November 19, 2007
Niagara-on-the-lake – Audi was the talk of the tarmac at Testfest, the annual gathering of Canada’s leading automotive journalists that has become the de facto testing ground for new model vehicles and the Canadian Car of the Year Awards. Organized by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, the annual awards encompass 12 vehicle categories and a penultimate Car of the Year award. The top three finalists in each category will be announced November 16 with the class winners named on December 4th. The overall 2008 CCOTY winners will be announced Feb. 13 at the Toronto Auto Show.
The unabashed, and I mean unabashed, star of the show was without doubt the Audi R8, the German automaker’s all-new and sublime super car. Boasting 420 ponies, all-wheel drive and aluminum space frame construction, the R8 was in heavy demand during the driving days of TestFest. Much to their credit, Audi Canada brought three R8s to TestFest (with a combined sticker price, incidentally, just shy of half a million Canadian dollars).
The R8 is in the Prestige (over $75K) category, up against the Jaguar XKR coupe, the Lexus LS600h L and the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG. It is clearly the class of the field — if golf clubs, luggage and some sense of sanity are left behind in your driveway. Otherwise, it is a very impractical car for any thing other than late night highway runs in Montana and North Saskatchewan.
A more practical and equally mouth-watering offering from Audi was also a star attraction at TestFest, and with a price less than half of its super car stablemate the 2008 Audi S5 seems a strong contender for not only a category win, but also overall honours come the Toronto Auto Show in the New Year.
It should be a lock for the sports/performance (over $50K) category, in against the new Audi TT and the very nicely executed Infiniti G37 coupe, though that latter car is an equal to the S5 in all traits but exterior styling.
Unlike the R8’s deceivingly small stature – it comes up to about my hip line – and subsequent ‘driver-oriented’ cockpit, the S5 has all the proportions of a classic coupe, thus the room for luggage, golf clubs and just a hint of sanity.
The S5 is set apart from the competition in the high-performance coupe marketplace by being the only vehicle available with a V8 engine and all-wheel drive configuration.
"The new Audi S5 opens an entirely new chapter in the Audi product portfolio, "says Audi Canada’s Doug Clark. "It follows the function of movement in design and technology, and inspires a pure desire to get inside and behind the wheel."
Which was just what most every journalist did during TestFest, and the consensus was that Audi had done the improbable and leapfrogged its German and Japanese rivals to produce a uniquely beautiful coupe that also has the technological underpinnings demanded by today’s performance car customer.
The S5 is the performance execution of the A5, Audi’s new midsize luxury coupe and convertible, and shares the new Modular Longitudinal Platform (MLP) with the S5. Unlike the previous ‘overhung’ engine mounting position over the front axle, the new configuration locates the power train behind the front axle, lowering the car’s overall centre of gravity and achieving a better front-rear weight distribution.
Where the S5 and A5 differ is in the engine compartment — the largest A5 engine is a 3.0-litre V6 while the S5 comes with a 354-hp 4.2-litre V8 — and in exterior and interior styling cues. Like all S versions of Audi cars, the S5’s front end is much more aggressive looking than the A5, and is very distinguishable thanks to a row of LED daytime running light around the HID headlights; likewise the vertical chrome inlays in the front grille indicate this is not a typical Audi.
Clean lines is the best way to describe the design credo of the S5, and even badging is kept to a minimum – a small ‘V8’ badge on the front fender and ‘S5’ badge on the rear deck lid. The long hood and short deck, connected by an elegant and curving roofline, are perfectly proportioned for the coupe style, and the final touch of aluminum-look mirror complete the impressive appearance.
That elegant yet muscular theme is carried over into the S5’s cabin, with high-end leather seating and trim offset by subtle use of wood and metal throughout. The speedo and tach are the typical Audi droplet-shaped bezel design, but new fonts and formats give the gauges a refreshed and sporty second life.
Standard equipment on the base S5 (MSRP $65,900) includes sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels with the new 5-parallel star spoke styling and 255/35R19 performance tires, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps with daytime running lights in the form of an LED light strip, full leather Silk nappa sports seats with electronic adjustment and lumbar support, fully automatic three-zone climate control, rain sensing wipers, electronic cruise control, Audi Advanced Key keyless start system, four-way adjustable centre armrest, an Audi Symphony 180 watt, 10-speaker audio system, metallic paint and S5 sport badging. My test unit included the optional Audi Navigation Plus System ($3,500).
TestFest is an ideal venue for formulating good and precise driving impressions of vehicles, as each vehicle is tested on the road and on the track back-to-back against vehicles in the same category.
True, testing two dozen or so cars over a period of three days is somewhat mentally exhausting, but by driving the same route with each car under identical conditions, a very clear picture of a vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses comes into focus, as does a sense of how it stacks up against the competition.
The S5 did not disappoint one bit.
With the nimbleness of a TT yet the throaty growl and seat-pinning power of a V8 muscle car, the sport coupe demonstrated first rate handling, excellent braking and an off-the-line acceleration that, apart from its brawny cousin R8, was the toast of TestFest. Of course, a V8 connected to an all-wheel drive system isn’t going to win any Green awards, and not surprisingly the S5’s fuel economy is pretty bad. The optimistic official numbers are City: 15.1 L/100 km; Hwy: 9.4 L/100 km.
The ride wasn’t too hard and not too soft, and when thrown into a tight corner on the track, the S5 simply dug down and took it.
One great feature on the new S5 is folding rear seats that allow for a spacious pass-thru from the trunk.
The one complaint I did hear about the S5 was cabin noise, or more specifically, the rumble and burble of the big V8. Maybe so, but that’s still nowhere near enough sound to drown out the noise Audi is going to make with the 2008 S5.
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