What is it?
It’s a mix of a number of different ideas we’ve seen from Audi so far, and the clues are in the name. ‘S5’ implies that it sits between the S4 and S6, and that it’s based on an Audi A5. The ‘S’ implies that while it’s not the raucous 444bhp V8-powered RS5, it’s also a bit more special than ‘everyday’ Audis that start with an ‘A’. ‘Sportback’ is a suffix we’ve seen on the A7 and RS7 already, and that means it has four doors, but isn’t a conventional sedan. Instead it’s something sexier – a flowing, four-door coupé with frameless windows and a liftback boot. And finally, not alluded to by the name, is the fact that under the skin, it’s basically an Audi S4, which will undoubtedly be phased out soon enough. The S5 has the same basic chassis, suspension, engine, gearbox and Quattro AWD system as the S4, and that’s a car we liked quite a lot. So this one has a lot of promise.
If like me, you’re accustomed to seeing hundreds of Audi A4s on the streets of a big city, then you might not realise at first glance that this is a different model altogether. It is only slightly lower, longer and wider than an A4, after all. The S5’s headlamp design, including the signature LED running lamps, is quite similar to the A4 and S4’s, as do the grille, bumpers and tail-lights. Look a bit longer though, and you’ll see that the roof stretches further back towards the edge of the boot, the window line is longer, curvier and lower, and that the shoulder line is ever so subtly curved over the wheel arches – this is a superb touch actually. You can also have it in this striking yellow colour, which is unlikely to be on the menu for a standard A4.
What’s it like on the inside?
The small joy of a frameless window sliding out of its slot each time you pull at the door handle is one of those small but special things about owning a coupé or Sportback. Less so is the fact that this car is largely restricted to being a four seater; you could get a fifth person in there, but he’d be very cramped. Still, headroom in the back is not as bad as you’d think for a car with a sloping roof, partly because it’s scooped out at just the right place, and partly because the roof extends further back than in a conventional coupé. Legroom is more than sufficient though, and the other advantage of this being a Sportback with a Skoda-Octavia-like liftback tailgate, is that the boot is massive enough to hold weekend luggage for four with ease.
At the front, since the S5 is based on the A4, you get the same dashboard that car, albeit with some sporty flourishes like carbon fibre on the centre console. However, it is starting to show its age now – the A4 is now the oldest model in Audi’s range (save for the soon-to-be-replaced Q7), and though the quality as always is top drawer, the design doesn’t feel as sharp as in newer Audis. It’s a similar story with the equipment – the MMI system has all the functionality you want, including satellite navigation, but the interface isn’t as slick as the latest version, and that applies to the trip computer screen between the dials. The optional sports seats on this car, upholstered here in a tasteful brown and black, are really good even for long distances though, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel feels great to hold.
What’s it like to drive?
The 3.0-litre supercharged V6 from the S4 is brilliant in its ability to go from smooth and refined daily driver to savage beast depending on how firmly you flex your right foot. Even the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox does a great job in traffic, scooting you around with minimal intrusion. In fact, leave the Drive Select switch in ‘Efficiency’ mode and don’t go too hard on the gas, and it can even be quite frugal – so yes, it can conceivably be used every day.
However, it is a performance car at the end of the day, so you’ll want to know how it feels to unleash all of that 328bhp and 44.86kgm, right? Well, because it’s supercharged rather than turbocharged, there’s no lag before all that torque comes in. In Dynamic mode particularly, it’s always raring to go, and the gearbox will lock you into the heart of the powerband, shifting down quickly and intuitively to do so. The paddles work really well too, but honestly, the gearbox does a good enough job all on its own. It feels properly quick too, and Audi’s 5.1-second claimed time for 0-100kph is perfectly believable. That sense of speed is also helped by the nice little purr this motor emits – again, not a raucous growl like you’d get from an RS5, but just enough to let you know it means business.
As for ride and handling, the first thing you should know is that the S5 Sportback doesn’t have adaptive suspension, so changing the Drive Select modes won’t affect the ride in any way; that’s a shame because it would have been a great differentiator from the conventional sedans. Still, the good news is that, though it’s based on the A4, the S5 doesn’t have the same soft, floaty suspension as that car, because it is an import. As a result, the car isn’t raised or altered in any way for India, and the ride is actually better for it. It feels controlled enough for you to corner enthusiastically, but it actually handles bumps and potholes quite well too. And yes, though it’s a fair bit lower than the average luxury sedan, only the very largest speed breakers will pose a problem for the S5’s belly. Where this chassis age does show is the steering, which has that numb lifelessness that characterised Audis of old, but is much improved on the newer cars. It’s not a deal-breaker, but when the rest of the package is so strong, the weakest link really stands out. The S5 of course has Quattro AWD, and an ESP system with a Sport mode of its own, which lets you have a little bit of fun while still keeping you safe.
Should I buy one?
The S5 is a rather unique proposition, because it has no direct rivals at the moment; at least not in India. At Rs 62.9 lakh, it may seem pricey for its size, but then it’s far cheaper than any of the other performance sedans. It’s also properly spacious, comfortable and practical enough to be used on a daily basis, which solidifies its one-car-for-all-purposes USP. So, if you want a luxury sedan with a healthy dose of performance mixed with everyday comfort and usability, but also want a little more sex appeal than the old S4, the S5 Sportback certainly fits the bill.