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.
For the S5, Audi uses its direct-injection 3-liter V-6, topped with a supercharger to help it get 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Despite the forced induction, acceleration felt very linear and easily controlled, thanks to the chain-driven supercharger. While the car raced around twisty mountain roads with Drive Select in its full Dynamic mode, the engine made a delightful cough as I downshifted the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
That gearbox worked very well, letting me keep my foot on the gas pedal as I pulled the paddles for a down- or upshift. My only complaint was the slim power crossover between second and third. On some turns, the third gear revs were too low to maintain good power, but second gear had the tachometer brushing redline, with little room to put on more speed and the car begging for a gearshift midturn.
The relatively short wheelbase of the car and Audi's rear Sport Differential led to very satisfying rotation in tight turns. The optional Sport Differential adds torque vectoring to Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system, causing the outside rear wheel to push harder in a turn. In fact, thanks to Quattro, the S5 has tremendous grip while using standard sport tires. The tail does not wag, but pushed to extremes it is more likely to go into a four-wheel drift when losing grip.
Driving the mountain roads was very fun in the S5, but even in its Dynamic setting the steering felt light, overboosted, and too easy to turn. The power steering unit is electric, and Audi has not tuned it to deliver much in the way of feedback or a heavier steering feel, which I prefer in a performance car. The suspension also could have held the S5 flatter in the turns. This particular model came with the S5's standard sport suspension, but lacked the optional dynamic dampers, which likely would have eliminated body roll in the turns.
The changeable car
A button on the S5's console let me toggle through the different Drive Select profiles, making it easy to put the car in its most aggressive mode, which Audi calls Dynamic. The opposite end of that setting is Comfort, which dials down engine response, steering, transmission, exhaust sound, the rear differential, and the car's suspension, if it had come with the adaptive dampers. Drive Select also has a setting called Auto, which adjusts the response of the various settings depending on driving style, and Individual, which let me program each setting.
In Comfort mode, the S5 proved very pliable when driving around the city, down the freeway, or in heavy traffic. It retained a sporty feeling, able to put down the power when I wanted it. The fixed sport suspension, while not quite floating over potholes, handled all roads in a businesslike fashion. In the Comfort setting, in around-town driving, I found it possible to practically ignore the car's driving qualities, and just depend on it as stylish transportation.
Strangely, Audi includes the S5's adaptive cruise control in its Drive Select settings. I never found the need to aggressively match speeds with the cars in front of me during long freeway drives. In Comfort mode the system did just fine, following other cars in traffic and even reducing speed to zero when cars up ahead stopped.
That adaptive cruise control includes a collision warning feature. Using its forward-looking radar, it first lit up a red icon on the instrument cluster display when it calculated I was getting too close to the car ahead. If it was closing too fast on the car ahead, and I failed to hit the brake, it lit up a more prominent warning and sounded a tone; quite useful for avoiding fender benders.
However, the initial red warning icon became annoying, as it remains on when there is no danger of a collision, and blinks. It contributed significantly to a headache as I drove in light traffic down the freeway, not wanting to open too much of a gap between the S5 and the car up ahead lest every other car on the road decide to jump in front of me.
More useful on a daily basis was the blind-spot detection feature, which turned on yellow warning lights in the mirror casings when other cars were in the next lanes over. The S5 also features Audi's excellent rear-view camera, overlaid with trajectory and distance lines. However, there is no front or top-down camera view, as on some competitors.
At 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, fuel economy is quite good for a performance car. However, I did not see anything in the high 20s while testing the S5. Through a course of city, freeway, and a good dose of high-revving mountain driving, the S5 turned in just under 20 mpg.
As a sport car, the 2013 Audi S5 is perfectly enjoyable, but not something you want to put up against a BMW M3. The steering feels light, but it turns the wheels with precision, while Quattro and the sport differential contribute to excellent cornering. The S5's best attribute is its ability to be an all-around car, fun on the weekend and comfortable during the daily commute.
Of course, the tech is generally amazing. The Google Earth integration with the navigation system makes this a car you want to take exploring, getting satellite views of the surrounding territory as you go. The S5's other connected features work seamlessly, due to the car having its own data plan, but after the six-month complementary subscription period, that plan will cost $30 per month through T-Mobile.
|Model||2013 Audi S5|
|Power train||Supercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||19.9 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with traffic and Google maps|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with contact list integration|
|Digital audio sources||Bluetooth streaming, onboard hard drive, SD card, USB drive, iPod, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bang & Olufsen 505-watt 14-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, collision warning, blind-spot monitor, rear-view camera|
|Price as tested||$67,370|