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2015 Audi S5 review: Supercharged all-wheel-drive: The Audi S5

Superchargers are rare in the automotive world, and even more so when combined with all-wheel-drive, but both can be found in the elegantly beautiful Audi S5.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
7 min read

When I first reviewed an Audi S5 , I was so thrilled by the feeling of performance and the smooth-shifting six speed that I powered off the line from two consecutive traffic lights, and got a fortunately brief talking-to from a local police officer who happened to observe my antics. The 2015 Audi S5 may be down two cylinders from that earlier example, but it is every bit as exhilarating to drive.

2015 Audi S5

2015 Audi S5

The Good

Quattro all-wheel-drive and the optional Sport Differential give the 2015 Audi S5 superb handling, while its coupe styling shows a subtle beauty. A dedicated data connection powers Google Earth imagery and destination search for navigation.

The Bad

The Audi Music Interface requires a number of adapter cables to connect different devices or drives. The S5 lacks much in the way of third-party app integration, and the navigation system takes awhile to boot up.

The Bottom Line

The 2015 Audi S5 delivers an exceptional sport driving character in a very attractive package, while offering impressive connected tech in the cabin, but its coupe styling limits its practicality.

The Audi S5's natural rival is the BMW 435i, or more specifically, the 435i xDrive, but I'm not going to make the case for one over the other. The S5 is more powerful and the 4-series costs a little less. Drive each and see which one you like the best.

The S5 is a coupe, with two doors and two cramped rear seats, the sport version of the Audi A5. Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I think many would agree that the S5 is just a gorgeous bit of automotive design. It's the kind of car that will make you happy every time you see it.

The S5 combines beautiful coupe design with excellent performance and cabin electronics. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Where the earlier generation S5 had a V-8, this generation makes use of a 3-liter V-6, but makes up for the power deficit with a supercharger, a somewhat unique bit of forced induction technology among currently available vehicles. The S5 also comes standard with Audi's all-wheel-drive system, Quattro, a help both in sport driving and on slippery roads.

In the US, the S5 starts at $52,500, but there are some crucial performance upgrades you will need, and excellent tech options you will want. The example I drove priced out at $58,775. Audi doesn't change the driveline for other markets, so British and Australian buyers will also get the supercharged V-6 and Quattro, at a base price of £42,675 in the UK and AU$119,900 in Australia.

The S5, Audi's supercharged sport coupe (pictures)

See all photos

Supercharged power

The S5's supercharger comes from supplier Eaton, and uses two rotors with thick vanes to compress air at 11.6 psi, pumping it into the fuel system to get the 3-liter V-6 engine's output up to 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Unlike how a turbocharger is driven by an engine's exhaust, the supercharger gets turned by the engine's piston action, meaning it compresses air as soon as the engine starts turning. The result was immediate, gratifying acceleration, which I indulged in sparsely populated rural areas to avoid another stern warning.

A supercharger sits atop this 3-liter V-6 engine, bringing output up to 333 horsepower. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Off the line with the S5, it was a quick slip to 6,000 rpm on the tachometer, then clutch in and shift to second for another big power boost, the engine note an aggressive growl heard even through the premium quality cabin sound deadening.

The six-speed shifts with wonderful accuracy and smoothness in the S5, such that it was comfortable driving in stop-and-go traffic and even making hill starts on steep streets, the latter helped by a useful hill-start feature in the car. Audi offers its seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual, or S-tronic, transmission as an option, and I wouldn't fault anyone for taking it. In other Audis I have reviewed, that transmission makes quick, satisfying shifts at the flick of a steering-wheel-mounted paddle, and it will likely improve your lap times if that's your aim.

For more responsive performance, the S5 includes DriveSelect, a feature that let me switch between Dynamic and Comfort modes. These modes affect the electric power-steering program, throttle response and exhaust sound, making them tighter and more aggressive for Dynamic. Switching between them, I didn't find a huge difference -- the car didn't get too sloppy in Comfort mode, nor was it at all difficult to rein in while set to Dynamic. Audi tends to program its steering for lightness, making the wheel easy to turn, and that was in evidence with the S5. I personally prefer a little more heft on the wheel, but with the S5's program I could quickly make steering adjustments in the turns without the car fighting me.

As this S5 also had Audi's Sport Differential option, Dynamic mode changed its program. The Sport Differential complements the Quattro system. Where Quattro defaults to a 40:60 front-rear torque split, shifting power between the front and rear wheels depending on traction, the Sport Differential dynamically splits torque between the right- and left-rear wheels. In a turn, it overdrives the outside rear wheel, and the result is pure brilliance. When I aimed the S5 through a set of hairpin turns, the differential made the back of the car come around more sharply, giving me a bit of predictable oversteer. You can get a similar effect in a rear-wheel-drive car, throwing its back-end out in a turn, but it felt so much more controlled in the S5.

