The highway can be a harsh taskmaster, and road trips are a good way to bring out the best, or worst, in a car. Last week I needed to make a trip out to central Kansas, roughly three hours each way, in one day. My partner was the Audi S5 with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 and a six-speed manual gearbox.
By TOM STRONGMAN
We rolled out among early morning traffic just as the sun began to break over the horizon. Once past the city limits, we settled into a steady gait with traffic that was rolling about five miles an hour over the posted speed limit.
The 333-horsepower, supercharged V-6 delivers performance that is as good as the last model’s 4.2-liter V-8 but with considerably better fuel economy. Even at the brisk pace I averaged 25.2 miles per gallon.
The V-6 feels like a V-8, pulling hard from low revs. In fact, short shifting – going from second to fourth or third to fifth as guided by the upshift light under the speedometer – became the order of the day unless full-out acceleration was needed. Audi quotes a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds, same as the V-8. The gear ratios are nicely spaced, the clutch action is light and the shift linkage is direct and tight.
A seven-speed tiptronic automatic is optional, and would be my choice for everyday driving.
Several times I encountered farm equipment on two-lane roads, and the powerful disc brakes erased speed in a flash. The firm suspension meant the car stayed planted over dips and around curves. There were times when I wished I were in Europe so I could loosen the reins and let the V-6 show its stuff.
The S5 has classic long-hood, short-trunk proportions and subtle styling details that contribute elegance. The sides flare just enough to add muscle, and the wheels are accentuated by a character line along the top of the fenders.
Audi interiors are among the best in the business, and the S5’s shines. Tasteful touches of brushed aluminum trim accentuate gauges and switches, while the overall look is both elegant and high-tech. Abundant use of leather adds softness.
The sculpted front bucket seats fit like a glove and were perfect for six hours behind the wheel. The back seat is quite small, but the trunk is spacious.
Wind and road noise was not at all intrusive at highway speeds, and the audio system with satellite radio had nice sound. The navigation system has a nice large display in the center of the instrument panel.
The dual-zone climate control lets each passenger choose his or her own temperature.
The quattro all-wheel drive divides power from side to side as well as from front to back, making it even better at distributing drive to the wheels with the most traction. The test car’s optional rear sports differential helps the car through turns by dividing torque between the rear wheels in a way that helps drive the car around corners.
Audi’s MMI multimedia interface, a console-mounted dial that operates the navigation, audio and climate control, is one of the easier systems to use but still requires some time to learn.
The base price of the test car was $52,000. Options included crystal effect blue paint, navigation plus rearview camera, aluminum and black wood inlayed trim and a sports rear differential. The sticker price was $59,220.
Four years or 50,000 miles.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is email@example.com.