American Flyer The Audi S5 goes down the American road like it belongs there — fast, stylish and unintimidated. By Michael Jordan, Executive Editor Date posted: 08-01-2007 Long wheelbase - 354-hp 4.2-liter V8 - Panoramic moonroof - Optional Bang & Olufsen audio system Audi has been serious for decades, busily bringing us such engineering breakthroughs as the five-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive, the aluminum chassis, direct fuel injection and competition-prepared diesels. It's been like science class. At least the lab projects have been impressing the neighbors and even winning races at Le Mans. But with the 2008 Audi S5, the technoid visionaries of Ingolstadt have finally lightened up. After all, we're Americans. We're just a simple people. Speed and style are what sell. Nuvolari Returns From the Past Audi Design Chief Walter de'Silva calls this "the most beautiful car I have ever designed." Audi has figured out that a coupe should be beautiful, not merely exclusive. Even as the typical German sedan has become a beast with swollen fenders and a massive grille, designed to bludgeon the meek out of the fast lane on the autobahn, the 2008 Audi S5 has a different look. Its curving contours are leaner, more expressive and more energetic. The face of the new Audi coupe comes from the midengine Audi R8 sports car, and the rest has been inspired by the 2003 Nuvolari showcar. The S5 version of the coupe is set apart visually from the conventional A5 by a radiator grille painted in platinum gray and inlaid with chrome trim, more aggressive bumpers, outside mirrors painted silver and four oval tailpipes. Overall, this is a car that makes its luxury statement with color and chrome, a look that sets it apart from its German counterparts, the BMW 6 Series and Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class. A New Way of Going Down the Road The S5 coupe speeds to 60 mph nearly as quick as the Audi RS4 and matches the sedan in the quarter-mile. The A5 begins with the structure of the A4 sedan, and it's broadly similar in size, though predictably lower and wider. At the same time, the wheelbase has been stretched 4.1 inches, which comes from relocating the differential for the front wheels ahead of the clutch. Now the front wheels are carried by a lightweight, aluminum suspension with five links on each side, which is rigidly attached to the body by a separate subframe. Meanwhile the rack-and-pinion steering assembly also has found a new home close to the centerline of the wheels. When you pencil it out, these changes have a huge impact. There are 5.3 fewer inches of front overhang, so there's less mass leading the front tires down the road, and that means the car is more responsive to steering inputs. The coupe also distributes its 3,807 pounds more evenly, 58 percent front/42 percent rear. And finally the steering is crisper, more direct. It's in Your Hands The S5's interior has all the customary inviting cues of Audi's current design themes. There's a new, down-the-road sense in this car that you can feel as soon as you take the steering wheel. The S5 feels alert, completely different from an A4 sedan or even an RS4. It's a difference you can measure on the test track. On the skid pad, the S5 balances easily on its 255/35ZR18 Dunlop Sport Maxx tires. It hangs on until you reach 0.91g, which is a fraction more than the Audi RS4 sedan achieves. More important, the S5 maintains its poise even at the limit, and a quick dab at the throttle is enough to change its cornering arc. The S5 balances nicely through the slalom as well, recording a speed of 68.6 mph, which compares to the RS4 sedan's 70.6 mph. The steering effort of the Audi coupe's speed-sensitive system is a little light, and it's overmatched by the quick turn-in from the chassis and tires, yet the car's overall responsiveness inspires complete confidence. Gone is the vague, on-center steering action that has characterized other Audi models. This coupe fits the way real Americans drive. It's meant to travel enormous distances at high speed, undeterred by the character of the road or the nature of the weather. As the sporting version of the Audi coupe, the S5 has had its suspension snubbed down to a fairly tight calibration, a measure to keep the inevitable torque reaction of all-wheel drive from disturbing your sense of command and control through the steering wheel. As you'd expect, these standard 19-inch, 35-series tires are pretty aggressive, though, and they'll patter across the ridges between the concrete slabs on the freeway or across broken pavement. A V8 That's Perfect for America The Audi 4.2-liter V8 has direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, enhancing its brilliant tractability. Yet it's the engine that dominates the S5, just as it should in a sporting coupe. Audi's 4.2-liter V8 appears once again here, calibrated this time to deliver 354 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. This long-stroke V8 doesn't have a very sexy reputation, yet it's brilliant in both character and performance. It pulls from very low rpm just like an American-built V8, and then it has another dimension of power that carries you to its 7,000-rpm redline. The tractability of this engine perfectly suits an automatic transmission, yet we still prefer the crisp throttle response that comes with a six-speed manual transmission. The shift linkage combines fairly long, light-effort throws with firm engagement, so it's easy to use. Even so, the engine has such authoritative power as you roll on the throttle there's not much need for shifting. If you want to triumph over time from a standing start, you dump the clutch at 4,500 rpm, sense a bit of wheelspin from the front tires followed by a stern kick from the rears, and 60 mph comes up in 4.9 seconds. You pass through the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 104.6 mph. This compares to the 420-hp Audi RS4's 4.7-second acceleration to 60 mph and its quarter-mile pass of 13.2 seconds at 106.8 