I suppose it’s understandable why carmakers do it, but it’s not always a great idea to launch cars in beautiful locations with superb roads. When we went to Verona in Italy to drive the Audi A5 and S5 we came away rather indifferent to Audi’s latest offering −yes, it’s brilliantly executed inside and out but when you drive it, the all-new double-wishbone front and trapezoidal-link rear suspension don’t inspire or engage in the way we had hoped. There wasn’t enough feel or involvement and it was all a bit too soft, we thought. Fast forward three months and we’re now pounding across the Wicklow Mountains in the first S5 in the country, and up here where the road surface is greasy and more like that of the moon, the all-new coupé really gets to strut its stuff.
All the things we disliked about it in Italy become some of its best characteristics up here −the ‘soft’ springing means the S5 rides sublimely, shrugs off road imperfections that have rivals skipping off line and helps the (optional 19-inch) tyres follow the contour of the road better, improving grip, responsiveness and feel. Gone are the days of over-sprung Audis. The all-new S5 is a master class in damping and springing. Yes, I mentioned ‘feel’ just a moment ago. Part of the problem with our Italian test was that the roads we were on were very tight and winding and perfectly surfaced. The S5, being a front-engined, V8-powered, fourwheel-drive coupé, had a slight tendency to understeer through tighter bends, which is understandable but not a whole lot of fun, while on the faster bends it didn’t communicate very much because, I assume, there wasn’t much to talk about. The road is smooth. There’s plenty of grip. What else do you need to know?
On Irish roads, however, there’s much to discuss and the S5 is surprisingly chatty as soon as the need arises. There’s proper weight, decent feel (by the current standards) and there’s just enough responsiveness to make it feel agile without making it feel twitchy. There’s a real stream of information coming up through the chassis and steering, but it’s coupled with excellent composure and a proper filtration system so the S5 never feels anything less than crushingly competent and supremely satisfying. Now that Audi has found room in the engine bay for a V8 (as opposed to hanging it out over the front bumper, as in the S4) there’s a balance and poise that no previous Audi could have managed. Bravo, Audi. After spending a few days with the car, we also got used to the clutch and gearbox that we found so irritating at the launch, while the looks of the svelte bodywork and sound of engine just got better every time we experienced them. Indeed, by the end of our week with the car we were well and truly smitten by its brilliance as an all-round package.
The only downside, as always, is price; the car comes with a base price that pushes it into Porsche territory, and, if (as Audi Ireland did) you specify €17,000 worth of essential options, out the other side. Oh, and the MMI system, though much better than BMW’s i-Drive system, is still irritatingly and pointlessly complicated. Why can’t I just have some stereo presents, eh lads? Minor irritations aside, the S5 is still a superb machine that actually got better the worse the roads and conditions became. It took a soggy Irish mountain for the S5 to really, really shine, which makes the choice of carpet-smooth roads around Verona as a launch venue all the more bewildering. Mind you, the food was pretty good there...
Engine 4.2-litre V8, 354hp, 440Nm torque
Transmission 6-speed manual, AWD
Acceleration 0-100km/h 5.1 seconds
Top speed 250 km/h (limited)
Economy 12.4 litres/100km CO2
Emissions 298 g/km
Weight 1,630 kg
Boot Capacity 455 litres
Base Price €85,500
Price as Tested €102,641