This review was first published in MOTOR November 2008.
Its key advantage is that most un-Audi-like quality – ride. It’s far suppler than the standard car, even though it boasts larger wheels and tyres, and it has less road noise in the cabin. So kudos to the S5 people; a big What’s That About to the A5 boffins.
But now its ride and its speed are not all it has over its little brothers. It’s not all it’s got over BMW and Benz, either, because the S5 now has seven speeds. BMW’s M3 only has six (which come in fully DIY or the last SMG in an unlamented series, though there’s a seven-speed DSG here soon) and Benz’s C63 ditto, but the Benz is a full, hydraulic auto.
Benz has a beaut seven-speed auto, but the big V8 is a little too much for it, so it’s a six-speed auto, with all the imprecision that implies.
Besides having an extra cog, Audi figured that a fourth full gate would move the passenger on top of the door handle, so it’s a seven-speed DSG. And that’s fantastic news. Of course, it’s not called DSG. No. That’s a Volkswagen kind of abbreviation and might help people understand what the hell it is.
Instead, Audi’s much happier with its own bewildering array of transmission titles, so it cops S Tronic (which is less rubbish than some of Audi’s other Tronics for, variously, Audi’s CVT, auto and manual systems), but whatever way you slice it, it’s still a DSG ‘box.
Audi says it’s the first DSG ever to find a longitudinal home, though it will lob at about the same time as the Q5, which basically uses the same gearbox and, technically, the Nissan GT-R is a DSG). Purely designed for Quattro work, it usually sends 60 percent of the drive down the manly end of proceedings.
It can do a passable impersonation of an automatic tranny, too, but no auto can spin up to 9000rpm like the S Tronic can.
While we couldn’t really crack into the new ‘box on our briefest of brief tests in Spain, even a short haul is pretty convincing. Where the old S5’s six-speeder got the job done, it was hardly fun to use, had long throws and only felt truly natural for homesick farm boys, eager to reconnect with that heavy-equipment feel.
Audi’s short test course was been bunged onto the carpark at the Valencia racetrackidad (cue spitting), and we only grabbed fourth gear just to say we had, so we will reserve our final judgement until we can use all seven. But the initial impressions are very, very good.
It differs in its actions from Normal to Sport modes and while Normal is clean, undramatic and, well, Normal, Sport is a different matter.
Sport mode lassoes the damping, throttle and gearchange computer maps and pulls the rope tight. The engine responds to your right foot 20 percent quicker and the gearshifts become seriously short and sharp. There’s a big blip on the downshifts, barely detectable pauses on upshifts and the much-faster throttle response becomes a godsend.
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While the car is still a bit nose-heavy, especially compared to the M3, it’s secure, with all-wheel-drive and (finally) tremendously strong brakes.
As initial impressions go, this short drive was a good one. It doesn’t do anything worse, it does a lot of things better and it even uses less fuel. We’ll get one for a bit longer when they launch here early next year, but for now, it seems like an all-round thumbs-up.
2008 Audi S5 S-Tronic specs
Engine: 4163cc V8, DOHC, 32V
Power: 260kW @ 7000rpm
Torque: 440Nm @ 3500rpm
Weight: 1650kg (estimated)
0-100m/h: 5.0sec (estimated)
Top Speed: 250km/h (limited)
Price: $135,000 (estimated)