mph. Since the Audi V8 will carry this car all the way to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph, the S5 has brakes that are up to the task, and this car with its standard 17-inch discs comes to a halt from 60 mph in just 110 feet. Traveling in a Coupe S5 driver seat supports you very well, yet it manages to offer the right kind of comfort for cross-country travel. The Audi S5's interior rejects conventional German austerity for a warm, expressive look, and everything feels wonderful. A panoramic sunroof (it tilts up, but the shape of the roof prevents it from sliding open) also brings more light into the interior. Audi has also managed the transition to mobile electronics with far more flair and good sense than its competitors. The navigation screen is high in the dash, yet it doesn't look like someone abandoned a microwave oven up there. And the Audi MMI system continues to be the best of these systems, as the central control knob and its surrounding buttons create an interface that quickly becomes intuitive. At $6,300 the Audi S5's optional Bang & Olufsen audio system seems like a ridiculous affectation at first, but the interior is such a nice place you'll be thinking up excuses to go out to the garage at night and listen to music. There's a Message in Style A longer wheelbase than the A4 sedan helps balance the all-wheel-drive coupe's weight more evenly between front and rear. At the moment, official pricing for the 2008 Audi S5 has not yet been announced, though we understand $53,000 is a reasonable estimate. This would peg it to the price of a Mercedes-Benz CLK550, which the Audi S5 resembles in character far more than the $74,700 BMW 650i. For decades, Audi has been an artistic success in America, but it's also been largely unencumbered by commercial success. It's reinvented itself over and over again, trying to find the magic fairy dust that will make people notice. The 2008 Audi S5 will grab people by the neck and make them pay attention. It has the commanding presence of a BMW 6 Series, runs with the Audi RS4 sedan and sits there at the same price as a Mercedes CLK. Here in America, we're simple enough to understand speed and style. The 2008 Audi S5 is a classic American coupe, ideal for a country where the distances challenge you. You know, purple mountains majesty, amber waves of grain and all that. The science nerds in Ingolstadt must take their vacations here. Audi offers useful information that's clearly presented, a combination that is more unique than it should be among coupes. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $ 62,000 What Works: Warm, expressive new look; tractable V8 engine; better balanced handling; carefully crafted network of convenience, performance and safety features. What Needs Work: Too aggressive brake action; four-wheel-drive-style drivetrain windup. Bottom Line: Beautiful, luxurious and desirable, this fast highway car takes Audi to the top step of excellence. Second Opinion Audi's MMI is one of the best audio-navigation controllers around; its ease of use alone makes it better than other systems. Senior Copy Editor Doug Lloyd says: I'm a sedan man. I've attempted to fit my 6-foot-1 frame behind enough fold-forward seats and around enough seatbelts, and I do not want to subject my friends to the same torture. But if I were ever to be seduced to the two-door dark side, the Audi S5 would be the sensuous face of evil. Its low-slung shape and fat, low-profile tires make it seem like a snarling animal, ready to give chase. When you push the S5's starter button, it's like firing up an F-16, and you imagine the tremendous roar from the pipes enhanced by thick tendrils of orange flame. The shift action feels fantastic, the acceleration never stops, and the S5 simply sticks to the ground as if glued there. Every time I think I'm about to exceed this car's limits, it proves me wrong. Faster, you say? More grip, you say? But of course, it says. Stephen King's novel Needful Things is based on the premise that anyone can be persuaded to be just a little bit wicked for just the right item. Maybe something that recalls their youth, makes them feel powerful, boosts their confidence. I'm pretty sure the Audi S5 qualifies. The devil made me drive it. Performance Derived from the 2003 Audi Nuvolari showcar, the S5 coupe offers a new, leaner look from the German company. 0 - 30 (sec): 1.6 0 - 45 (sec): 3.1 0 - 60 (sec): 4.9 0 - 75 (sec): 7.4 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.3 @ 104.6 30 - 0 (ft): 28 60 - 0 (ft): 110 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Slalom (mph): 68.6 Skid Pad (g-force): 0.91 Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Db @ Idle: 42.5 Db @ Full Throttle: 77.2 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 68.8 Acceleration: With ASR/ESP switched off and using 4,500 rpm at launch, we first tried to feather the clutch. The result was acceptable, but the best launch occurred with an aggressive dump of the clutch at 4,500 rpm. Front wheelspin was followed by a stern kick from the rear tires. Shift throws feel long and the slot for 3rd gear feels like where 5th might be. Clutch action is light and engagment is smooth, but action feels damped in some way. Braking: Very strong brakes maintained throughout the 60-0 mph test. No peaks or plateaus in performance -- very consistent feel. Tried one run using the push-button emergency brake, which brought the car to a gentle halt and yet had substantial effect. Handling: Extremely well-balanced on the skid pad with no steering corrections required. All that's needed to alter the car's attitude is a change in throttle position. Through the slalom, the steering effort feels a bit too light and disengaged from the tires. When this is combined with quick turn-in, the result is a less-than-telepathic slalom run. Yet the ability to rotate the car at will with the throttle and a heroic power-on drift through the last gate provides Evo-like entertainment. The least Audi-style Audi we've ever driven.