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First Drive: 2018 Audi S5

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PERSONAL LUXURY is an artful marketing term for making a practical vehicle less so, dressing it up, and charging more. Today it is often used to describe teardrop-shaped crossovers. What it used to refer to was two-door luxury cars with eye-grabbing style—legends like Toronado, Eldorado, and Thunderbird. The name S5 lacks that overt machismo, but this Audi has the swagger of those old-time personal-luxury coupes.

The S5, introduced in 2007, became an icon overnight, largely because of its striking design. This version is just as handsome, which is a fawning way of saying it hews so closely to its predecessor, it’s possible to miss that it has been redesigned. Put old and new side by side, and you’ll notice the headlights and taillights have modern lighting elements, the shoulder line is broader, and the surfaces are creased more sharply. But the greenhouse, proportions, and shape are seemingly unaltered. As with the TT and the R8, Audi appears to be stuck, having designed itself into a corner. Icons are tough to follow.

Mechanical changes are easier to call out. The engine still displaces 3.0 liters, but now there’s a turbocharger on top instead of a supercharger. The twin-scroll turbo whistles 21.5 psi into the V-6 and helps it produce 354 hp, 21 hp more than last year’s. The engine barks under acceleration but fades once you’re under way. It lacks the ethereal refinement of the 3.0-liter inline-six in the BMW 440i, although the Audi does have 34 more horses.

A conventional eight-speed automatic replaces the seven-speed dual-clutch. Stick-shift loyalists will have to settle for the 252-hp A5, as lack of buyer interest sent the old S5’s manual option to the matador. The new gearbox is quick and smooth, whether you’re trundling to work or tattooing a mountain road. Just remember to toggle the transmission into Sport mode when things get interesting.

With launch control active, the S5 sprints to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 13.0 seconds at 106.2 mph. In real-world driving, though, the engine is asleep below 2000 rpm. Odd, considering 369 lb-ft of torque is available from 1370 rpm, but instrumented testing bears out what we felt. In the 5-to-60-mph test, designed to show how a car accelerates without the benefit of an aggressive launch, the S5 took a significant 1.5 seconds longer than it did in the 0-to-60 test.

The S5 handles with steadfast stickiness, making it ridiculously easy to bash through unfamiliar corners. As in every front-engine Audi, the front tires howl under cornering pressure. The optional torque-vectoring rear differential gets the tail involved by sending power to the outside rear wheel. It’s subtle, but the magic diff works to pivot the car into the corner. A mistake results in a stumble, not an ugly fall: Enter a turn way too fast and the front tires will slide wide, but a gentle lift restores grip.

There’s certainly nothing ugly about the interior design. The…

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