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The stereo offers excellence all around. The audio system is built by Bang & Olufsen, a Danish stereo maker with a well-deserved reputation. Its partnership with Audi represents its first foray into the automotive market, a move that has been completely successful in the Audi S5. The car gets 14 speakers pumping out 500 watts into the cabin. Bass comes through with a palpable thump, and the highs are crystal clear. This system is in the same league as the THX system we heard in the Lincoln MKZ and the Mark Levinson system from the Lexus LS 460 L. The system responds very well to its bass, treble, and surround settings, letting you adjust the audio for your preferred music.
The stereo doesn't lack sources, either. It has Sirius satellite radio and a six-disc changer that plays MP3 CDs. Finding your way through MP3/CDs folders is easy with the MMI, and you can even choose music using the steering wheel controls and the display between the speedometer and tachmeter. Best of all, though, is the iPod integration. When we hooked up an iPod Nano to the cable in the glove box, we immediately had full access to our entire music library, with the MMI letting us choose music by artist, genre, album, track, and playlist. Although we would have liked an in-dash hard drive for music, the iPod integration makes up for that feature.
The third part of this cabin trifecta is the Bluetooth cell phone integration, which is of the best we've seen. We paired a Samsung SGH-D807 to the S5, and almost immediately had full access to entries in our phonebook, along with the ability to dial individual numbers. The call quality was nice and clear on both ends, and the car's LCD shows the signal strength.
There aren't many other tech treats in the cabin. We did have a rear-view camera, something Audi does better than any other car maker. This camera not only includes lines on the display to show how close you are to obstructions, but it also curves the lines when you turn the wheel, giving you an accurate guide for where your car will go.
Under the hood
While the cabin tech worked nicely, it was the driving experience in the 2008 Audi S5 that really won us over. The 354-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8 gave very smooth power delivery, and combined with the car's six-speed manual transmission, made taking off from the line much too fun. Interestingly, with the clutch in you can't rev the car more than 4,000rpm, preventing high-rev clutch-dropping fast starts that would shorten the life of the transmission. While under way, we never got tired of the engine's growl as it wound up. Audi claims the car can get to 62 mph in 5.1 seconds.
Many cars have variable-assist power steering, but we found it very noticeable on the S5, with a very light wheel at slow speeds that quickly tightened up as our mph increased. We mentioned how the car handles above, the Quattro, which defaults to 40 percent torque in front and 60 percent in back, giving the car very accurate tracking with the steering. After our time with it, we can't imagine what you would have to do to get it to slide. But we were also surprised that an Audi S version would lean as much in the turns as the S5 did.
Audi doesn't make its DSG transmission available on the S5, most likely because of the size of the engine. Instead, we had the six-speed manual. Audi calls it a short-throw, but we've had shorter. This six-speed is very precise, which we like, but did require us to push the stick a little further to get it into gear for what we would consider a short throw. But this criticism aside, we just really liked driving the S5, as all its driving gear felt extremely well-integrated.
But here comes the bad news. You will pay a gas-guzzler tax of $1,300 for the S5, because its EPA-rated economy is 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. During our time with it, we got the aforementioned 16.3 mpg for a long, highway-based drive, and we saw an average of 14.4 mpg overall. Emissions ratings for the S5 hadn't been published at the time of this review.
The 2008 Audi S5 comes in at a base price of $50,500, keeping Audi well-differentiated from its sibling, Volkswagen. We also had the navigation option, which included iPod integration, for $2,390, a $1,700 Technology package that brought in the rear-view camera, the Bang & Olufsen audio system for a very reasonable $850, and wood inlays for $500. Along with that ugly $1,300 gas-guzzler tax and a $775 destination charge, our S5 totaled $58,015.
We like this car a lot, from its beautiful exterior, through its excellent cabin gadgets, and down to its exhilarating performance. It earned a top score for its design, as it does everything a coupe should do. Its cabin gadgets are excellent but don't earn it a perfect score in that category because it doesn't present anything truly cutting-edge, although the quality of the audio almost put it over the top. It would have also earned a perfect score in the performance category if it wasn't for the lousy gas mileage. The S5 also has little competition, as there are few high-performance luxury coupes with all-wheel-drive available. But next year look for the new BMW M3 and the Nissan GT-R to put it in its place.