Don’t let the subtle facelift fool you: Audi’s 2013 S5 packs significant changes to deliver a leaner but equally potent alternative to the outgoing V8.

Gone is the older engine; replacing the visceral 4.2L with the same supercharged 3.0L V6 currently available in the S4. It churns the same torque (325 lb-ft) and hits 60mph (4.9sec) in the same time as the V8, but sacrifices 21hp for a total of 333hp at the crank. However, not all is lost in the downsizing: not only is the $50,900 S5 three-grand less than the outgoing V8, its combined 21mpg fuel economy dips below the gas guzzler threshold, recouping another $1300.

Off the line, the S5 launches smoothly and swiftly, especially when “Dynamic” mode is selected via the “Drive Select” button. Although it feels archaic to use the single, dash-mounted tab rather than the MMI system, the functionality is thorough: Toggling through “Efficiency,” “Comfort,” “Dynamic,” or a personalized setting adjusts steering effort and ratio, throttle response, damping, automatic transmission behavior, and the way torque is distributed through the electronic sport differential.

S5 models bundled with the $1400 S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch auto get a crown-gear differential, while the optional Sport Differential ($1250) enables torque vectoring for quicker turn-in and more intuitive handling.

Prowess and composure was the modus operandi on our S5 test drive through a stretch of Colorado’s Continental Divide. None of the components overpowered each other; the gear ratios were well matched to the V6 powerband, while handling was sufficiently comfortable in Comfort mode, but significantly more buttoned down in sportier settings.

The supercharged V6 handled the 9000ft elevation well, and driver-triggered gear changes occur quickly enough, although less lag between paddle taps and cog swaps would be preferable.

Unlike some of the competitor’s synthetic-feeling electronic steering, the S5’s new electro-mechanical arrangement worked effectively, transmitting enough feedback to encourage high-speed maneuvers on winding roads. However, we did detect a degree of artificial weighting to the steering on fast turn-in, although grip and responses were good.

If the Audi S5 is too balanced and not saucy enough for your taste, patience will reward you with the hot rod RS5 (previewed in this issue) that will shortly appear in showrooms. But if you’re financially pinned in S5 territory, consider the convertible version that opens up aural pleasure for an extra $8400.

By Basem Wasef
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