2017 Audi A5 and S5 Review: First drive

We head to Portugal to sample the all-new second-generation Audi A5 and S5 twins, and first impressions are good...

Porto, in Portugal, is famed for being the birthplace of 'fortified' wine, which was a name that clearly did not catch on, hence, good old 'port'. Turns out Porto also does a pretty impressive line in torrential, build-an-ark downpours. We're on part of the country's vast motorway network in the all-new 2017 Audi S5 Coupe and it's chucking down so hard the wipers want danger money and visibility is negligible.

It’s an ideal time then, to have 260kW and 500Nm under the right foot, but even better to have all-wheel drive, quality 19-inch rubber, and a torque-apportioning rear differential.

These are the sort of conditions an Audi such as this seems to revel in. The new 3.0-litre V6 may have ditched the supercharger for a turbo, but there’s no perceptible lag; its response to the right pedal is crisp and immediate, and you can feed it ample throttle without waking the stability control.

The new MLB Evo platform – shared with the recently launched A4 sedan – also makes a contribution, being around 60kg lighter and delivering improved stiffness, a more sophisticated suspension design, and upgraded steering.

Until this all-new, second-generation B9 A5 arrives in Australia in the first half of next year, the B8 A5 sits as the oldest car in Audi’s line-up. Design wise though, it’s also one of its most revered.

The term ‘design icon’ get tossed around quite a bit by the Audi people at the launch, and legendary designer Walter de Silva himself has described it as “the most beautiful car I’ve ever created”. So no pressure for the bloke chosen to pen its successor…

Within the Audi design studio, you get the feeling it must have been a bit like someone from Apple Records being told to do a remix of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

The task fell to 33-year-old designer Jakob Hirzel, who was drafted into Audi following his work on the Skoda Rapid Spaceback.

Naturally his styling adheres to Audi’s ‘careful evolution’ strategy, so it’s not a radical departure from de Silva’s original, but it is a design that immediately strikes you as purposeful, svelte and confident, without being pumped up or overly aggressive. And the more you take in the details in the metal, the more you feel he’s nailed it.

The car is 47mm longer than the original, but designed to look more compact via a number of visual tricks.

The grille is shallower but wider, and the wheel arches are more pronounced, with greater sculpting just forward of the rear wheels. The bonnet features a ‘power dome’ that is inspired by a boat’s wake, starting from the signature four-ring badge and flowing back. And at the back, wider but thinned rear light clusters look as though a machete has been used to neatly slice a wedge out of them, giving a sculpted, three-dimensional look.

The wheelbase is up by 13mm, and the new body is claimed to have liberated an additional 17mm of extra interior room. Still, it’s still a bit tight in the rear for anyone approaching six-foot in the old money.

Access both in and out - despite the electric slider on the seat next to the tilt release - does require some dexterity if you’re to preserve dignity. For a couple of mid-teen kids or younger, though, it’s useable.

Back to the new V6, which shares its bore and stroke with the old 245kW/440Nm supercharged 3.0-litre engine but virtually nothing else.

Audi’s powertrain gurus say there are 800 new components in there, and the engine’s weight is down by 14kg. Significantly, the turbo resides in the valley of the ‘V’, just as the two turbos do with the 4.0-litre V8 in the RS6 and RS7.

This ‘hot-vee’ design allows a shorter pathway for gas flow, reducing lag and sharpening throttle response. And there’s no question as to its effectiveness.

Maximum torque of 500Nm is available from 1370rpm and continues on to 4500rpm, giving a torque curve which looks like a sketch of Ayres Rock. The peak power of 260kW is there from 5400rpm to 6400rpm, so it’s not a mad revver, but those numbers do give an insight into why the delivery feels so linear.

Transmission for the B9 model has moved from a seven-speed dual-clutch to an eight-speed torque-convertor, in deference to the torque output. But shifts don’t feel noticeably slower than the previous S-tronic – and the new ‘box has better manners during low-speed shuffling and parking, and especially during incline reversing. Our only complaint is that in manual mode, it won’t hold gears on the limiter, instead insisting on auto upshifts whether you want them or not, dropping bass-heavy blurts on each change.

The gear ratios feel well chosen, however. They’re usefully short in the first five ratios - third gear at the 6400rpm redline gives 132km/h, for example - while eighth is tall enough to drop engine speed to 1700rpm when cruising at the Australian limit of 110km/h.

Combined fuel consumption is a claimed 7.3 litres per 100km (down five per cent), but we’d challenge you to get near it. Our mix of fast motorway cruising and backroad blasting saw a figure of 13.4L/100km.

Naturally, given the car’s maker, every dynamic parameter can be adjusted to your individual preference via the standard-fitment ‘Drive Select’ system. Some of these are more useful than others.

