In comparison, this beautiful black S5 turns as many heads as an Aston. It's truly a wonderful thing to behold. Getting them side by side, it's obvious their designs are separated by a quarter of a century. Under their skins, it's a similar story. The Ur-Quattro was a mechanical tour de force, where computers were only just beginning to take charge. The impression when driving this thing is that there's an awful lot of metal meeting metal. Pull a lever, push a button and you can almost feel the ker-thunk as cogs meet and driveshafts are turned.
The inline five-cylinder engine, taken from the 200 sedan, is punchy and sounds unmistakable, with a real off-beat burble. Performance is brisk enough once wound up past 2500 rpm to get the urbo on boil. But judged against modern machinery, it can't help but feel a little asthmatic. Turbocharging was still relatively new technology when the Ur-Quattro was developed and it shows in its massive lag. Foot down, wait a while, then bam. There's nothing like an old-school turbo for heart-stopping thrills.
Getting power to all four wheels was no easy task. The gearbox is mounted behind the engine, like a rear-wheel-drive car. Power is sent to the rear wheels in the usual fashion, but also transmitted forward through a hollow shaft to the front differential. With all this going on, it's not surprising that you need to be quite deliberate with the lever when on the move. With practice, you can time the changes perfectly to avoid shunting the drivetrain, and soon get used to the fact that you can't carry out lightning-quick shifts through the gate.
The S5 couldn't be more different. You feel totally isolated from anything as vulgar as gear linkages. It's refinement all the way and this suits its GT character perfectly. The big-hearted V8 sounds gruff. While there's no forced induction, it feels and sounds almost as though there's a supercharger under the hood. Power delivery is smooth and linear, and although it's way less powerful than an RS4 on paper, it certainly doesn't feel it.
The A5 family showcases new Audi technology with the company's Modular Longitudinal Chassis (or MLB) platform, which the next generation of Audi models will share. The front differential is now mounted in front of the clutch and this, combined with a longer wheelbase and short overhangs, gives a driving feel that's been missing from Audi for quite some time. The 50/50 weight distribution is perfect.
The Quattro drivetrain has evolved considerably over the years, with mixed levels of success. Audi went through a dry spell during the mid- to late-1990s, when its cars were safe enough, but offered little interaction with their drivers. That's all changing and the S5, along with its less powerful A5 sibling, is a hoot. The latest Quattro transmission feels more rear-wheel drive in practice, but enter a tight-radius bend at speed and the car will haul you around instead of catapulting into the nearest tree. Anyone who says you need rear-wheel drive to enjoy a car is missing the point, because you can do extraordinary things in a modern Quattro.
There's a slight tendency for the S5 to invoke understeer once adhesion limits are breached, but, hell, it's epic fun. This is a precision instrument that flatters its driver at all times. And with the tantalizing prospect of an RS5 in the near future, this is a model line that could prove to be the best thing Audi has done since the original Quattro. It really is that good.