- Sharp exterior
- Impressive standard features
- Virtual Cockpit, when equipped
- Great Sportback body
- Impressive performance
- Subtle approach to speed
- Tall drivers may have a hard time
- Finicky optional steering setup
- Performance shoppers may do better with RS 5
The new 2018 Audi S5 now better occupies the middle ground between the A5 and RS5 with a balanced approach to speed and luxury.
The 2018 Audi S5 is the automaker’s performance coupe, convertible, and is now offered as a fastback sedan. The car is new this year after a major redesign of the related A4 and A5 models. The S5 is sold in Premium Plus and Prestige trims.
The S5 earns a 7.2 on our overall scale and earned high marks for its performance and features—notably the impressive content featured on base cars. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Style and performance
The S5 is new this year, after an overhaul of the related A4 and S4. It may be hard to distinguish this year's coupe and convertible from last year's coupe and convertible, but a Sportback body style should be a new look for American shoppers.
For the coupe and convertible, the S5 still bears the same handsome proportions and shape, while Audi designer Frank Lamberty has added new, sharper touches to the exterior. The nose has been lowered closer to the road this time around, and the headlights have been raised slightly to furrow the S5’s brow. The S5 receives its own lighting signature from the S4, although we happen to like the latter’s just a little more. The S5’s unique element is Lamberty’s “power dome” on the hood that’s sharply creased and pronounces the performance coupe’s power.
Along the sides, Audi has added starch to a character line that runs along the body and hides the hood’s shunt line up top. Taken alone, the line doesn’t inspire much emotion, but in direct daylight—when the line can cast a longer shadow along the body—it comes better into view.
The coupe’s cabin is punctuated by a chrome accent that frames the window and visually places the wider rear pillar that connects the roof to the trunk. The convertible’s top doesn’t have the same frame, and the new S5 Sportback skips the element altogether.
What the Sportback missed in the fatter C-pillar it more than gained in its devastating shape. Although the Sportback body has been available in Europe for a few years, it makes its first trip across the pond this year. The four-door S5 is a dead-ringer for the bigger S7 that we like so much, and carves the same side profile as the bigger sedan. We’re not alone in our admiration for the S5 Sportback either—Lamberty said of all the S4/S5 models that the Sportback was his favorite too.
Regardless of body style, the S5 is powered by a new turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 that Audi brought to the S4 and S5—the RS 5 is powered by a different 2.9-liter turbocharged V-6.
The turbo-6 is rated at 354 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque and can propel the S5 up to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. The twin-scroll, single turbocharger sandwiched between the V-6’s banks that feeds one side of the engine first to reduce any lag from the forced induction. Mostly, the engine succeeds in providing willing power throughout the range. The S5’s torque comes on at 1,350 rpm and stays flat all the way to 4,500 rpm. The V-6 feels particularly strong in passing—the S5’s mission as a grand tourer that can chew through miles has been largely realized.
The engine teamed with an 8-speed automatic exclusively—no manual this time around—and Audi’s all-wheel-drive system, which it calls Quattro. The all-wheel-drive system splits torque 40/60, front-to-rear for better performance. New for this year, Audi offers a sport rear differential that can direct more torque side to side in the back, for better grip and cornering.
Four-wheel independent suspension is standard in the S5, and features a five-link setup with more aluminum components for less weight at the wheels. A new adaptive suspension system lowers ride height by nearly an inch in the S5, and can toggle the firmness of the dampers from Comfort to Dynamic, with an Auto setting taking care of the shuffle for the driver automatically. Regardless of Drive Select setting, the S5 doesn’t feel overly hard or high-strung—it succeeds as a grand tourer here too.
Comfort, features, and fuel economy
Related to the A4/S4 sedan, the S5 has the same basic proportions—although the S5 Sportback has a slightly longer wheelbase than the coupe or convertible.
Unsurprisingly, front-seat riders will have the best positions in the coupe thanks to impressive standard features (which we cover later).
Rear-seat passengers might not be so pleased, but for children and quick trips, the 32.7 inches of rear leg room will do in a pinch.
During our drive of the S5 coupe, we noticed some packaging quirks that should warrant consideration before purchasing. For example, taller drivers may have a difficult time finding a low enough driving position—the standard sunroof doesn’t help much either. Our 6-foot-2 editor struggled to find a natural seating position in the S5 thanks to the tall seat, low roof, and somewhat beefy front pillars.
The S5 coupe has adequate cargo room for its class—11.6 cubic feet—but the convertible’s roof cuts into that space. With the roof down, the S5 convertible has 9.3 cubic feet of cargo room. The S5 Sportback leads the pack with 17 cubic feet of available space, thanks to its longer shape and slightly longer wheelbase.
The S5 hasn’t yet been tested for its safety, and we don’t anticipate either major rating agency will ruin one anytime soon either.
The S5 comes standard with a full complement of eight airbags, traction and safety control systems, rearview camera, and parking sensors. Audi’s active safety suite, which they call “Pre sense city,” is standard and can slow or stop the car if it detects an imminent front crash. A similar system in the automaker's A4 was rated as “Superior” by the IIHS and helped that sedan earn a coveted Top Safety Pick+ award.
Outward visibility can be particularly tricky for tall drivers. The seat doesn’t seem to go low enough and the wide C-pillars in back created large blind spots for the driver. Blind-spot monitors are available in top trims, for more money.
Without opting for pricey add-ons, the S5 is well-equipped in base configuration.
All models get S sport buckets with a diamond-quilted pattern, front seat massagers, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, 18-inch wheels with summer 245/40 summer tires, LED headlights, leather seating with Alcantara inserts on the doors, a 7.0-inch driver information screen and a 7.0-inch infotainment screen is standard with Audi’s MMI interface.
Audi’s MMI is controlled with a rotary knob and buttons placed in the center console rather than a touchscreen. Menus are relatively easy to navigate, and the system works well natively, but plugging in an iPhone uncovers the system’s limitation by not offering a touchscreen. Navigating the iPhone interface with a rotary knob can be frustrating to learn and it makes challenging what’s normally an intuitive process.
Beyond standard equipment, Audi offers a long list of available features that make the S5 just as comfortable as it is quick.
A navigation package ($2,600) brings with it an updated infotainment screen and driver display that we highly recommend. Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit” replaces traditional gauges with a 12.3-inch display for the driver and an upgraded 8.3-inch infotainment screen. The gauge display can be configured to show destination information, maps, and high-resolution dials all on the same screen.
A sport package ($2,500) offers the adjustable dampers and rear differential (which we covered previously), and red brake calibers. It changes the car’s behavior, without being too harsh, and helps realize the S5’s sporting potential.
Adding $5,000 to a car that already starts at more than $55,000 may not be ideal for some, so if you’re looking for places to save, we’d say skip the $1,150 dynamic steering rack (too unpredictable), the $800 19-inch wheels (the base 18s are just fine), and $800 warm weather package (the base front seats offer standard heat and massage, and opting for this deletes massage for cooled seats, oddly).
Base S5 coupes start at $55,575 for Premium Plus models, including destination. Prestige models, which add more standard features such as Virtual Cockpit, start at $59,975. Opting for the convertible model adds roughly $3,700 to the bottom line. The S5 Sportback starts at $55,375.
According to the EPA, the S5 coupe and Sportback manage 21 mpg city, 30 highway, 24 combined. Opting for the droptop cuts 1 mpg from each number.