Selecting ‘Dynamic’ for the engine and transmission can make the automatic feel a bit shunty in stop-start traffic – you’re better to leave it in auto, where it’s smoother and yet seems to lack nothing in terms of kick-down when driving spiritedly. Likewise, leaving the dampers in ‘Auto’ seems to help the ride compliance, without deterioration of body control. There’s also a comfort setting for the exhaust, which reduces the not-loud but bass-heavy drone that could get tiresome during motorway cruising.

We drove a car fitted with the dynamic steering option, which reduces turns lock-to-lock to just 2.3 – usefully faster than the standard rack. What we weren’t quite expecting is what a resolved connection it provides to the front wheels, even if you do have to get used to the less-than-linear rate of turn-in as more lock is applied.

As with the B8 S5, an optional sport differential provides a more favourable side-to-side rear torque split when driving hard, increasing the sense of the rear end pivoting and aiding your line of attack.

The S5’s interior architecture forward of the B-pillars is not significantly different to the A4, but when optioned up – with quilted leather trim, flourishes of aluminium or carbon-fibre applied to the dash and doors, and Alcantara door trims – it moves to the next level of lushness, where it may not be physically possible to have a negative thought about anything when you’re ensconced in there.

The flat-bottom S-Line wheel is both tactile and a thing of beauty, while the optional Virtual Cockpit dash can be configured to display a large TFT tachometer with speed and gear position inset within the dominant display – which is all very gamer-cool.

So the S5 nails its intended target with a sweet one-two. Its powertrain’s punch and efficiency is outstanding, and first impressions suggest its chassis has upped both the power-down and adjustability factors by a useful margin.

But its competitors have not been sitting around, and how it will go against the Mercedes-Benz C450 and BMW 440i will only be settled by the kind of comparison that sets the saliva glands to high-flow rate. The arrival of the new S5 also has us gagging for more detail on the RS4 and RS5 twins – the former expected to be unveiled in Europe in Avant form in the final quarter of this year or early 2017.

Audi’s powertrain bosses were playing a very defensive straight bat at the international A5/S5 launch, but it seems fairly certain that the engine of the new RS4/5 will be a development of the S5’s V6 that sees the electric turbo concept – as debuted on the SQ7 diesel SUV – added to boost low-rev response, fatten the torque curve even further, and allow a wicking-up of the main turbo to push power towards 370kW. The thought of that requires a bib to catch the drool.

But if your budget or taste doesn’t extend to the S5, there’s ample appeal in the more prosaic offerings in the new A5 line-up.

The local range will open with the low-blow 140kW 2.0 TFSI turbo, replacing the old 1.8-litre entry-level car, and will be offered with a six-speed manual along with the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch. This wasn’t available for us to drive at the launch, so instead we jumped into what is still probably the sweet spot of the powertrain line-up in terms of performance, engagement, weight and price – the evergreen 2.0 TFSI, now with its 185kW/360Nm outputs mated to the S tronic seven-sped dual-clutch transmission.

The numbers look healthy: 0-to-100km/h in a claimed 5.8 seconds on its way to an electronically-limited top whack of 250km/h, backed up by a claimed 5.9L/100km. But it’s this engine’s elastic flexibility, willingness to rev, and pleasantly rorty note that are the day-to-day virtues you really appreciate.

That and its noticeably lighter weight over the nose than the 3.0-litre TDI V6, with its 200kW and 600Nm turbo-diesel engine, which we also sampled.

No issues with this engine’s refinement (with the standard ‘for a diesel’ caveat), and the effortless, low-rev overtaking shove it delivers anywhere from 70-170km/h is hugely impressive.

It does make the A5 feel less agile in tighter conditions though, which is a little out of step with its more sporty, coupe positioning. Plenty of buyers will have no issue with this, though, and as a touring GT-style car it does work really well, especially when low consumption and long range are factored in.

Every car on launch was fitted with adaptive dampers, so we can’t pass comment on how the conventional setups perform. But the two passive suspensions on offer are both fitted with slightly stiffer springs than those fitted to comparable A4 models, in an attempt to give the coupe the more sporting flavour you’d expect over an A4 sedan.

What is worth noting is the adaptive dampers now have a greater range built into the calibration – ‘Comfort’ mode is softer than in B8, while ‘Sport’ is stiffer than in the previous car.

We found the comfort mode to offer a nicely pliant tune over the roads we drove, especially in terms of its primary absorption of undulations and compression dips. As for hard-edged stuff and broken surfaces, they didn’t feel too nasty or intrusive either, but this will be influenced by the wheel and tyre combination Australian buyers opt for. As always, a little smaller means a bit more supple.

It’s too early for Australian pricing and local specifications, but provided Audi Australia adheres to previous form and only pushes the price modestly, while increasing standard equipment, we see no reason why the all-new Audi A5 Coupe won’t continue to be the aesthete’s choice in this segment. Of course, if coupes aren’t your thing, there’ll also be a five-door Sportback and a Cabriolet, so no one will ever wither away from a lack of choice.

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