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2012 Audi S5: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Josh Sadlier May 2012

Pros: Killer styling, sonorous V8 (coupe-only), satisfying supercharged V6 (Cabriolet-only), top-shelf interior.

Cons: Premium price, all-around performance could be better, Cabriolet has a soft-top rather than a retractable hardtop.

Introduction

At first blush, the 2012 Audi S5 seems to prove that the beautiful get all the breaks. Just look at the S5's pricing this year: the coupe starts in the mid-$50,000s, while you can't get into a Cabriolet for less than $60,000. That's dangerously close to BMW M3 territory, but let's face it-the M3 frankly isn't that beautiful. Some might prefer the BMW's uncompromising performance, but plenty of others will be smitten by the S5's curb appeal.

And who could blame them? A single glance at the S5's curvaceous sheetmetal tells you all you need to know. This car is all about the first impression, whether it's the valet who insists on leaving it out front where everyone can see, or the longtime neighbor whose eyes widen when you pull your new Audi into the driveway. The S5 is at once upscale and aggressive, and there are very few cars that can pull this combination off. We'll give you a hint: they usually begin with words like ""Porsche,"" and they command a much higher price than Audi's souped-up two-door.

Since we're jaded critics, we'll be happy to tell you that the S5's substance doesn't entirely match its style. The coupe's V8 is wonderful, but it's not that powerful in relative terms. Ditto the Cabriolet's supercharged V6, which has less power and more weight to contend with. Plus, since the S5 traces its origins back to the A4 sedan, it rolls on a nose-heavy front-wheel-drive platform, which means it's inherently compromised relative to its rear-drive rivals.

But we know our kvetching won't dissuade folks from buying this car, and nor should it. Beauty sells, and automobiles don't get much more beautiful than the 2012 Audi S5.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Audi S5 coupe and convertible (Cabriolet) are offered in two trim levels: Premium Plus and Prestige. The coupe has a V8 engine, while the Cabriolet has a supercharged V6.

The Premium Plus trim level includes 19-inch alloy wheels, quad tailpipes, xenon headlights with LED running lights, LED taillights, foglamps, a sunroof (coupe only), a power-operated vinyl roof (Cabriolet only), Nappa leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, sport front seats, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth and iPod integration, the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system with a dash-mounted control knob and a ten-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input, an SD card reader and satellite radio.

The Prestige upgrades to adaptive xenon headlamps, a blind-spot warning system, keyless entry with push-button ignition, MMI Plus with navigation and a console-mounted joystick knob and a 14-speaker, 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.

MMI Plus can be added to the Premium Plus as an option, as can the Bang & Olufsen stereo. A ""sports rear differential"" with side-to-side power distribution is available on both trim levels. Exclusive Prestige extras include adaptive cruise control, power rear sunshades (coupe only) and the Drive Select system, which adds the sports differential, adaptive suspension dampers and electronic adjustments for steering, suspension, transmission (automatic models only) and throttle response. The Cabriolet's Comfort package adds heating vents at the top of the front seats for comfortable top-down driving in chilly weather.

The S5's interior is highlighted by extraordinarily high-quality materials and a low-slung, intimate driving position. The thoughtfully contoured sport front seats mostly rectify the shortcomings of the A5 coupe's generic seats, though we'd like to see power adjustability for the side bolsters to provide custom snugness. The tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel has a wide range of adjustability, so most drivers should be able to find a comfortable configuration.

Behind that three-spoke wheel, the classic analog tachometer and speedometer use Audi's distinctive font for the numerals. Consistent with virtually everything else in the S5's cabin, those gauges impart a sense of luxury and sophistication, though there's an inexplicably cheesy silver plastic trim piece that surrounds the gauge cluster and the MMI screen, just like in the A5.

Ergonomics are hit-or-miss in the S5. Try to adjust the climate control's fan speed and you'll see what we mean-it's a two-step process. A simple dedicated fan knob would be a godsend here. On the bright side, we think Audi has made great strides with the MMI system's intuitiveness. It's now possible to accomplish most tasks without consulting Google or the owner's manual.

