2016 Audi S5 Review
January 21, 2016 — by Per Christensson
After testing out a Tesla, Maserati, Lexus, and Audi, I decided on the Audi S5. I've now driven the S5 for a few months, so I can give the car a comprehensive review. I'll start with the design and performance, followed by an in-depth review of the car's technology. I'll finish with a few notes about dealer options, which I advise any new car buyer to read.
The Audi S5 is one of the coolest-looking cars on the road. While tastes vary and styling is subjective, it seems everyone I talk likes the look of the S5. Somehow, the designers at Audi were able to weave multiple dichotomies into an amazing design. It is sporty, yet understated; aggressive, but not overbearing. It is rugged and beautiful at the same time.
The character of the S5 is manifested in the black optic package, which blacks out the chrome trim and adds dark titanium rims. While the S5 is a good-looking car with its stock features, the blackened trim transforms it into a supermodel. The dark accents also highlight the sexy LED daytime running lights, which in my opinion are the best designed LEDs of any car currently on the market.
Since the car looks so good with Audi's black optic package, I didn't feel the need to make any other major alterations. The only customization I made was to replace the stock V6T badges with carbon fiber "Supercharged" badges on the sides.
As much as I like the appearance of the S5, I bought the car because of its performance. It drives like a race car. When I first test drove the car at my local Audi dealership, I was shocked how well it handled. I still remember feeling the sports differential kicking in as I accelerated onto the curved onramp towards the freeway. It was like the car wanted me to push it, which is a feeling I haven't experienced in too many cars.
I test drove both the automatic and manual S5 and enjoyed the thrill of shifting through the gears with the stick shift. I liked it so much that I ended up buying the manual S5 — initially. I actually had the manual S5 for two days before deciding I preferred the automatic. I just couldn't get used to the awkward position of the clutch pedal. I knew it would take me awhile to adjust to a new car (especially after driving my old manual Acura CL for almost ten years), but the more I drove the manual S5, the less I liked it. The shifter also vibrated like crazy, which even the Audi salesperson agreed was strange.
Long story short, the dealer let me switch to an automatic model for a modest fee, though I did have to wait a few weeks to get the replacement. While I miss the stick shift at times, the S5's automatic transmission is super smooth and is hassle-free in rush hour traffic. The dual clutch helped me swallow my pride and accept that a sports car can have an automatic transmission.
While it doesn't have a stick shift, the automatic S5 does has a fully manual mode. By moving the shifter to the right while in Drive, the S5 allows you to choose what gear you're in. The paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel are highly ergonomic and make shifting a breeze. However, I've noticed it is difficult to shift when turing since the paddles follow the steering wheel. An alternative is to nudge the shifter up or down to shift in during turns, which helps.
In most cases, the S5 will not shift for you when the shifter is in manual mode. However, if you slow down enough, it will downshift, eventually all the way down to first gear when you stop. I guess this is good for the transmission though it is a little frustrating when it shifts without you knowing it. I suppose there is no such thing as "fully manual" with an automatic transmission.
One thing that really annoyed me with the automatic transmission is that the dashboard didn't display what I gear I was in (in D or S modes). Instead, it would only display the current gear when I was temporality in manual mode. Coming from a manual background, I wanted to know what gear I was in! Fortunately, I was able to take my Audi to a local performance shop and have them enable the current gear display in automatic and sport modes using a VAG-COM modification. Now, I always know what gear I'm in (which, believe it or not, is 5th gear at 30 miles an hour).
With a 0-60 time of 4.4 - 4.6 seconds (depending who you ask), the S5 is no slouch. But it feels even faster than it is. The low seats and low center of gravity keep you in tune with the road and the car feels like a rocket when you hit the gas. The traction control combined with the automatic transmission ensures rock solid starts, which — I hate to admit it — provides even better acceleration than the manual.
If there is one problem with the S5's performance, it's that it makes all other cars seem slow. If you're an impatient driver, the S5 just might put you over the edge. In a sense, the Audi demands to be driven fast. At slow speeds, it seems unhappy and restless. When you open up the throttle and your head kicks back against the headrest, the S5 is satisfied. This might also be why I've found myself racing more cars in a few months than I did in almost ten years with my previous car.
