Sitting in a cafe in Porto Portugal the day before driving the 2017 Audi S5 and I'm thinking back almost a decade to the launch of the first version of this car in Verona, Italy. Audi felt the home of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers emphasized the Italian-inspired styling and the car's unapologetic lean toward Venetian passion over German pragmatism. The event was held in a countryside art hotel filled with modern glass and chrome sculptures complementing furniture designed by an artist vaguely familiar with human anatomy. The circus-tent striped walls were covered in paintings of strange, naked Cirque du Soleil-like clowns. Although the word Teutonic is normally inseparable from Audi, it couldn't have been more contrary to this place.
This second-generation S5's coming out party is in stark contrast to a decade earlier. The host hotel is part of a large industrial compound housing a ceramics factory. The monolithic lodgings are decorated with various shades of concrete. The lightly textured abrasive walls are embellished with beige stone and the open interior spaces are sparingly dotted with furniture best described as serviceable. Strange choice considering the styling of the new car is even more stylish than the last. Whether you like the new car's sharper creases and sweeping lines more or less than the old car is a matter of opinion. The science says it's far more aerodynamic with the slipperiest version emerging from the wind tunnel with a CD of 0.25 making it not only a segment leader, but one of the most aerodynamic cars on the road. For reference, the new Prius, which doesn't so much look like it was touched by the ugly stick but rather fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, only betters it by 0.01 in CD.
Audi designers on hand at the event insist the wave line running the length of the body at the shoulder evokes the legendary Ur-Quattro; I don't see it. It's a design-y thing. I'm more into math-y things.
Porto juts up out of the sea to create rippling mountains within miles of the coast. The roads are laced up and down the sides of the landscape as if the whole area was built as an enthusiast playground. Then someone put hidden driveways all over those roads. Unlike the vast openness of the Alps, where your vision stretches far enough to see across borders, Portugal is tight and closed in by green forests. Even on mountaintops, all you see are other surrounding mountaintops.
The new S5 is as much as 130 pounds lighter than the previous model, and it's immediately apparent on Portugal's tight roads. Audi has risen to the usually difficult challenge of improving both ride and handling concurrently. With every generation, Audi's cars become less and less nose heavy, although the entirety of the engine is still located forward of the front axle. This car, thanks in part to a torque-vectoring Sport Differential in back, turns in and commits to a cornering line with authority and doesn't suffer from the understeer associated with the previous car. It is worth pointing out that with the abilities of the S5, the absolute-performance envelope was never really approached during our drive on public roads, but it was still possible to feel both the Sport Diff and Quattro working their combined magic.
Shooting the car from corner to corner is the all-new single-turbo hot-V 3.0L V-6 making a conservative 354 hp according to Audi. The sibling A5 is powered by an almost equally silky 2.0t that I found lively and enjoyable, but we're focusing on the S5, which is downright fast. The new turbocharged six has replaced the old supercharged six, which had replaced the original S5's naturally aspirated V-8. As much as I like both previous engines, this is the best yet. The amount of power Audi is producing could have been achieved using a 2.0L, but they never would have managed the linearity and driveability that's present in this engine—and that's one of the things that makes the car so special.
The 2.0t A5 is equipped with a seven-speed dual clutch, while the S5's V-6 uses a traditional eight-speed torque-convertor automatic. I know, I would like a manual in the S5 and probably all of you would as well, but the fact is we are a slim and ever-shrinking minority. Not enough people buy manual transmissions when Audi does offer them, so they just don't make financial sense anymore. Once you get over that mental hurdle, both transmissions are great examples of self-shifters. Surprisingly, the shifts from the eight-speed auto don't feel any slower or less aggressive than the dual clutch. Both feature paddle shifters, sport modes, and will handily out-perform you, me, or any other mere human in every measurable performance metric—I did say measurable. As with every generation, this version of Quattro is better than the last. The S5 will never be mistaken for rear-wheel drive, and if it did, it wouldn't feel like an Audi. The electric power steering has also taken a step forward, feeling quicker and more precise. It certainly isn't bursting with feedback, but it's as good as its contemporaries from BMW or Mercedes. The variable assist and ratio steering rack are adjusted within Audi Drive Select, along with active damping, throttle mapping, and engine sound.
Everything about the driving experience is at least as good as I remember the competition being. The powertrains are fantastic, but what really sets the new S5 apart from the competition is Audi's Virtual Cockpit. For 100 years, give or take, the hands-down best solution for monitoring your car has been the analog gauge. There have been some attempts to replace it, even by Audi in the 1980s, but they failed, miserably. The technology has finally caught up, or my cell phone has finally worn down my resistance. Either way, getting behind the Virtual Cockpit is like stepping into a car two generations into the future. The large configurable screen allows you to stare at conventional needles on faces large enough to fill the display, or the driver can shrink them down and use the space for other information—including a beautiful navigation map from the latest MMI system. It doesn't look so much like Audi has replaced the gauges so much as it's put something in the car that has rendered analog obsolete.
The rest of the interior is typical Audi; our old standby of "class leading" is somehow insufficient when you're referring to the company that continually redefines the segment. The simple and intuitive layout isn't taken to the extreme as in the TT and in turn comes off as classier—less sterile. The back seats are still best for short people on shorter trips, but trunk space is a generous 16.4 cubic feet, roughly 2.5 cubic feet more than the BMW 4-series. Buyers who are really concerned with such things will likely opt for the sedan sibling, so take that for what it's worth.
Some of you may be mentally racing the S5 against the BMW M4 and the Mercedes-Benz C63 coupe; don't. This is the S5 and although Audi hasn't announced any plans of an RS5, you can bet one is coming. The natural competitors in performance and price are the BMW 435i M Sport Package, which will soon be replaced with a 440i, or the Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe. It is nearly impossible to make a judgment among the three cars without driving them back to back to back, same roads, same track, on the same day. Without doing that, it's at least possible to say the Audi feels the most high tech of the bunch and has the performance chops to match.
The sport coupe category has never been about all-out speed. The S5 can melt away miles on the Autobahn, tear up a twisty road, and even transport the family on occasion. More to the point, however, it's a personal car designed to be enjoyable for the driver every day. The S5 is an indulgence. It may not make practical sense, but it doesn't need to.