Having experienced opulence over at the Mercedes-Benz dealer, I figured I should poke Audi and see if I should keep on having a four ring emblem in the garage.

I have taken my A4 into Audi San Francisco for service and popped by their showroom a couple of times (they’re in two different locations), so I already had a bad taste in my mouth from them. However, I have had great experiences at Audi Palo Alto before, so I knew if was possible to have a great Audi dealer experience relatively close to my house.

The SQ5 competes with the GLC 43 and is the natural choice for me to check out. It’s a great size, very handsome, and I love Audi’s current interiors and overall feel. Even with my dislike of blacked out cars, the black on black one Audi Palo Alto had in their showroom looked amazing, and I loved sitting down in it. It felt much more compact and less trucky/sportier than the GLC.

It looked great, from any angle the exhaust fakery wasn’t visible, that is. This is what kills the SQ5 for me.

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I’m not even that bothered by the actual exhaust tips not exiting out the bumper with nice shiny tips. But the fake plastic molded into the bumper just looks extremely tacky and cheap. Completely out of step with the rest of the car. To me, the whole thing is ruined by this and I would not want a current SQ5 in my garage (I still love the previous gen).

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Luckily, there’s another car in Audi’s lineup that is well (possibly better) suited to my wants: the S5 Sportback. And that’s what I was actually down there to drive.

First, the bad news: doing an inventory search for S5 Sportbacks had already been a complete bust, as *every* car in the Bay Area was either black, white, or gray. What’s more, it seems 99% of Prestige (the top trim) S5s are optioned with the carbon fiber interior trim, which is only available on the higher trims and replaces the standard brushed aluminum, which I much prefer. To add insult to injury, it’s hard to find S5s without the black optics package, which I don’t particularly care for. Combine all of this with the relative scarcity of S5 Sportbacks (relative to the SQ5 at least), and it’s a car I pretty much knew I would have to order.

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Pictured is the specific one they had available to drive, a black on black Prestige (loads of goodies but costs $8,100), with, among other things, the S Sport package (adaptive dampers and a sport rear differential), “dynamic steering” (some electronic trickery with the rack), four rings logo projectors on the bottom of the doors (okay), the Black Optics package (chrome deletion and those 20" wheels with summer tires), and the carbon fiber interior bits.

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I set off and immediately I could tell two things:

  • The interior is better than the GLC 43's, even if I don’t like the carbon fiber
  • I prefer the more “car-like” driving experience

Audi Palo Alto was awesome as always. The sales guy was not pushy in the least and was actually concerned about me getting to know the car and determining whether I would be happy with one.

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I came out thinking I definitely prefer the S5 over the GLC 43. It just felt less truckish and more manageable. Lighter and nimbler. And Audi’s current interiors are truly wonderful and aging well. I really enjoyed the virtual cockpit and overall MMI experience. When we got in the car, it was low on gas and automatically brought up a list of gas stations we could navigate to, which I thought was cool. I do that all the time on Waze.

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However, there were some problems with it:

  • The interior is aging well style-wise, but I would have liked a touchscreen. The MMI update for the A4 and S5 will be very welcome next year.
  • The “top view camera system” included in the Prestige package wasn’t all that great. I think it may have made parking harder than without it, and you couldn’t zoom in on any of the cameras except the rear one, which itself was more of a hassle than it should have been thanks to the lack of a touch screen.
  • The trunk was surprisingly small.
  • Giving it the beans when getting onto the highway was kinda... disappointing. The digital tach is cool and the 8-spd auto behaves well, but the shove I was expecting just wasn’t there. I don’t know if there was something about this particular example, but it felt noticeably slower than my 335. If I’m going for something 10 years newer, I’m hoping to at least get something as quick as what I have now. And by publication numbers it does look like Audi’s current 3.0T is outgunned by the direct competition.
  • I’m also hoping for a ground clearance/approach and departure angle improvement, and I’m not sure this low “coupe” would give me much of it.

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The biggest dislike about the car itself for me was actually a minor nit I have about the interior. This may be weird to many, but one of the features I love the most about both my dad and my brother’s automatic Audis is the “auto hold” feature they have. It was one of the first things I looked for in the S5's interior. I was shocked to just find a blank sitting right in the middle of the cabin where I though it must be supposed to be. On a fully loaded one, too!

Auto hold will hold the brakes when you come to a stop, holding the car still and effectively negating the automatic transmission’s crawl, allowing you to relax without holding any pedal when, say, stopped at a red light. To set off, you just roll onto the gas and the brakes let go. In Audis world-over, you can activate and deactivate it with a button right by the electronic parking brake lever, like pictured here:

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On US-spec cars, however...

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A horrible blank!

I hadn’t been able to quickly locate the feature on the GLC (not sure if it has it), so I figured there must be some silly US regulation that prevents this wonderful (for city drivers, at least) feature to come here. But then I remembered I’ve seen this button on a Honda HR-V, of all things! Why the hell did Audi remove it for the S5??? Who knows what else they took out! For US B7 A4s like the one I own, you have to have it coded in order to be able to roll the windows down or up from the fob. Moves like these make no sense to me, so I can only see them as Audi saving a couple of bucks. And that’s not the obvious corner-cutting experience I’m looking for when shopping for a luxury vehicle.

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Another big problem I have with the S5 is that Audi just doesn’t seem to want to sell them. The sales guy was able to track down a lovely blue S5 Sportback optioned like I would want down in San Diego, so he ran numbers for me. The S5 Sportback and SQ5 are priced pretty much on top of each other. But for some reason, Audi will throw an extra $3,000 at SQ5 buyers vs S5 buyers (at least at the exact time I was looking). The blue car in San Diego had already been sitting on the lot for 100 days! How am I supposed to pay a $3,000 premium for real exhaust tips?

Thus, the search continues...