What's it like?
The stereo’s good, which is useful, as the new 3.0-litre TFSI V6 can be a little bit intrusive at ordinary speeds. Up the pace, and there’s a very Audi-like sound, its tone not dissimilar to a five-cylinder, the raise in tempo bringing plenty of pace. The engine’s about 80% new, the most significant switch being from a supercharger to a turbocharger, the promise being the twin-scroll, hot V located turbo with its short gas-flow access to the intake manifold makes for a more responsive engine.
Certainly it’s quick, with the additional 21bhp it brings allied to the useful 60kg drop in weight (some 14kg of that from the engine alone) allowing the S5 to reach 62mph in 4.7sec - 0.2sec less than the outgoing car. Top speed is an electronically limited 155mph. There’s a more immediate build up of torque, the higher 369lb.ft peak arriving at 1,370rpm before offering a flat line across almost its entire rev range. Changes to the combustion process help the S5 achieve all this yet return greater economy, too, the S5’s official combined consumption figure being 38.7mpg, while the CO2 emissions figure is 166g/km (on standard 18in wheels).
With Drive Select as standard, the S5 offers the usual choice of engine, transmission, suspension, steering and exhaust configurability, ranging from Comfort through Auto and to Dynamic. It’s worth setting up the Individual specification to allow various elements of the pre-set choices to be picked, particularly for the steering which in its Dynamic setting brings an artificial weighting and numbed response that builds off centre to the point of distraction.
Leave the steering in Comfort, and it’s more linear, more predictably weighted, and while not delivering anything that could be usefully described as feel it’s accurate enough. The cars on the launch all came fitted with the optional Sport Differential, which improves turn-in response and resists understeer, it feeling largely neutral unless you’re very ambitious with your entry speed.
If there’s any slip the quattro drivetrain diverting as much as 85% of drive to the front axle and 70% to the rear, but grip levels are high, even on Portuguese roads deluged by some unseasonable rain. In normal operation the quattro torque split is 40/60 front to rear, though the reality is that the S5 more usually feels like a front-wheel drive that happens to have the ability to divert drive to the rear than the other way around. It’s all very surefooted as a result, but it’s never particularly engaging, which doesn’t really come as a surprise.
It is not helped particularly by the eight-speed automatic transmission. A torque convertor unit rather than a twin-clutch, and ask it to hurry and it loses its composure delivering jerky shifts. Fiddling with the Drive Select does little to improve things, feeling like there’s a slight disconnect between it and the engine. The 3.0-litre TFSI V6 loses some of the old engine’s charm in transformation to turbocharging, but it’s more responsive, and thanks to that flat peak torque always brisk, but there’s little incentive to really push it that hard, even if the S5 is unquestionably a quick, and capable, car when asked.
Benefitting that is suspension that delivers fine control mated to a decent ride. Even on 19in wheels (18in being standard) and the S5’s 23mm drop in ride height thanks to its S sport suspension with five links front and rear it rides with civility. Choosing the firmer damper settings adds some unwanted frequency to the proceedings - there's enough control mixed with composure to leave it in its Comfort mode. There’s some sophistication to the ride quality, to the benefit of comfort, though for all that you’ll be more entertained in either a Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Coupé or a BMW 440i MSport Auto, but then we suspected that would be the case, and in fairness the S5 gets closer than it’s been to its key rivals than ever before.