to drive without compromising its practicality quotient. The question is, does it manage to find this fine balance? We got a quick chance to test it out by putting it through rural Jaipur, and finally stretch the six cylinders on some open roads.
It just looks stunning. There was hardly anyone in the streets who could resist the urge to just stand and stare at it. The big front grille is an attention grabber and then finer details like the sleek LED headlamps with eyebrow like DRLs and the swooping down bonnet do a good job of holding your attention. The wide air dams make it look broad and imposing, giving the car a muscular look.
Look at it from the side, and you realise just how much that long, forward-arching bonnet adds to the car’s sense of size. The sharp, clean shoulder line, distinctly visible from the side, extends into the tail lights, while the sloping roof narrows in width as it merges into the rear end, creating these wide haunches at the back. This coupe-like sloping roofline combined with the high and flat shoulder line make for a narrow window section, complementing the low-slung look. The S5 is 34mm longer than the last generation. With a width of 1843mm (wider than the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport) and a height of just 1384mm, it has a broad, squat stance, giving an impression that this was a car designed to hug the road. Adding to this are 18-inch wheels with low-profile 245/40 tyres, which fill in the arches to the brim.
View the S5 from the back, and you’ll see that the narrow roof sitting on the wide haunches gives it an even more muscular look. There are some sharp touches here as well, such as the blade-like spoiler and the sculpted tail lights. It all feels very sporty, and the quad tail pipes add even more sportiness to the S5’s design.
Even getting inside the S5 is a very special experience - right from the lifting (not pullable) door handles to the frameless doors. The S badge on the sports seats and the dual-tone interiors welcome you and add a sense of individuality compared to the standard A5 Sportback. The dashboard layout is exactly the same as the A5, but here you get silver metallic accents on the dash and centre console in place of black wood. The S5 has Audi's new connected vents layout for the dashboard which is now a familiar sight on the company’s newer cars. Of course, only the leftmost and the middle two vents in the layout are functional. The rest of the grill just adds to the overall look. Thanks to a high centre console, the dashboard feels like it’s wrapped around you, and that combined with the seating position gives you a sensation of being in a real sports car.
Yes, you do sit low, but it's not too deep and getting in and out is comfortable. The front seats too are well bolstered on either side, and give you a sense that they’ll well to hold you in place. These plush front seats also offer 8-way adjustability, which combined with the tilt and rake adjustable steering, makes it easy to find the right driving position for drivers of various sizes.
At the back, the base of the bench is well contoured and is comfortable for two adults. However, there’s very little space between the central AC vents and the bench, so having a third passenger sitting in the middle isn’t too easy. Also, the back angle is a little steep and will not be comfortable over longer journeys. There is sufficient legroom as well but, with the sloping roofline, headspace is compromised. And given this low roof along with the narrow windows thanks to the high shoulder line, the rear cabin doesn’t feel airy, even if you happen to open the sunroof. If you are over 6-feet tall, the back seats really aren’t the place for you.
Boot space is reasonably good, with 480-litres on offer. But since it is a liftback, i.e. the entire rear window lifting with the boot lid, and the loading lip is low, it’s easy to fit large items in the boot.
The flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering not only offers good grip, but also gets controls for audio, calls and Audi's virtual cockpit all-digital instrument cluster.
For the S5, the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit gets a sporty layout with a big circular tachometer in the middle around a centered speed readout. This view can be swapped for a standard one which offers more information at a glance with a click on the steering mounted 'View' button.
The centre console gets the rotary knob for the MMI infotainment navigation and even the buttons for the 3-zone climate control are touch-sensitive. It’s a very intuitive and easy-to-use setup which lets you toggle through the various setting for each of the buttons by just touching them. Other thoughtful features include a key holder and the partially exposed under-armrest storage bin which makes it convenient to store and withdraw articles like your phone and wallet.
The MMI screen lets you connect Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, and allows for control of lots of settings such as drive modes, navigation, media amongst others. Apart from all this, you also have two SD card slots to carry music on, 1 sim card slot as well as a CD player hidden in the glovebox.
Press the start button and the engine comes alive with a throaty exhaust note. The 3.0-litre V6 engine here is turbocharged (not supercharged like the previous S5) and comes mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. This is a regular torque-converter auto, and not a fancy dual-clutch system. While Audi’s choice of engine and gearbox for this new S5 might upset some enthusiasts, but they will certainly rejoice the fact that the car now makes more power - a full 354PS. The engine is super responsive as well. Its 500Nm of peak torque kicks in as early as 1370rpm, so there’s no delay in stepping on the accelerator and the car picking up speed. Past 2000rpm, the turbocharger kicks in and the acceleration till its redline of 6500rpm is even more rapid.
