Review and road test of the Audi S5 Sportback
Audi's second generation S5 Sportback is a car for the executive family buyer with a need for speed. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review of the Audi S5 Sportback
In second generation form, Audi's S5 Sportback has become a far more credible contender in the premium-badged performance segment. Buyers get a significantly more sophisticated package this time round, one featuring improved quattro 4WD, a quick-shifting 8-speed sports automatic and a potent turbocharged 354PS 3.0-litre V6 beneath the bonnet. It's still perhaps, not the most engaging car of this kind you can buy, but what's been delivered here is a very complete proposition indeed.
The original Audi S5 Sportback was a potent performance five-door executive model that was fast, subtle but rather too easy to ignore in the face of more dynamic, involving alternatives. This second generation version needed to up its game - and all the signs are that it has.
S5 Sportback history dates back to 2011. It was at this point that Audi decided the S5 range should henceforth be powered by a 333PS supercharged 3.0-litre V6, replacing the previous 4.2-litre V8. The new engine was first installed in newly created Cabriolet and Sportback S5 derivatives, with the core Coupe S5 model getting this powerplant in 2013. Fast forward to 2017 and with the launch of a second generation A5 Sportback range, it was time for a new S5 Sportback too. This time round, a completely new turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 TFSI engine developing 354PS was bolted to a lighter, stiffer MLB chassis. Creating the car we're going to look at here.
So, what's it like? Well, if you happen to be familiar with the previous generation S5 Sportback model, you'll find that this car feels brisker right from the moment you power away. 62mph from rest is dispensed with in just 4.7s and the car has to be artificially restrained at 155mph to please the German Green lobby. It all comes courtesy of the 354PS 3.0 V6 TFSI petrol engine that lies beneath the bonnet, a unit that dispenses with the supercharger used by later versions of the previous generation S5 in favour of a more efficient turbocharger.
Another thing that's changed with this particular S5 is the transmission. Because the Porsche-developed engine now puts out a hefty 500Nm of torque - 60Nm more than before - the previous model's 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto gearbox has had to be replaced by an 8-speed Tiptronic unit, but this set-up's impressively quick-reacting and smooth. Not so good is the steering (it lacks that crucial final enth of feel) and the lowered 'S' Sports suspension will be rather over-firm for some, though you can improve it by paying extra for a 'CDC' 'Continuous Damper Control' system that can be tweaked via the settings of the standard 'drive select' driving dynamics system. As well as also altering steering weight, throttle response and stability control thresholds, the 'drive select' modes can also influence the optional 'sport differential' system, which constantly varies the amount of drive to each of the rear wheels for extra cornering traction.
Design and Build
As ever, Audi has been extremely subtle in the aesthetic changes that differentiate this S5 Sportback from any ordinary A5 Sportback model. Certainly, if it weren't for the 'S5' badgework, you'd have to be something of an Audi product expert to tell this car apart from an ordinary 'S line'-trimmed standard variant. The wheelarches house large 19-inch rims and these feature 'S5'-branded black brake callipers, one of the small differentiators that separate the profile aesthetics of the car from those of any ordinary 'S Line'-branded A5. Other unique touches include aluminium-effect door mirror housings, chrome trim on the door handles and, lower down, textured black sill trim tops.
Inside, you'll need some guidance in the elements that set this S5 model apart, since they're not too easy to spot at first glance. The three-spoke sports steering wheel is bespoke and another unique touch lies with the brilliant 'S' Super Sport nappa leather-trimmed seats that feature a lovely quilted finish and pronounced side bolsters. Otherwise, apart from lovely alcantara trimming on the doors and a few elements of S-branding, the ambience is exactly as it would be in any plushly-specified A5 model. As you'd expect, this S5 is as practical as any other A5 Sportback, offering 480-litres of luggage capacity, which is close to the best in this class. The rear seat back splits 40:20:40 as standard.
Market and Model
You'll need a £47,000 budget for this S5 Sportback, the same amount as is required for the two-door Coupe version of this car. If you're more tempted by the S5 Cabriolet variant, the sum required will be more like £52,000. All these models come in a single mechanical configuration that sees the same 354PS 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol engine mated to quattro 4WD and an 8-speed tiptronic auto gearbox. Standard is Audi's top infotainment set-up, 'MMI navigation plus with MMI touch'. It includes such features as 10GB of flash storage, a DVD drive, Audi connect services for three years and an 8.3-inch monitor.
Enough on the standard S5 specification. Time to discuss what you can do to embellish it - as almost all owners will undoubtedly want to do. In fact, we'd go as far as saying that to preserve prime used values, there are a few key features you probably really need to have. In a few years time, buyers on the secondhand market are quite possibly going to favour models fitted with optional features like the 'Adaptive 'S' Sport suspension with damping control' set-up that most customers tend to want. Plus ideally, your S5 should be fitted with the optional 'quattro with Sport differential' package that distributes variable amounts of driving force to each rear wheel, improving stability and agility when you take tight corners at speed.
Cost of Ownership
A lot has happened in terms of engine efficiency since the old V8-powered S5 models often used to stray into single-digit fuel consumption during hard use. The supercharged 3.0-litre V6 that was used in the original MK1 S5 Sportback model was of course much better in this regard, but returns which looked quite OK back in 2013 - about 29mpg on the combined cycle and around 225g/km of CO2 - would be significantly off-putting to likely business buyers now. Hence the effort expended into making sure that this S5 Sportback is a much more credible contender in this regard.
The lighter MQB Evo chassis helps of course. As does the fact that 14kg has been trimmed from the weight of Audi's 3.0 V6 TFSI engine, both major contributing factors to a significant weight saving over the previous model. This unit's switch from supercharging to turbocharging obviously makes it more efficient, but there's more to it than that. Like the brand's impressive 2.0 TFSI engine, this powerplant uses special high pressure injection valves, a shortened compression phase and an elevated geometric compression ratio that works with a clever 'valvelift' system to balance the conflicting needs of power and efficiency. But forget the tech talk; what are the results? Well, quite simply, they're class-leading. To be specific, an S5 Sportback on standard 19-inch wheels manages 37.7mpg on the combined cycle and a CO2 reading of 170g/km.
You could drive this S5 Sportback for the whole of its motoring life without suspecting the beast that lies beneath its bodywork. Some owners will - and that's a pity for this Audi's split personality can now also promise a remarkably agile driver's car - and a devastatingly quick tarmac cross country tool.
In summary then, the S5 in this guise seems finally to have found the right balance between speed and sensibility. If we had to own a car for a week from this segment, it wouldn't be the one we'd choose. If we had to choose one to live with though, it'd be difficult to resist. Audi's S badge always delivered a special experience. Now, it's a properly sporting one too.
Audi S5 Sportback review by Jonathan Crouch