Although the S5's back seat is treated to a separate temperature control, it's not for full-sized humans; only kids will find it agreeable. As for trunk capacity, the coupe gets 12.4 cubic feet, while the Cabriolet's trunk checks in at an admirable 12.3 cubic feet with the top up and 10.2 cubic feet with it lowered.

Speaking of the Cabriolet's top, the good news is that it retracts in just 15 seconds, and you can operate it at speeds up to 30 mph. However, its fabric construction invites attention from thieves, and the Cabriolet is still more than 400 pounds heavier than the coupe.

Technology

Although the S5 comes standard with an SD-card reader, it doesn't offer a USB port, so it won't accept flash drives or USB-connected mp3 players. But the technological centerpiece here is clearly the MMI system, which comes in two forms. In standard spec without navigation, MMI is controlled via a knob on the center stack that requires an uncomfortable reach from the driver's seat. We recommend stepping up to the MMI Plus system, which includes navigation, a more sophisticated display screen, and a control knob that's conveniently mounted precisely where your right hand rests on the center console. Audi has greatly improved the intuitiveness of MMI's menu structure, and the console-mounted knob now features a nifty joystick-like top section that aids operation.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The S5 coupe is powered by a 4.2-liter V8 rated at 354 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, while the Cabriolet gets a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that makes 333 horsepower and the same 325 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed conventional manual transmission is standard on the coupe, with a six-speed automatic transmission offered as an option. The Cabriolet, meanwhile, comes only with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.

We're torn between these two engines. On the one hand, there's no way that the V6 can match the V8's fantastically well-mannered exhaust burble. But on the other hand, the V6 is the only way to get the dual-clutch automatic, which is far quicker and more precise in its shifts than the V8's regular automatic. As for acceleration, the engines are neck-and-neck, with remarkably similar power deliveries from idle to redline.

The similarities stop at fuel economy, according to the EPA. The coupe tops out at 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway with the automatic, dropping to 14/22 mpg with the manual, while the Cabriolet triumphs with a 17/26 mpg rating.

Safety

The 2012 Audi S5 comes with standard stability control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes. The coupe gets eight airbags (front, front side, front knee, full-length side-curtain), while the Cabriolet gets six airbags (front, front side, front knee).

The S5 has not been crash-tested; nor has the A5 on which it's based.

Driving Impressions

Like the A5, the S5 has a confident, almost invincible feel at speed. The main handling difference comes courtesy of the S5's optional sports rear differential, which really does mitigate the nose-heavy S5's tendency to understeer, even if rear-drive machines like the M3 remain sharper. Although the standard 19-inch wheels don't do the ride quality any favors, the S5 still exhibits that typical Germanic suppleness over rough pavement. We'd avoid the expensive Drive Select system, however, as the S5's standard calibrations are just fine. More natural-feeling steering would be nice, but that's hardly a deal-breaker.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW M3: The M3's starting price is considerably higher than the S5's, but a well-equipped S5 veers dangerously close to M3 territory. While we wouldn't call the BMW beautiful, its performance is easily superior to the Audi's-and the M3 convertible has a retractable hardtop.

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG: Now available as a coupe (but not as a convertible), the C63 is another one that's more expensive than the S5 but also more desirable. After one on-ramp blast with that roaring 6.2-liter V8, you might see the C63's premium as a small price to pay.

Infiniti G37: Offered as either a coupe or a hardtop convertible, the Infiniti lacks the S5's manners, but its acceleration is similarly forceful, and it's a lot cheaper.

AutoTrader Recommends

We're suckers for the sound of Audi's 4.2-liter V8, and we also think the S5 is at its most beautiful in the coupe body style. Since the coupe's six-speed automatic is a fairly nondescript device, our choice would be the S5 coupe with the stick-shift, and we'd also want the sports rear differential and MMI Plus, though we know all that stuff doesn't come cheap.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Audi S5: New Car Review - Autotrader