Evolution Over Revolution: The Audi A5/S5

For almost two decades now, Audi’s take on design has been more evolutionary than revolutionary. It’s as if the company decided upon a design language right before the Y2K panic set in, sat back for a second, and said, “That’ll do.” Where other brands have gone bold with flamed surfaces, predatory grilles, and an assortment of wings, the four-ringed German brand has been content selling vehicles that look like finely sculpted bars of soap.

However, as this “bar of soap” looked just right from day one, we’re not complaining about things. In our eyes, it’s a smart move on Audi’s part. This simple, efficient design language helps ensure that the car will look good—not dated—when newer models come out. And when we first took delivery of our 2018 A5/S5 test car, its familiar look led us to believe it was just a mildly revamped version of the car first introduced in 2007. When we parked next to a previous model, however, our new car’s “freshness” quickly became apparent.

There’s more precision in the headlight cluster, with the thin daytime running light treatment taking on a sleeker, futuristic look. The spats on the grille feel razor-sharp and more defined, as if Audi had found a way to take Apple’s manufacturing tolerances and apply them to a dinner table’s-worth of surface area. And of course, there are the sharp character lines creasing their way across the hood, and along the sides of the car. They don’t immediately jump out, but when the light hits the car just right, they reveal a new depth to the sheet metal. It’s a look that expertly merges the technical with the emotional, and serves as a fitting wrapper for what lies inside.

We had the good fortune to sample the top-of-the-line A5, A5 convertible, and sporty S5. Optioning up the standard A5 prices it just slightly below a fully optioned S5. And as the S5 comes with all the same goodies as the loaded A5, plus a completely new 3.0litre turbocharged V6, trust us when we say that you want the S5.

Let’s start with the performance. The S5’s engine is rated at 354 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Helping send that power to the wheels is an all-new eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, which comes with the requisite metal paddle shifters. From there, the intelligent quattro system (yes, Audi spells it all lowercase) sends that power to all four wheels, vectoring the power as needed to each wheel to maximize traction. For those who care about 0-60 acceleration times, the S5 has one of just 4.4 seconds.

As with the other vehicles in Audi’s portfolio, drivers can select from different drive modes that include Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual. Dynamic helps drivers extract every ounce of performance, with more immediate steering, a sharper throttle, firmer ride, and more aggressive shift points. It’s a mode best suited to those winding mountain passes, where you can point the car down the road, give the throttle a squirt, and hold on as the car launches from apex to apex, holding its line as if it were on rails. It’s certainly the most fun mode, but can be a bit much for day-to-day driving. Comfort softens all of this, giving a quiet and smooth ride not too unlike the standard A5. Auto lets the car choose between modes as needed, and Individual allows the driver to tweak each individual setting to their own liking. Unlike some other cars that play in this space, the S5 doesn’t seem to sacrifice performance or comfort.

We have yet to find an Audi interior that’s truly bad, and the S5 is no different. We still don’t like the handwriting recognition interface, but the rest of the tech remains great. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit has been re-skinned to put the tachometer front and centre in the S5, though the screen can still be adjusted to put a priority on things like navigation. The inclusion of Apple Car Play makes navigating the MMI infotainment center feel a lot easier, and we spent the bulk of our time with the S5 interfacing with just this iOS-style screen. (Android Auto is also included, but this writer doesn’t have a compatible phone to test it out.)

The driving position is, as to be expected, perfect, with seats that cradle and hold you, and controls that fall naturally to both hand and foot. The S5’s sports-inspired buckets also feature diamond embroidering, with the S5 logo embossed in the upper back. Carbon fibre trim is used throughout to reinforce the car’s intention of performance, and the flat-bottom steering wheel brings a racecar feel to the cabin. It’s a very nice place to spend some time, whether that time is spent in traffic or on the open road, and it remains the benchmark against which we compare all other cars in this luxury/performance space.

In terms of performance, design, and refinement, it’s hard to find fault with the S5. It’s a car that can be considered the total package, but if we’re honest, some may find the two-door coupe layout lacking. That’s okay, though: the Audi S4 offers the exact same greatness we talked about above, but with two extra doors and a starting price that’s over $3,000 cheaper. So whether it’s got two doors or four, the Audi S5/S4 is one bar of soap we’d love to add to our garage.

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.