Audi claims that this S5 can go from zero to 100kmph in 4.7 seconds and we have little reason to doubt that. This is in no small part due to the highly capable Quattro all-wheel drive system which provides plenty of grip and helps in getting a good start from a standstill.
But, though the engine picks up speed well when you’re driving quickly, it feels a bit hesitant to do so when trying to accelerate quickly when driving at a slower speed. That’s because the car has a tendency to up shift early when driving at city speeds to maintain maximum efficiency. So every time you want to get a quick move on, the gearbox has to downshift, and this gearbox doesn’t kickdown as fast as the company’s DSG transmissions. This leads to a slightly laggy and jerky response in this sort of a driving scenario, especially when the car is in its Efficiency and Comfort modes, but is still present in Dynamic mode as well.
There is a workaround to this. Just slot the gearbox in the sports mode. This makes the gearbox shift faster and even holds the revs up to a higher rpm, making life slightly easier in the city. Out on the highway, once the turbo is spinning, press the throttle pedal and the S5 lunges forward with a strong growl from the exhaust. This sensation of sound and speed is what the S5 is about. It feels extremely composed sitting at triple digit speeds and gives you a sense that you could do several hundred kilometers at a stretch without any stress. And even when cruising at highway speeds, there’s more than enough power in reserve for quick overtakes. In fact, its peak power figure of 354PS is available all the way till 6400rpm, and that keeps pushing the car to a claimed top speed of 250kmph.
Ride and Handling
We have come to expect a certain sophistication in the way Audi’s cars handle, and the expectations for this new S5 were naturally high. Thanks to the traction provided by the Quattro AWD system, it really gives you a lot of confidence in taking corners at high speed. The system’s natural power bias is more towards the rear wheels, which makes for nimble steering. The car turns in quickly and the system automatically distributes power to either the front or rear axle as required. This really helps in providing lots of grip as the S5 goes around bends. That said, even though the steering does weigh up well in Dynamic mode, it doesn’t much feel about what the front wheels are doing. But, this is more of a characteristic of all-wheel-drive cars and not just the S5.
Yes, the S5 does handle well but it still lacks the outright sporty nature in this department. Take a long corner and you can feel the car heavy weight, which is over 1.7tonnes. So while it does turn quickly, there’s a bit of laziness in the way it changes direction once in the corner. While there is very competent independent suspension, we feel that the inclusion of electronic damping control would’ve helped the S5 manage its weight better. But honestly, we’re really nitpicking here. The S5 is a lot of fun to drive, but it doesn’t feel outright sporty, and that’s ok. This car wears an 'S' badge, not an ‘RS’ badge. Its focus is to also be sporty, and not just be sporty.
So, how does it perform as a daily driver? Sublime! The Audi S5 has performance DNA but it is matched with a heavy dose of practicality. The independent suspension soaks up bumps on the road quite well and even with fairly low profile 245/40 sized tyre running on 18-inch wheels, the ride remains fairly comfortable. Over certain speed breakers, we were almost certain that the S5 will scrape its belly but, even with 3 passengers and luggage on board, that heart-wrenching ‘thunk’ never happened. But you have to realise that this is a slightly low riding car. During our drive, we did manage to scrape it once while coming down from a ramp. On the highways, the ride remains flat, while the steering has ample weight and it really gives you a great sense of control.
At Rs 70.60 lakh (ex-showroom, pan-India), the S5 certainly isn’t cheap. You’ll get all its practical aspects in the much more affordable standard A5 Sportback, and most of its good looks too. But, the S5 is the most powerful car of the A5 family in India. The sound, the speed and the driving dynamics come together to give you a driving experience that’s sporty enough for most without really sacrificing too much on the practicality front. It’s not without a few small flaws though. It’s a bit slow to respond when crawling along at city speeds, and the back seat might not prove to be comfortable for more than a couple of hours at a stretch.
This really isn’t the car for someone looking to be chauffeur driven, and is best enjoyed as a passenger in the front or, even better, from behind the wheel. And everytime you do get behind the wheel, what the S5 really manages to do is to make you feel special, more so when you hit the open roads with it. For those who like to leave their daily blues behind by ‘getting their motor running and heading out on the highway’, the S5 really is a great choice.