July 5, 2008

Get steamy with Audi

Sporty version of Audi's first full four-seater coupe in recent memory makes you sweat

By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent

GOOD PARTNERS: Under Audi S5's seductive sheet metal is a burly V8 sporting 354 horsepower, and paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed Tiptronic automatic. -- PHOTO: AUDI

THE Audi S5 is one hot coupe. Literally. On the very first night of a road test, the test-drive car's air-con breaks down. As it is Sunday, the Audi service centre is not open. It's okay, though. We drive with open windows, pretending we are trying out a prototype of the convertible that Audi is likely to make.

Then, it begins to pour. The windows go up, and so do the heat and humidity in the cabin.

Thankfully, we had a good spin in the car before the chill deal expired. And we can say with some certainty that the S5 can get you hot and bothered figuratively as well.

The car certainly looks the part of a sizzler. It does not stop you in your tracks at first glance but as you give it the once over, you realise the seduction of its sheet metal.

It conforms to the classic coupe contours, yet stands apart from its current rivals. It has broad shoulders and sits very low. Its side profile is accentuated by a brief front overhang and a roof that flows uninterruptedly from windscreen to boot lid.

Its rear is far more elegant than the unimaginative job on the Mercedes-Benz CLK and the droopy one on the BMW 6-series.

Inside, the S5 is unmistakably Audi. Features that stand out include keyless access and ignition, soft-touch electronic parking brake, memory front seats, multi-zone climate control with rear vents (brilliant, when it works) and a reverse camera with geometric parking guidance.

Access to the second row is easy enough. Once back there, occupants enjoy the roominess of a four-seater. The car has ample space for luggage too.

At the wheel, the S5 is not as blistering as you would imagine something with over 350 horses at the reins to be. Its kerb weight of close to 1.7 tonnes tends to blunt some of the engine's responsiveness.

But the direct-injection V8 is nevertheless torquey enough to ensure that its beautiful rear is what most other road-users will be accustomed to seeing. In real life, it is hard to match 440Nm of torque at 3,500rpm.

The car's six-speed Tiptronic gearbox exploits the V8's output pattern well and is pretty seamless even when hurried.

The car rides like a limo despite being fitted with 19-inch wheels shod with low-profile tyres. The 255/35R rubbers as well as the car's wide tracks translate to wondrous road-holding.

But the S5 is not something you would send screeching past bends at 90kmh, even though it is quite capable of delivering bad-boy antics if provoked.

Instead, it conveys an air of gentility often associated with grand tourers - it is a luxurious long-distance cruiser rather than a bitumen bruiser. As in the new A4, the car has three drive modes: Comfort, Dynamic or Auto.

Dynamic steering, which adapts to different driving situations to offer the best ratio, is another standard feature. But it does not seem to be as big a boon here as BMW's Active Steering system.

The S5 is packed with other goodies, including satellite navigation, a Bang & Olufsen sound system and bi-xenon headlamps with daytime LEDs.

The icing on the cake? A relatively frugal engine that will shame cars with smaller displacements and fewer cylinders. And get this, the (heavier) Tiptronic variant is more economical than the six-speed manual.

Cool. For a hot car.

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Price: $245,000 with COE

Engine: 4,163cc 32-valve V8

Transmission: Six-speed Tiptronic

Power: 354bhp at 7,000rpm

Torque: 440Nm at 3,500rpm

0-100kmh: 5.4 seconds

Top speed: 250kmh (electronically limited)

Fuel consumption: 15.7 litres/100km (city)

Agent: Premium Automobiles