Any driving enthusiast will tell you raw power is nothing without control. Fortunately, the powerful Audi provides great handling as well. Quattro all-wheel drive combined with the sports differential ensures each wheel is spinning at an optimum speed. The traction control keeps the car from fishtailing during hard turns. Even when I turn it off traction control, I've found the all-wheel drive allows me to quickly recover from slides.
My S5 came with 19" Pirelli P-Zero tires, which I requested. They are relatively quiet and their low profile provide a good feel of the road. While the tires perform great during acceleration, they are not exceptional in hard turns. I've found myself skidding pretty regularly when I crank the steering wheel. I haven't spun out yet, but I've come pretty close. It would be interesting to test out the same car and rims with different tires to see if they grip the road better.
Even with all-wheel drive, it would be crazy to drive the S5 with P-Zeros in snow since the tires are so hard and have such shallow tread. Even in cold temperatures without snow, the tires get so hard, that they aren't safe. I was planning on getting winter tires for the S5, but I decided to drive my Acura with Blizzaks for one more year while I break in my new ride.
Like the outside of the car, the S5's interior is sleek and understated. In classic German fashion, there are no frivolous buttons or gaudy accents. The black leather and carbon fiber inlays provide a luxurious and comfortable atmosphere. Unfortunately, the car's technology doesn't match the aesthetics.
I ordered the S5 with the technology package, which is basically a standard feature that you have to pay extra to add. I have yet to see one S5 model offered without it. That's because the technology package includes fundamental features like a navigation system and Bluetooth connectivity. The system is managed using Audi's MMI interface, which stands for "Multi Media Interface." Apparently "multimedia" is two words in Germany.
The screen is inlaid in the top of the dashboard and is controlled using buttons on the center console behind the shifter (no touchscreen in this model). The navigation is somewhat intuitive, but when you scroll through songs and other lists, you have to scroll counter clockwise to move forward and clockwise to move backwards, which is anything but intuitive.
The Bluetooth phone setup is pretty simple and allows you to make and answer calls as well as stream stereo music from your phone. The call quality is great with the car speakers, though when I'm driving at high speeds I've had multiple people say it is difficult to hear me on the other end. I was hoping Audi would have figured out better noise cancelling at this point.
The audio over Bluetooth sounds amazing through the Bang & Olufsen sound system which comes standard with the technology package in 2016 S5 models. The excellent sound quality is one of the reasons I bought the car. Even so, as I've listened to more music in the S5, I've noticed the sound is pretty hollow at low volumes. It shines at higher volumes, but it's too bad the frequency response isn't consistent throughout the low amplitude range.
I could write a whole article on SiriusXM radio, but I'll just summarize by saying the sound quality sucks. The low-fidelity, watery, over-compressed sound was just too horrible for me to handle. I didn't renew the subscription after three months. It's too bad, because I like some of the stations. But listening to to SirusXM over a Bang & Olufsen sound system is like watching the Avatar on VHS.
One of my friends pointed out that Bluetooth sound, while digital, doesn't match the sound quality of a direct connection. I wish I didn't test this out, because I realized he was right. I plugged my iPhone into the connector in the glove compartment and sure enough the sound quality was crystal clear. I was torn because I loved the pristine audio, but I hated the hassle of plugging in my phone into the glove compartment port every time I got in the car.
Fortunately, I found a good compromise, which was to load the car's internal Jukebox with songs from an SD card. Unfortunately, the process took several tries since the S5's internal storage is a mere 20 GB hard drive that didn't have enough room for all my music. Even when I reduced my collection of songs to less than 18 GB, it still didn't fit. The system finally accepted the music on my SD card when it was below 17 GB, but didn't end up importing all the songs because the hard drive was full. I spent an entire afternoon importing music and the result a major disappointment.
I don't understand why Audi would use a hard drive for its internal storage and not flash memory. Even the $10 SD card I bought, which is about the size of a quarter, holds 32 gigabytes. Why the hard drive is only 20 GB boggles my mind. Maybe it would have made sense in 2006, but not today. Since the car's internal hard drive is full, everything loads slowly. Even deleting individual songs takes about two minutes per trtack. But I'm stuck using the Jukebox since it is the only way I can use audio commands to select individual tracks.
