PERFORMANCE MEETS COMFORT
The 2018 Audi S5 Sportback’s attraction is all in its balance, David Booth writes.
For the first time in an age, I don’t mind the automotive industry’s wholesale switch to turbocharging. For many enthusiasts — myself included — opting for a (usually) downsized turbo engine, while it typically comes with big boosts in horsepower, even bigger gobs of torque and supposedly superior fuel consumption (in official testing, at least, if not in the real world), the trade-off is usually a diminishing of the drama that can be internal combustion.
M cars haven’t been the same since BMW adopted turbocharging. Mercedes’ AMG models, once the paragon of European-sounding V-8s, now sound like they’re piping the Daytona 200 into their cabins. And McLaren would literally rule the supercar world, were it not for the fact that their twice-turbocharged
V-8 sounds as dull as dishwater.
Somehow, Audi has managed to avoid this malaise. Oh, the company’s ubiquitous TFSI 2.0-litre fourcylinder is still a little weedy, but the 4.0-L twinturbo V-8 that finds its way into so many of its S and RS sedans is positively monstrous, all booming baritones and sharp, crisp overruns. Big power and big sound — now, there’s fuel economy I can get behind.
It seems Audi has now worked the same magic on the new V-6 that’s doing yeoman duty in its lower-end S and RS coupes and sedans. Power is respectable — 354 horsepower from 3.0 L is no challenge to the 464 hp Cadillac gets of its similarly twice-turbocharged V-6, but it’s enough to scoot the 1,784-kilogram S5 Sportback from zero to 100 km/h in significantly under five seconds.
But it’s the sound that differentiates Audi’s latest 3.0 L from the host of V-6s now powering everything from Mercedes’ C-Class to the Cadillac ATS. Save for the supercharged 3.0 L performing in Jaguar’s F-Type S, this is the most aurally pleasing V-6, more subdued than the overtly muscular Jag sportster but retaining that engine’s crisp notes. Despite the S being the mid-level variant in Audi’s sporting spectrum (the European-spec RS4 ups the same basic engine’s game with twin turbochargers) the S5 sounds and feels almost as sporty as BMW’s M-packaged 440i x Drive.
That is, strictly speaking, the limits of the S5’s pure sporting abilities. Oh, it’s a fine-handling family sedan, but unlike a BMW M4 or Audi’s own RS5, you’re not likely to forget the “family” portion of that description. Audi’s S models are the Mitchell Marners of the sporty sedan set: not quite good enough to grab the headlines from Auston Matthews, but probably a little more steady when it comes to day-to-day hockey, er, driving. Credit a slightly firm suspension, adequate weight balance (this generation of A4/A5 doesn’t seem to push the front end as much as previous versions) and brakes that would work on the autobahn, if one was close by.
But no one is going to take an S5 to a track day and, if they did, they’d quickly be reminded of the difference between road holding and track ready. All that said, I put some serious miles on this S5, trying repeatedly to determine if it is Ottawa or Toronto that boasts the most severely potholed roads in Ontario. The Audi’s compliant damping made the judgment not only difficult, but largely moot.
As you must be tired of reading, an Audi cabin is a model of craftsmanship and exquisite materials, leather that even top-flight luxury sedans would be proud to call their own and panel gaps that speak to an obsession with quality control. The layout is also excellent, the switchgear ergonomically correct and easily deciphered. I am a particular fan of Audi’s climate controls and the adaptive cruise control stalk. And, of course, the Virtual Cockpit display is quite wonderful, both legible and easily configurable to your specific informational needs. Top stuff.
The one thing that’s beginning to look a little dated, though, is Audi’s MMI telematics interface. Oh, it’s perfectly competent and not a great bother to manipulate. But compared with, say, Volvo’s Sensus system — which fairly emulates a slide-and-swipe tablet screen — well, the S5’s system is starting to look a little dated.
For instance, in a Volvo, if I want to know what song is playing on a different Sirius channel, I just have to swipe down for the artist’s name and the specific tune playing. On the Audi, I have twiddle the rotary knob onto the station I want to check and, after a few seconds pause, it will display the info I am looking for. It may seem like small potatoes, but it can take an extra 20 or 30 seconds to find the exact song I want, which is about 20 or 30 seconds too long. That said, the Google Earth navigation transposed onto the Virtual Cockpit’s gauge set is way trick.
Finally, a word about the styling. Audi’s latest A4 has taken some guff about being too staid a redesign of the previous generation sedan. For those looking for the antidote to somnolent styling, the S5 Sportback offers its swoopy roofline and bulged fenders. Although ostensibly in the “5” coupe family, the S5 is based on the “4” sedan, which means there’s an extra 60 millimetres in its wheelbase and this almost, but not quite, compensates for the loss of rear headroom. It’s a beautiful car, better looking in my mind’s eye than either of its Mercedes Benz or BMW direct competitors. And, if you’re sensitive enough to care about your rear passenger’s headroom, there’s always the A4. Besides, the hatchbacked S5 has about 40 per cent more cargo capacity under its powered liftgate.
In the end, the S5’s star attraction is its balance. That new turbocharged engine is forceful but not overbearing, the suspension taut but not jarring and the styling is fluid without gross compromise. Even its best attribute — the new turbocharged V-6 — is melodious without being overpowering. Chrissie Hynde was wrong: sometimes the middle of the road is not a cul-de-sac.
2018 Audi S5 Sportback features a swoopy roofline and bulging fenders that gives it a bold appearance.
The cabin is a model of craftsmanship and exquisite materials.