We here at AutoNation Drive have a lot of respect for automotive engineers. They spend hours studying and working in labs to get advanced degrees that they use to make the cars and trucks we take for granted lighter, cheaper, safer, and faster. Through trial and error, they develop infotainment features we would’ve never thought of and ways of performing regular functions in new and improved ways. They push the automobile to increasingly stratospheric heights of performance, convenience, and safety with their minds.
Even if we don’t know exactly know how they do it, automotive engineers clearly know what they’re doing. We love them for that. We also appreciate them for not knowing certain things and having the curiosity to discover them. At various points in time, they’ve asked questions such as, “What if we used xenon lighting instead of halogen?” and “How many more highway mpg can a diesel engine option give our customers?”
One question every powertrain engineer has had at least once in their careers is, What if we gave this car more power? That curiosity has led to V12-powered Mercedes-Benz G-Wagens, Cadillac sedans with massive supercharged V8s, and 707-horsepower Dodge Challengers.
Audi has repeatedly answered that question with high-performance S variants of many of its vehicles, from the entry-level A3 sedan to the flagship A8 executive express. We recently got the keys to the 2018 Audi S5 Sportback, the hotter version of the A5 Sportback that Audi finally gave American customers access to last spring. We drove that the week before we received the S5 Sportback and thought it was handsome, well-trimmed, and comfortable. What happened when Audi’s engineers gave it more power to create the S5 Sportback? Keep reading to find out.
2018 Audi S5 Sportback Exterior
Audi’s designers gave the S5 Sportback more pronounced exterior styling to go along with its increased power. Our test vehicle wore the appropriate color: red. Tango Red, to be exact. Metallic slats spanned the width of the Singleframe grille. Automatic LED headlights and LED daytime running lights flanked it at the top; a unique front fascia with mesh inserts and fog lights flanked it on the bottom.
Bright aluminum trim ringed the side windows and highlighted the flow of the fast roofline. Metallic side mirror caps added more brightwork. The S5 Sportback’s signature wave-design shoulder line went down the length of the body that beautifully blurred the boundary between sedan and hatchback. S5-specific side sills stretched between the optional two-tone 19-inch wheels and the 255/35 summer performance tires that surrounded them. The S sport package added two features that weren’t visible (more on those in the Performance section of this review) and one that was: red brake calipers, which clamped down on ventilated 13.8-inch front and ventilated 13-inch rear discs.
A subtle lip spoiler topped the lid to the rear cargo area. With the back seats up, that could hold 21.8 cubic feet of luggage. When those were down, capacity increased to 35 cubic feet. The LED tail lights with progressively lit turn signals pointed toward the middle of the rear hatch and the Audi four-ring logo. A strip of metallic trim arched over the rear diffuser and a quartet of round exhaust outlets.
2018 Audi S5 Sportback Interior
The S5 Sportback is available with two trim packages: Premium Plus or Prestige. Our top-of-the-line Prestige model came standard with the powertrain, safety features, and massaging front seats of the Premium Plus and added the helpful and convenient Audi virtual cockpit and head-up display; 755-watt, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system; and MMI navigation setup that could recognize handwritten inputs.
It’s easy for gray interiors to look drab and lifeless, but Audi found a way to make the neutral interior of the S5 Sportback look positively cool. The Rotor Gray Nappa leather had a creaminess to it that kept it from looking dull and boring. The quilted sections of the heated and massaging S sport front seats and rear seats made them visually dynamic. Suede-like microfiber inserts on the door panels added a pleasant texture under the soft blue illumination of the LED ambient lighting. A glance at the flat-bottom steering wheel, stainless steel pedal caps, and optional Carbon Atlas inlays made it clear that we were in for a fast ride.
The back seat offered enough legroom and headroom for yours truly, who’s 5’10”, but anyone over six feet tall may find the rear of the S5 Sportback to be a little short on space.
2018 Audi S5 Sportback Performance
Audi’s powertrain engineers didn’t just give the S5 Sportback more power than its A5 Sportback sibling. They gave it the perfect amount of power. The twin-scroll-turbocharged direct-injection 3.0-liter V6’s 354 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque was just right. It was enough to make driving the S5 Sportback thrilling and rewarding, but not so much that we felt we were wasting horsepower by not going to a track.
The Audi drive select system offered four different modes. Individual allowed us to customize a variety of the S5 Sportback’s powertrain settings to our liking. Comfort was for relaxed cruising. Auto bridged the gap between Comfort and our favorite mode: Dynamic. That sharpened throttle response and automatically put the eight-speed Tiptronic transmission into its fast-acting sport mode. It also made the sound coming out of the rear pipes louder and raspier. We were addicted to it. All we wanted to do was point the S5 Sportback down a road, mash the right pedal, let the quattro all-wheel drive system hook up, watch the tachometer and speedometer needles swing further and further to the right, and use the well-weighted optional dynamic steering to get us to the horizon. Whether the path ahead was straight or full of curves, we just wanted to drive down it in the S5 Sportback. Quickly.
When we had to keep our enthusiasm in check and our speed down, the S5 Sportback was perfectly happy playing along. The S sport package’s adaptive damping suspension was slightly stiff, but never harsh or unpleasant. At most suburban speeds, the engine played its exhaust note softly and at a low volume.
2018 Audi S5 Sportback Safety
Right from the start, the S5 Sportback Prestige comes with a long list of safety features. Those include eight standard airbags, ABS with Brake Assist, preventative occupant protection, low speed collision assist, a rearview camera, a tire pressure monitoring system, and a 360-degree camera system. Our press loaner came equipped with the optional driver assistance package. That included adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, automatic high beams, and traffic sign recognition.
2018 Audi S5 Sportback Overall
Audi showed us what happened when it gave the well-rounded A5 Sportback more power. The 2018 S5 Sportback was attractive inside and out, comfortable, and fun to drive. If you want to answer the question, What would it be like to own a 2018 S5 Sportback?, you can do that by visiting an AutoNation Audi dealership. Prices start at $54,400.* Our media loaner had an as-tested price of $68,350.
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.