The Worst Feature of the Audi S5
Several small annoyances exist with Audi's internal controls, but none compares with this — there is no skip or next button on the steering wheel. There is a scroll wheel on the left side, but it does nothing when you are listening to music over Bluetooth. When you are listening to music from internal storage, it simply displays the folder contents of the current song and allows you to scroll through the songs in the folder. I just want to skip to the next random song!
The S5 has a volume button in the center console that you can use to nudge to advance to the next track, but it is awkwardly located and uncomfortable to use. Still, since it's the only way to skip a song, I find myself using that button for everything and not even using the volume control on the steering wheel. It is especially awkward when there is a passenger in the right seat and I basically the person's leg to jump to the next song. This lack of a steering wheel mounted next button is a shocking oversight and annoys me every time I drive the car. I have not seen a single car without this basic feature in the last ten years. All Audi needed to do was put a skip button in the blank area next to the scroll wheel and it would have solved the problem (see below).
The Audi S5 navigation system is pretty decent and so far has done a good job getting me to my destination without unexpected problems. It is a little slow to respond to commands and setting up new destinations is a hassle, but fortunately you can store your home address and other locations in the system for quick access. While I still use Google Maps on my phone for most directions, the built-in system is great for getting directions home without taking your phone out of your pocket.
The Audi's backup camera is great and the guidance lines on the center display curve as you turn, indicating exactly where the car is going to end up. Still, I find myself mostly using the audible beeps, since I can back up quickly and simply listen if I am getting too close to an object. I would have liked front sensors as well (which I thought the car included when I bought it) since they could be used for parking in tight spaces or for brake assist, which the S5 does not have. A couple of weeks ago, I almost rear-ended a car that stopped quickly in front of me and at that moment I realized how helpful brake assist could be. Fortunately, the S5's top-notch brakes stopped the car faster than I expected.
The xenon headlights are great and provide highly luminous coverage for night driving. I wish they were LEDs, but I can't argue with the performance. The Premium Plus model, which I purchased, does not include the turning headlights. I thought they would be unnecessary, but after a few months of driving the S5 in the dark, I actually think it would be worth the upgrade to see better around corners.
Before I finish my review of the 2016 Audi S5, I feel obligated to provide some advice regarding dealer options. Most places in the United States that sell new cars also sell dealer add-ons, which helps improve their profit margins. My advice from experience — just say no.
I had a good interaction with my Audi salesperson and I wanted to take care of my new car, so I accepted some the dealer options, which included the Simoniz exterior and interior treatment, the 3M clear bra, and tinted windows. All three were bad decisions.
The tint was too light and had a brown hue, which looked horrible on an all-black car. Fortunately, the dealer removed the tint and refunded the charge (I think they agreed it looked bad). The clear bra was mostly clear, but it left a noticeable line on the front of the car as you can see below.
Even when the hood was clean, I could see the line, but when the hood got dirty, the edge of the film created a thick line across the front of my car. I'd rather have dozens of small dings and scratches than a permanent line on my hood. I had Audi remove the $700 option with no refund.
Finally, there is the Simoniz treatment, which ruined the interior of my car. The exterior treatment, which protects the paint and makes water bead up, was fine. But the add-on included an interior treatment turned the soft nappa leather into a material that feels like vinyl or plastic. Even after several months, the seats still have a plastic feel to them. I learned after the fact that the Simoniz interior treatment is DuPont teflon. Teflon! I have no idea who in their right mind would put teflon on nappa leather, but the Audi dealership actually recommended it.
I still enjoy driving my S5, but every time I get in the driver's seat, the leather feels cheap and it makes me a little sad. I asked the dealership how much it would be to replace the seats and they said it was around $13,000. That's a steep price for me as the owner to pay for a problem caused by the dealer.
If you're buying a new car and you're offered dealer options, remember — just say no.
Besides the problems caused by the dealer options and my frustrations with the MMI, the Audi S5 is a great car. It feels solid, well-made, and can outperform about 99% of cars on the road. As a two-door coupe, it's not for everyone, but for a sports car, it is rather practical. I've fit four people in the car without any issues and the large trunk is easily large enough for groceries and other cargo.
At its core, however, the Audi S5 is a performance vehicle. It is a driver's car and makes no apology for being an imposing force on the road. If you are looking at practical performance vehicles for your next car, make sure to test out the S5.