|September 29, 2011
By: Kris Hansen
By now it should come as absolutely no surprise that we love the Audi A5 and S5 coupe here at Audiworld. Ever since we first laid our eyes on it at it’s global launch during the 2007 Geneva auto show, this car has been a staff favorite – both in form, and function.
When the A5 coupe was born, it represented a major turning point in the composition of the mid size Audi, on multiple fronts. Designed by Walter de Silva, the B8 (B is Audis mid size platform line, consisting of the A4/S4 sedans, and the A5/S5) coupe is absolutely gorgeous. Thanks to the new location of the front differential in front of and below the flywheel -the entire engine and transmission package was moved rearward, towards the center of the car. Not only did this allow for a longer wheelbase with shorter overhang in the front, it transformed the handling of the car dramatically. Previously, the smaller Audis were considered to be overly nose heavy, and as a result, tended to understeer dramatically. In contrast, we always considered the B series coupe to be one of the finest handling Audis of all time. The chassis balance is very neutral, with a tendency to understeer at the bleeding edge of grip, which in all honesty is better than the alternative. But in normal driving, the A5 and S5 are truly joyous to thread through corners.
A car with brilliant handling is not a lot of good without a strong engine, and Audi has a few of those in their arsenal. Initially there were 2 engine options in the A5 we received a 3.2 liter FSI V6 engine with either an automatic or manual transmission, and in the S5, the silky smooth rev happy 4.2 liter FSI V8, with a 6 speed manual. These were both excellent powertrain options, plenty fast, though somewhat thirsty. Along the way, the A5 and S5 grew a very nice loyal fan base, and the B8 coupe was clearly enticing buyers of other brands as they were seen much more frequently.
In the time since the B8 coupe was first launched, Audis overall design concept continued to evolve, and it was time to update the B8 models to fit in with the current theme of crisp lines and more chiseled grillework. As an integral design element, the B8 coupe receives all new headlights and tail lights also in keeping with the current Audis. No changes were made to sheet metal, though both front and rear bumpers receive new skin. These changes are somewhat dramatic at first, though in person the front end treatment is much smoother than it first appeared in photos.
Along with the exterior look of the coupe, Audi also changed around its top end engine offering in the S5, opting for their excellent 3 liter supercharged direct injected v6 engine instead of the 4.2 liter V8. Even though this change meant a power decrease from 350 or so to 333, the overall drivability improves thanks to the early torque delivery of the 3.0TFSI, and fuel economy improves dramatically.
Weve heard some fans of the current S5 lamenting the loss of the 4.2 V8s sonorous bellow and arguably better top end thrust. We can say that we really enjoyed driving the outgoing V8 very much, but we do prefer the 3.0TFSI head to head. Its lighter, less nose heavy thanks to the overall shorter length of the block, and thanks to the supercharger, it has much more useful power in the lower rev band, and lower revs means less fuel consumption. We werent able to sample the 3.0TFSI with the MT6, but we did drive it with the 7 speed S-tronic, and found it to be fabulous. This combination was already offered in the S5 Cabriolet here in the USA, so it wasnt completely foreign to us. In the coupe, which is lighter than the cabby, we loved the combo. The 3.0TFSI is allowed to breathe with the S tuned exhaust, and it barks out a nice tone at full throttle. It has a decidedly more aggressive tone than the same engine does in the A5 sportback we drove, and also the A6 and A7.
We also had the chance to drive the 2.0TFSI in the A5, which is not a new combination for the USA, but we love it. Thanks to the lighter weight of the 4 cylinder engine, the A5 feels much more nimble. The significant torque generated by the quick spooling turbo makes this car a joy to drive. Because of the relatively small turbo, this engine does run out of breath at the very top end of the rev band, but once you realize theres no need to wind the engine out to the limiter and just short shift instead, the driving pleasure is much higher. The car we drove was the 6 speed manual transmission, which we were thrilled to see, but were a little disappointed that the feel remains a little rubbery, and the gates are not very crisply defined. Its not especially horrible, but its not as precise as wed like to see in a car of this level.
Audi updated more than just the A5/S5 looks and drivetrain options. Audi wisely saw fit to update the B8 coupe with the latest and greatest version of the MMI with Audi Connect and Google Earth overlay for the maps. This is one of the little things that make navigating unfamiliar areas a piece of cake, since you can see exactly what is around you on the MMI screen. The car also receives the newer style steering wheel from the A8/A6 and A7. Audi made one slight change to the MMI controls by removing the FF and RW buttons, and adding their functions to the on/off/volume knob, which becomes a 4 direction switch. Also removed or relocated are the Car, Setup, Name, and Tel buttons. We see this as being the beginning of a simplification effort, where multiple functions are performed at the same location, reinforced by the MMI controls for the upcoming A3 that we saw at the Frankfurt Auto Show, which further reduce the size and complexity of the MMI control layout.
Along with the tech updates to the B8 coupe, Audi also is offering some new interior trim options and were hearing rumors of some new exterior colors. Stay tuned for those!
We didnt have the chance to push any of the cars too hard to discover any discernable changes in the handling balance, but the S5 felt very stable and well balanced. We also got a good feel for a few of the models that we dont expect to see here in the near future, such as the 3.0TDI in an A5 Cabriolet, with the 7 speed S-tronic. We can say we really hope Audi brings this combination here. In such a small car, that 3.0TDIs mountainous torque was truly awesome.
Audi managed to make one of our favorite cars better without removing from what made it great in the first place. It still drives like a dream, it still has its sexy curves, and has even more creature comforts inside. Once we have a little more time with the car, well have even more to show and say about it. But for now, we like what we see for the updated A5 and S5!