The S5 utilizes a version of Audi's 4.2 liter FSI V8, which first appeared in North America in the RS4. In the S5, it's tuned to produce 354hp @6800 RPM, and it does so effortlessly. This engine is extremely flexible. It's perfectly happy loafing around town in 6th gear at 1500 RPM, as well as it is bouncing off of the rev limiter screaming it's lungs out.
Our tester was equipped with a 6 speed manual transmission. Shifts are smooth, and very positive feeling. The lever is perhaps a little tall, but not overly so, and this provides a nice amount of leverage on the shifting mechanism. Heel-toe downshifts are possible, but the brake pedal is a tad far from the throttle pedal. Clutch action is smooth, though it lacks feel.
The brakes fitted to the S5 are fantastic. They stop the car with no drama, from any speed. And they look sporty, with glossy black paint and S5 logos on the calipers. The system consists of a dual-circuit brake system with diagonal split, ESP with electronic force distribution EBD, ABS and brake assist with tandem brake boosters.
The suspension is all new to the S5 for Audi. Both front and rear are new designs; the front consisting of a 5 link arrangement, and the rear being a trapezoidal arm setup, with an anti-dive geometry. Equipped with stiffer sport dampers, and springs, the ride is very firm, not jarring. Roll is very well controlled, and dive and squat are mostly nonexistent. On rough pavement, it does ride quite rough, but in keeping with the intent of the S moniker. This is afterall, a sport tuned suspension.
But what makes this new model most revolutionary is the layout up front. In case you hadn't noticed, the front of the car looks like no other small Audi to date. The front overhang is VERY short. But there's that big V8 under the hood?
What Audi did was borrow a piece of tech from the A8; flipping the clutch and differential locations. Previously, the clutch was mated with the engine, then the rest of the transmission followed. With the older design, this pushed the differential and therefore the drive axles, rearward. Since the axles can not angle too far to the front, the whole assembly, engine and all, needs to move forward so everything lines up. This is what leads to most Audi models having a somewhat nose heavy balance.
With this borrowed bit of technology, the clutch is farther into the transmission, and the differential is allowed to push closer to the engine, to the tune of about 4 inches. This allows the engine to sit that same 4 inches to the center of the car. Meanwhile, the axles have stayed in the same relative location. This gives the car more of the balance of a rear wheel drive car. As the weight distribution becomes more evenly distributed, the car takes on a whole new personality.
The end result of this new technology, is an Audi that drives like no Audi before.
Where previous Audis had more of a pendulum effect, where it felt like the front end was leading the car around the turn, the S5 feels like it's pivoting around the driver. Honestly, it takes a few corners before you get used to the drastically different turn in behavior. But once you do, you realize that you can push this car, and push it HARD. We took some freeway off ramps at significantly higher than the posted speed, and while we got some noise of protest from the meaty tires, the chassis never once lost it's balance, or even felt remotely like it wanted to do anything untoward. Even with the ESP switched off, the car had too much grip to upset it's composure.
Off the line, the car pulls quite hard. 0 to 60 happens in around 5 seconds. But the fun begins OVER 60. The big V8 takes a deep breath, and hurtles the car into triple digits with alarming ease. Acceleration hardly wanes with each gearchange, and the chassis inherent stability adds a level of security to the otherwise rapid progress. Top speed is limited to 155 by the ECU. We didn't have the chance to probe this limit, but we don't doubt the S5 would have any problem reaching it.
Overall we loved the S5. It's a phenomenal car for someone who doesn't need large back seats, and who wants a comfortable, stylish performer that is fun and easy to drive in any weather condition. It consumes highway miles with ease and grace, it loves the tight twisties, and doesn't mind puttering around town running errands.
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