Audi's DriveSelect changes the throttle, steering and engine sound by default, but can also change suspension and differential programs. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

An option missing on this S5 was the adaptive suspension, a steal at only $1,000. Also affected by DriveSelect, it would have made for a softer ride in Comfort and a stiffer ride in Dynamic. The S5's fixed suspension is well-engineered and didn't let me down in the turns, but it had to strike a compromise between pliable ride quality and holding the body flat during fast cornering.

Dropping the V-8 in favor of the supercharged six-cylinder engine was an efficiency move, similar to what many automakers are doing. The power output from the six-cylinder is roughly equivalent to that of the eight, but fuel economy comes in at 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, an average of 4 mpg better than the previous generation. On a run that involved significant freeway time, sport driving on backroads, and a little bit of city traffic, I came in at 20.4 mpg.

Generations behind

For cabin tech, this S5 came with the optional navigation system and Audi's Multimedia Interface (MMI) controller. I have been very impressed with these features in every Audi I've seen, but Audi keeps upping its own bar, so the tech in this S5 is a generation behind that of the A3 , and yet another generation behind the new TT and Q7 . Still ahead of most other car makers, the S5's MMI uses only a 3G data connection, it lacks a touchpad or many third-party apps, and its LCD is on the small side.

This MMI controller does not include a touchpad, like newer versions. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The MMI controller consists of a dial and buttons on the console, with a little jog-stick on top of the dial for map browsing. This controller works well for the elliptical graphic menu screens, but becomes tedious to use when entering alphanumeric characters for an address or POI search. Voice command works well as a substitute for address inputs.

For navigation, the S5's big party trick is showing Google Earth imagery overlaid with street names, making it look like you're driving under real-time satellite surveillance. Of course, it isn't real-time, but it does look cool. If you don't favor that imagery -- or don't want to pay for the $30 monthly T-Mobile plan ($450 for 30 months) -- the car includes very nice-looking graphic maps, with 3D rendered buildings in urban areas. However, the data plan also includes access to Google online destination search integrated with navigation, plus data services for fuel prices, weather and location-based information garnered from Wikipedia about nearby landmarks and other points of interest.

Online destination search is very useful, as anyone who has struggled with out-of-date points-of-interest databases can attest, and it is becoming a de rigueur feature for new cars. Missing from the S5 are apps such as Yelp, which can be very useful for finding restaurants or other businesses, and other popular apps for smartphones. Audi includes better app integration in its later generations of cabin electronics, and arch-rival BMW has the best app integration in the business.

The hands-free Bluetooth phone system comes with typical features, such as address-book integration and the ability to use voice command to dial by name. And like other automakers, the Bluetooth capability does double duty, also streaming music to the audio system. Audi's Bluetooth interface shows track information on the car's LCD but did not let me browse the music library on my phone.

Audi includes fine-looking navigation maps stored on the car's hard drive. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

I could have plugged my phone into the car for a better music interface, or plugged in a USB drive, but as the S5 uses the proprietary Audi Music Interface and only came with a 30-pin Apple adapter cable, I was out of luck. Audi chooses this interface over a simple USB port, which would allow much greater flexibility for external devices. Drivers in Europe can download an app to connect iPhones to the car's wi-fi, which allows more audio playback options. The S5 also comes with a couple of SD card slots, which serve as audio sources, along with HD radio and satellite radio.

The stock audio system in the S5 comes with 10 speakers and a 180-watt amp, pretty robust for standard equipment. The sound quality was very good and will satisfy most listeners, but Audi also offers a Bang and Olusfen premium audio option with 14 speakers and 505 watts of amplification. At only $850, the price of a single good home hi-fi speaker, the Bang & Olufsen option in the S5 is a steal.

Subtle beauty

The 2015 Audi S5 may be a couple of years old, but it embodies how many things that Audi gets right. With its standard all-wheel-drive system and supercharger, it's a bit unique among sport coupes. That supercharged engine may not be the most economical around, but it does well for the amount of power it produces. This six-speed manual is about as good as it gets for a manual transmission, and Audi also has the fast and efficient seven-speed S-tronic transmission available.

I would place the Sport Differential and the adaptive suspension as two necessary options for the S5, as you are missing out on a lot of this car's potential without them.

The cabin electronics are fully connected and very good, despite the annoying Audi Music Interface, but here's where a buyer might be swayed toward the BMW 4-series, which uses BMW's latest generation of iDrive featuring more connected apps and a wider screen. Audi's menu graphics look good, and the navigation system is very useful, if a bit slow to boot up.

For looks, the S5 is one of my favorite. Lacking the panache of a classic grand tourer, the S5 has more conservative lines that show a subtle beauty. It's the kind of car that bystanders will quietly admire, without stopping you to talk about the car.

Tech specs

Model 2015 Audi S5
Trim Premium Plus
Powertrain Supercharged direct injection 3-liter six-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 20.4 mpg
Navigation Optional with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, HD radio, satellite radio
Audio system 180-watt 10-speaker system
Driver aids Blind-spot monitor, rear-view camera
Base price $52,500
Price as tested $58,775
2015 Audi S5

2015 Audi S5

Score Breakdown

Performance 8Features 8Design 7Media 8


Available Engine GasBody style Coupe