Available with adaptive suspension, an active differential for its Quattro all-wheel-drive system, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a supercharged engine boasting 333 horsepower, the 2013 Audi S5 sounds like it should be a road-devouring beast. However, Audi's little coupe tends more toward agile weekend sport driver than track day superstar.
As a tech car, the 2013 S5 is near-perfect, exhibiting the kind of engineering and electronics that earned the 2012 Audi A7 CNET's Tech Car of the Year award. The S5 is an all-around excellent driver, comfortable in gridlocked traffic, and exciting on a twisty back road. Cabin tech and driver assistance systems are both innovative and useful, the kinds of features that you miss when driving a lesser car.
From its launch I loved the design of the S5. The 2013 model keeps the same sleek, compact coupe body, with minor changes to headlights and grille. Lest you think a coupe is too impractical, the S5's rear seats fold down, making a clear cargo area straight through to the trunk. Angular LED running lights bracketing the headlights give the S5 a unique expression.
Google Earth, while you drive
Once inside the S5, the Google map-based navigation system captured my attention. Although using a smaller LCD than in the A7, where I first saw this feature, it was still completely engaging to see a satellite image of the road on which I was currently driving. Audi highlights the roads on the imagery so as to distinguish them from the photographic cacophony of buildings and landscape; traffic flow and incident icons are shown as well.
These satellite maps come to the car through a live 3G connection. While driving around areas with no data service, I noticed that the maps lost some detail, but never entirely faded out. The car also comes with a complete set of standard navigation maps.
Using Audi's MMI controller on the console, I could enter addresses or look up points of interest, but using the dial to pick letters from a rotary interface was tedious. Audi has not added the kind of touch pad it has in the A7 and the upcoming A3 to the S5 as yet. However, I was impressed with the voice command system, which let me say an address as a complete string, which the car proved very adept at understanding.
As for points of interest, much better than the built-in database is Audi's Online Destinations feature. The MMI controller works with this feature as well, but voice command is much more convenient. Using it, I had merely to say the name of a local business or park, and the car returned a list of local destinations from Google. After finding the correct one, I could feed it directly into the car's navigation system for route guidance.
I found the S5's route guidance slightly lacking. Although it showed turn-by-turn directions on the instrument cluster display and its voice prompts said the names of streets on which I was to turn, the system's graphics were not as robust as in other cars. When approaching a freeway junction, for example, the S5 did not show a graphic of what that junction looked like or offer guidance as to which lanes I should be in.
Audi and audio
The data connection also supports weather, news, and gas price feeds. When looking up gas prices, I was able to find a nearby gas station and navigate right to it. The per-gallon price listed corresponded correctly to the actual price for regular at the station, although the S5 takes premium. Missing from Audi's in-car data services are any social apps, such as Twitter or Facebook, or any online music services.
Not that the S5 lacks for audio sources. It supported Bluetooth streaming from my iPhone, showing complete track data on its LCD, along with Audi's proprietary port with a 30-pin iPod adapter in the glovebox. That proprietary port can also take a USB adapter cable or auxiliary input adapter. My only wish is that Audi would put this port in the console rather than in the glovebox, making it easier to reach from the driver seat. Two slots graced the dashboard, supporting MP3 tracks stored on SD cards. And Audi reserves room on the navigation system hard drive for music.
However, I could not insert a CD and have the car rip it to the hard drive. The system's import function only seems to work with tracks stored on SD cards or USB drives.
With my iPhone cabled to the car, the LCD presented album art along with track information. The music library was easy to navigate using Audi's MMI controller, but I was a little baffled that the interface used the term Folder for each album. And although I could use voice command to request music stored on the car's hard drive, voice did not work for my connected iPhone or other audio sources.
As part of the Prestige package, with which CNET's car came equipped, was a Bang & Olufsen audio system, featuring 14 speakers and a 505-watt amplifier, very robust equipment for the S5's small cabin. I was exceedingly pleased with the sound from this system, while noting that it was not quite as good as the Bang & Olufsen system in the A7 or BMW's M5. Guitars, vocals, keyboards, and drums all came through with a satisfyingly rich sound, although bass could have featured more depth. At high volumes, the system showed only a little distortion.
The S5's audio system is, of course, tunable, but so is the engine sound. The newest version of Audi's Drive Select system, which gives the car sport and comfort driving profiles, includes a parameter to give it the Dynamic Engine Sound. That sound came through like any high-performance German engine: not loud, but a symphony of parts delivering a fast tick-tick like a Swiss watch as they worked seamlessly together.