Audi S5

With its stunning looks and powerful V8, A5 is a strong contender

  • Highly competent round corners, the best cockpit here, spot-on driving position, great seats. Audi’s 4.2 is a cultured performer.
  • We wouldn’t have minded a bit more volume from the burbling V8, and it's a pity the engine is so thirsty. Sparse standard equipment levels.

We know what you’re thinking. The S5 is good, but it’s no match for a new M3. As we’ve seen, though, the BMW isn’t beyond criticism, and Audi is on cracking form at the moment.

The R8 and RS4 are both world-beaters while, in 3.0 TDI guise, the A5 came perilously close to beating BMW’s 335d Coupé in Issue 971. The S5 is certainly better looking than the M3, but colour is critical. Bright bodywork does Audi’s new two-door few favours; more subtle shades accentuate the curvaceous shoulder line. In fact, we’ve rarely seen such a striking black car, complemented by glossy 19-inch wheels, aluminium-look side mirrors and quad exhausts.

The tailpipes provide ample outlet for the big V8, delivering a great burble that’s easily audible inside. The 349bhp 4.2-litre FSI is closely related to the R8’s and, despite being 65bhp less potent than the BMW unit, it packs 40Nm more torque, at 440Nm. And 85 per cent of this is available from only 2,000rpm. It’s slightly longer geared than the M3, so in the lower ratios it matched the BMW’s punch, even if on the road it never felt as quick.

Yet this is not a slow car. Against the clock it proved every bit as fast as the Vauxhall and Porsche. And, thanks to good throttle response along with beautifully linear power delivery that gets better all the way to the 7,400rpm cutout, it proved equally effective at overtaking.

Around town, the sensitive throttle, heavy flywheel effect and slightly abrupt clutch action could cause the car to lurch forward. But on the whole, this is a well rounded V8 with a more laid-back character than the energetic BMW’s, and a less notchy but marginally looser gearshift.

The trouble is, the S5 is so flexible, refined and smooth that you can easily find yourself breaking speed limits without meaning to. It doesn’t have to be worked hard to perform well. However, it inspires so much confidence only because the new platform and quattro four-wheel-drive are so incredibly capable.

With the front axle moved further forward, weight distribution has improved, so the S5 is less nose heavy, while the 4WD set-up feeds 60 per cent of its torque to the rear wheels – although this varies depending on available grip. Better balance and traction make it reassuring, as a result of which the Audi was the easiest car here to drive fast.

That’s not to say it was the most enjoyable. It was less sensitive to steering and pedal inputs than either German rival, while over bumpy tarmac there was some steering kickback and constant suspension patter. On smooth surfaces the S5 was taut and incisive; body control improved and the whole car seemed sharp and more alive.

Quiet and relaxing at speed, it would be easy to dismiss the S5 as a grand tourer, but it’s much more than that. While the ride is a touch busy, this is an accomplished sports coupé – and one that also happens to have a fantastic cabin. Although it has less generous rear accommodation than the M3, the boot is big, stowage is impressive and the Audi has a feelgood factor absent from the BMW.

The design and ergonomics are superb, and the interior is much more sophisticated than that of the VXR8 – which is all the more impressive given that it’s not even £5,000 more expensive than the Vauxhall. The drawback, however, is that Audi has taken a penny-pinching approach to the S5 and there’s not much in the way of kit included.

Details

Price: £39,825Model tested: Audi S5Chart position: 3WHY: The S5 has a long wheelbase and rear-biased 4WD, and will be a strong challenger to the BMW.

Economy

Our economy figure peaked at 21.2mpg in the S5. But overall returns were 18.3mpg, and its 254-mile range was even shorter than the BMW’s.

Residuals

From buyers to trade experts, everyone has faith in the Audi to stand the test of time. The S5 posts residuals of 58.6 per cent, and so loses £16,448.

Servicing

The S5 should be cheaper to service than the 3-Series – we were quoted around £880 for the first three check-ups. Expect intervals of 19,000 miles.

Tax

Of the four cars here, the Audi is unique in costing owners less than £1 per mile to run. It also benefits from the lowest insurance and contract hire quotes here.

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