Review: the new 349bhp Audi S5 Coupe

What am I looking at?

The new Audi S5 Coupe. Come on now, get excited. It’s got a turbocharged V6, all-wheel drive, eight gears and 349bhp. It’ll do 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds. That’s about what a Ferrari F355 takes to do the same dash, if you’re fond of duffing up old supercars.

How would I ever tell this is an Audi S5?

Versus a regular A5? Four exhaust pipes, two silver door mirrors, and that full-width grille section in the bumper. Forgot the badges. All the cool people spec the car without those…

Inside, you get S-spec seats, which are usefully comfortable, supportive, and adjustable (we still want to sit lower though, please Audi), and a more dished steering wheel. Spec the Virtual Cockpit screen and you can configure a central rev counter and feel like an R8 driver. Until you start driving, at least.

You really liked the S4. Do you like the S5?

Since you mention the Audi S4, it’s worth hinging this review around what the S5 does better or worse than its four-door mate. First off, you can feel the centre of gravity is lower in fast direction changes. The S4’s good at that stuff – it’s just that the lower, lighter S5 (60kg lighter than the old car, of which 14kg has come from the new engine) is a mite more agile.

On the other hand, from memory the S4 felt more rear-driven. Audi specs its test cars with the optional sport differential, which actively chucks more torque at the outside rear wheel when cornering (the everyday split is 40% to the front, 60% to the rear), and in the S4, I really sensed it working its magic, giving the car a really neutral feel as it hunkered down and powered away from bends.

The S5 doesn’t do that so much. Perhaps it’s the slightly less rearward weight distribution, or perhaps it found more purchase on soaking Portuguese roads than the S4 did on soaked German ones. But it wasn’t as playful, and getting more optimistic with the entry speed just invokes uber understeer.

That’s strange…

You’d imagine it’d be the other way around, wouldn’t you? The two-door is the sporty one, and the saloon (and infinitely cooler wagon- sorry, Avant), is more sensible. But not on this first impression, at least.

The powertrain’s seriously effective, but perhaps so smooth as to be a bit unmemorable. You’ve got to appreciate how accessible, how plug-in-and-play Audi has made 350bhp, in all weathers, on all roads, but it’s at the expense of any real excitement in flipping the paddles or revving out the V6. An AMG C43 has a fizzier, more characterful motor – and a slightly less clever automatic gearbox.

Ah, that new Benz. Peas in a pod with this Audi?

Nope, the Benz is a lot firmer when you dial up the suspension, and generally louder. It’s bigger inside and has inferior materials, should that matter to you.

It feels like Audi has deliberately upped the S5’s GT credentials (it’s very quiet, very supple, and just plain easy – plain, even – to drive) and rowed back its aggression. Which makes sense, given that the new RS5 will replace its singing V8 with another turbocharged V6, and it’d be terribly awkward if it were outshone by its cheaper twin…