I’m behind the wheel of the newly redesigned 2018 Audi S5 heading East on highway 60 just outside Los Angeles. Think of highway 60 like this: Have you ever asked yourself "Where do they make hand soap dispensers?" or "I wonder where they sell and service forklifts?" If you have, then I have a real treat for you — it’s called The City of Industry in Southern California. Oh, don’t worry, that’s not just a fanciful nickname made up by people who constantly say "opportunity" when they really mean "problem." No, that’s the real name of the city. And I’m not kidding about the forklifts either. In the general area, there are 10 businesses designed around the rear-steering, forked-lifting thingys we all know and love.
But there’s a hidden gem in Industry. Well, hidden in plain sight. About a mile off the 60 freeway is Taco Del Rio. Sure, Los Angeles County has plenty of taco stands, but this one has a line around the building … at 3 p.m. … on a Wednesday … and there’s no indoor seating. These must be some good tacos. I pull the Audi into the parking lot that also serves a vape shop, nail salon and cut-rate insurance office. The line moves slowly.
As soon as I get to the front of the line, I see why the line is slow — and why the line is long. Most customers and workers are speaking Spanish. I know this because, as you approach the ordering window, you tell the guys inside exactly what you want. There are no premade tacos or burritos here. You order what you want right then and they even heat up the tortilla as you order.
As the word "Burrito" leaves my mouth, I realize how different it sounds coming from me versus 70 percent of the people who ordered ahead of me. Thankfully, "Carnitas" is universally understood as code for "Delicious." I order the carnitas burrito and am not sorry.
Sport Seats and a V6
The Audi’s sports seats sure do feel snug, I think. I convince myself it’s the burrito that’s responsible, but really it’s more like year of burritos, and tacos and nachos and guacamole. Those seats do have plenty of adjustments, so eventually, the supersized me gets comfortable.
I point the Audi West toward Los Angeles, then North toward San Luis Obispo feeling confident that I won’t be stopping for another meal all day.
Thanks to Audi, I have two things to keep me company on the 4-hour drive. First, the S5’s 354-horsepower, twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 and second, Audi’s excellent multimedia interface (MMI) with Apple CarPlay. CarPlay includes access to Pandora. I’ve spent so much time listening to Pandora that I have one channel nearly perfect — it’s like every track is one of those "This is my favorite song" songs. I also have a The Beautiful South channel, which is perfect for the Audi’s Bang and Olafsen 750-watt, 16-channel, 19-speaker sound system. Never heard of The Beautiful South? It’s another hidden gem — fair warning, my wife says it sounds like Connie Francis music. A compliment, I guess?
The best part, even when you’re not running CarPlay, is that Audi’s native system is still fairly slick. Even terrestrial radio stations have a cool interface with graphics.
Somewhere past Goleta, I leave the highway and take only side roads, eventually ending up on the Cabrillo Highway which is also California State Route 1. In many ways, the Audi S5 is perfect for off-the-beaten-path paved roads. The handling is precise and athletic; there’s plenty of power, but the car always feels comfortable and composed.
I gently squeeze the gas pedal. The controlled growl of the V6’s exhaust is probably two-thirds of the reason for buying an S5.
Then again, the car is also perfect for the main highway and might even prevent you from getting a ticket. When the S5’s adaptive cruise control is set, the system has the ability to get literal about the adaptive part. Usually, these systems are limited to matching the speed of the car ahead, which is itself a pretty cool feature. But the Audi combines that technology with the ability of the car to read road signs. Many cars do this — you can see it at work if you have a car that tells you the speed limit in the head-up display. In the S5, Audi combines the two features, and the car will actually adjust its speed based on the speed limit signs on the highway.
It can be turned off, so you’re not forced into this. It definitely works. On one occasion, it misread a truck speed limit sign and started to slow down. I don’t know that I’d be using it often, but it does show how stitching these things together will eventually lead to cars that are smart enough to interact with their environment.
The new S5 is also a good-looking car. It’s got just the right amount of creases to make it look intentionally designed but still has a subtlety I really like.
An hour after I check into a freshly minted Hilton Garden Inn is San Luis Obispo, I’m still not hungry. That $8 burrito was quite a value, too.
Is the 2018 Audi S5 a good deal? If you lay off the options, it is. Base price for the Coupe is under $55,000. At that price, it’s a really good performance coupe. The convertible is $61,000, which is a little steep. Still, I mentioned options and packages that will cost extra.
Most people will probably be happy with the A5, which is about $10,000 less. Still, the S5 is kind of like that burrito. It’s a lot of bang for the buck, and there’s a lot of real substance packed beneath the delicious shell.